EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants have had to call an audible on the coach who calls the plays.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced this morning, and he will not be in attendance when the Giants host the Cleveland Browns Sunday night in MetLife Stadium. Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens – who was the Browns' head coach in 2019 - will serve as the team's offensive play caller.
Garrett is continuing to work with the team remotely. The Giants said no one else in the organization was deemed a high-risk contact. Out of an abundance of caution, the Giants did not practice today.
"We did an early morning meeting through Zoom," coach Joe Judge said. "Really, we've been doing that on Thursdays anyways, so the morning for us was really the same. Instead of practicing this afternoon, what we'll do is we'll bring the players back into a Zoom meeting from 3 to 5:30, and we'll go ahead and get a jumpstart on tomorrow's install, along with some extra tape on the Browns. We're going to use this as a good mental day and prepare, make sure we get some good organizational work between units with communication. We'll take advantage of everything afforded to us, and we'll get back on the field tomorrow."
The game's original kickoff time was 1 p.m. Because it was moved back seven hours, the Giants will get some additional preparation time.
"Our plan right now is to kind of have a hybrid day tomorrow where it's a little bit mixed with a Thursday and a Friday of what we need to get on the field," Judge said. "Saturday morning, we'll make sure we come in, we'll be on the field for a walkthrough for about an hour. We'll kind of treat this the same way we would like the Philly game on Thursday night. Where we had walkthroughs throughout the week for about an hour at a time on the grass. What we'll be able to do is come in Saturday night at the hotel, review a little bit of tape. Have some night before meetings. On Sunday morning, because you have the extra time, we can do what we call the hotel walkthrough. That's offense walking through the play sheet. Defense walking through some adjustments, talking through some variables that may come up in the game. This game being flexed really gave us some extra time to really build in."
Which should benefit Kitchens, who called plays last season in Cleveland. He first worked with Judge at Mississippi State in 2005, when Judge was a graduate assistant at his alma mater and Kitchens was the running backs coach. Kitchens has coached in the NFL since 2006, Judge since 2012.
"I've worked with Freddie, I've worked against Freddie," Judge said. "He's a tremendous coach. Freddie has a great rapport with the players in the building. He really connects with people. I think Freddie is a very intelligent and very smart football coach. He does a great job of really identifying scheme. He's a tough, fundamental coach as well. I think you see from his players, they improve and they really respond to him on a personal level, which carries over to their performance on the field.
"In terms of Freddie calling plays this week, look, it's really been a cooperative effort throughout the season anyway with the offensive staff, along with the defensive staff. We all work together on the same page. We built in opportunities throughout training camp and practice periods this season where different coaches had to call plays just for this exact situation. This is something that we've been preparing for, as I explained to the players again this morning. Listen, starting in the spring when we started out on Zoom, this is nothing new to us and it's not unique. Missing a day of practice is not something unique in the league this year. It's something as business is being done, you just have to be able to make sure you don't lock your knees and keep on moving forward. Our guys have done very well through virtual learning. Jason was still very involved this morning in the Zoom meetings with the team, just as he would have been if he was in the building. We've stayed connected in terms of calling the plays. Freddie is more than capable. … I think Freddie's experience in this league of calling plays and coordinating an offense is something that fits into what we're doing right now."
Judge said he expects the offense with Kitchen calling the plays to look much as it has through the season's first 13 games.
"We still want to stick to what our offense has really worked on this season," he said. "Make sure we're not throwing too many curveballs at the guys that are out there in the huddle calling it and playing it. That being said, you can work on certain elements and how you want to go into a game plan and how you want to call a game. Ultimately, when the time comes, the play caller has to call the plays.
"I think Freddie does a good job of seeing the defense and understanding what his players are capable of. I think Freddie sees the game through a big picture perspective. I've always respected how he's able to look at a defense and understand their strengths and understand our players. I think it builds him into where he has been successful. One thing about Freddie, he's been in a lot of different systems. He brings a lot of different knowledge, more run heavy systems, more pass heavy systems. He's worked under different coordinators and coaches. I think that's something that builds into his overall knowledge of the game and how he sees it. With that being said, our offense is our offense. We'll see how it adjusts based on the game plan."
*The Giants' other significant offensive issue is the potential availability of quarterback Daniel Jones, who is rehabbing hamstring and ankle injuries. He sustained the latter injury last week against Arizona. Had the Giants practiced today, Jones would have been limited.
"He actually was allowed to come in the building today," Judge said. "We had some treatment available for some guys that are either on IR or guys that needed treatment. They were the only players in the building today. But in terms of Daniel, the evaluation has obviously been put off a day as far as him moving around. I was encouraged with how he moved around yesterday at practice, how he threw the ball, how he was in the pocket. That was very encouraging. That being said, we'll have to see him at really a faster tempo. Tomorrow will be really the day we'll evaluate that out there. I'd say obviously with two injuries, it's a little bit different situation than it was just last week. But he's making progress, he's doing everything the trainers ask him to and he's working hard. We just need to make sure we do a good job of really watching him tomorrow at practice and make the best decision."
If Jones can't play, he will be replaced by Colt McCoy, who led the Giants to a victory in Seattle two weeks ago. Did not practicing today make it less likely Jones will face Cleveland?
"No, I don't think so," Judge said. "I think tomorrow being a hybrid day of kind of Thursday to Friday and Saturday will be the day that ultimately we want to have a decision."
*The Giants added tight end Kaden Smith (knee) to their injury report. He would have been limited had they practiced, as would guard Kevin Zeitler (knee). Rookie cornerback Darnay Holmes (knee) would not have practiced.
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