EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jason Garrett is preparing for battle without all the weapons he hopes to have at his disposal when the fight begins.
Garrett, the Giants' second-year offensive coordinator, has not had top running back Saquon Barkley in a practice yet this training camp. Barkley is on the physically unable to perform/active list as he continues to rehabilitate his right knee, which was surgically repaired last Oct. 30.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is another key player on PUP/active. He underwent foot surgery soon after signing with the Giants in March.
On Tuesday, wide receiver Kenny Golladay, the team's premier free agent offseason acquisition, joined Barkley and Rudolph on the sideline with a hamstring injury. None of those players has publicly received even an approximate return date. That leaves Garrett preparing for the season without three players who could be among the most important and productive on his unit this season.
"It is what the situation is," Garrett said today. "The biggest thing you try to do is keep them engaged, get them acclimated to what we're doing, give the younger guys and the other guys who we're trying to evaluate an opportunity to get the physical reps. But when these guys are ready to go, they've got to be able to step in and go, and we believe because of the way they approach it, they'll be able to do that."
Since camp began eight days ago, Barkley has joined other players on reserve lists and unable to practice in working with the team's athletic trainers and strength and performances staffs. Some of those players, such as offensive linemen Matt Peart and Jonotthan Harrison, have passed their physicals and returned to practice.
Barkley has been seen on the field running and cutting, which is understandable given he was operated on more than nine months ago. Golladay was hurt just two days ago. He pulled up after catching a short pass in a 7-on-7 drill and immediately grabbed the back of his leg. He quickly left the field and was taken inside for evaluation.
When coach Joe Judge spoke to the media today prior to practice, he said Golladay was "with the trainers right now. These first 36 to 48 hours is the biggest, as far as what his timetable may be. We're hoping for the best. We're going to let him go ahead and keep getting treatments and see where it progresses over the next week."
Judge declined to say whether Golladay's injury is a strain, pull or anything else.
"I'm not going into specifics of it right there," Judge said. "I'm not trying to create some fabricated timetable, not from you, but from people in the public based on just a word. Every injury is different, whether we say it's a pull, or strain, or whatever it may be. Guys react differently to everything and their bodies are different. So, I'm going to make sure that he has every opportunity to rehab and get back on the field when his body is ready."
Rudolph was rehabbing on the field early in camp but has since made infrequent appearances outside.
"We're just kind of changing up some of the treatment that we're doing inside with him," Judge said. "Sometimes, he'll be more available on the field and be out there with the team. Other times, because the training room and the rehab facilities are more open for him to use when the players aren't in there, we go ahead and do that."
Barkley, Golladay and Rudolph continue to attend meetings and are up to date on all the offensive installation. That will hasten their rejoining the offense when they return to the field.
"Then physically, you have to re-acclimate them," Garrett said. "You don't want to say blow it all out on the first day. But you get them going again physically. The approach and staying locked in and staying engaged is a big part of it for any players who are hurt. We're fortunate we have professional guys who go about it the right way. Rudolph, Saquon and Kenny, those guys are all locked in for meetings. They're locked in on walkthroughs, and that gives them a chance to transition back in easily when they come back."
Garrett reminds them to stay fully engaged.
"It doesn't take a lot of nudging with those guys," Garrett said. "They go about it the right way. They're pros, they want to be great."
*In its first season under Judge and coordinator Patrick Graham, the Giants' defense improved 13 spots in the NFL rankings, finishing 12th in the league by allowing 349.3 yards a game. The Giants were 10th in rushing defense (111.4), tied for 16th against the pass (237.9) and ninth in points allowed (22.3 per game).
Given the large number of outstanding returning players and the talent imported during the offseason, it seems reasonable to speculate the defense will improve this year. Just don't make that argument to Graham.
"This league, every year is new," Graham said. "It's cliché, but it's true. As soon as the season's over, I've reset and then it's part of our job to make sure the players know, 'Hey, nothing matters from last year, from the previous year.' So you just try to convey that message to them and, thankfully, we have a good group of guys who understand that. Based on what we've seen through so far on the field, we've got a way to go to improve. I've got a way to go to improve, so I think they understand. Our offense is doing a pretty good job out there, so we've got ways to improve, and we'll keep working, so nobody really thinks about last year."
What does Graham want the defensive identity to be?
"The same thing that Joe talks about, toughness," Graham said. "We really want it to be reflective of the communities, the tri-state, New York, however you want to look at it. But like the people here, they're tough, they work hard. I want them to look at us on film, whether it's over at the stadium or out here at practice, we see our toughness come out. We see us working hard and not loafing around the field – running around the field, that's what I want it to be. Specifically, with the football part of it, playing in good football position, team-first, playing with our hands in front of our eyes, good knee-bend and all that stuff. Again, same stuff that most high school coaches are teaching, it's still the game of football between those white lines and that's what you want it to look like."
*Wide receiver John Ross, the ninth overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, has never returned an NFL punt or kickoff. But special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey is giving him a look, along with Jabrill Peppers, Adoree' Jackson and Sterling Shepard, among others.
"Speed is always good," McGaughey said. "John Ross is a very fast human being. I don't think I've ever been around a guy that fast. But it's good to have all those guys. Man, the depth at that spot at the returner position, it's a fun thing."
Moments later, McGaughey said, "(Ross is) fast. Just put it this way, he is right at the top of the list. He has what we call 'who-eee' speed, but it's fun to watch in practice. When he gets his opportunity to get out there and go play, I look forward to watching him."