EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Judge was pleased with his team's performance in its Friday night scrimmage and with its progress in training camp, but with 15 days remaining before the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he has numerous unsettled issues to address. One of them strikes at the core of his team's readiness to compete.
"Our number one focus right now is we have to improve our football conditioning," Judge told reporters today on a post-practice Zoom call. "To be honest with you, our guys have practiced extremely hard. They've done everything we've asked them to. The reality is, there just hasn't been an opportunity to build into a full game's length of conditioning, so we have to find ways to supplement our team to allow them to really build into that four-hour window that they're going to have when they play their first game on the 14th. That's the number one note we really have as coaches."
In the scrimmage, the blue (offensive) team defeated the white (defensive) team, 23-22. The notable performers included running back Wayne Gallman, who scampered for a 43-yard touchdown, and linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who unofficially had four sacks.
"I was pleased with the effort," Judge said. "For the young guys, it was really their first experience of being on that game field moving around at a high tempo. I would say the simulation of the in-game adjustments, the crowd noise, the officiating, everything that goes with the game, definitely gave a different feel than we create at practice. I thought our guys really embraced that. You could tell there was a good energy and juice in the locker room throughout it. It felt like a game. You can tell for the young guys, their first time being out on the field, there were a couple of things they have to clean up in terms of embracing the job and execution and kind of getting out of the moment and the excitement. But that's natural for any first game right there, even though it was a simulated one."
The offense certainly would have preferred to score more points, but Judge saw much that he liked.
"I thought they did a good job of stringing some drives together," Judge said. "Like I said the other night, there's a lot of restrictions we put on the team in how we had to play the game and the tempo of the half. That eliminates a lot of what you can do on both sides of the ball. We understood that going in as a coaching staff. We knew what we were looking for specifically from the units, along with certain players, so no, I came out very encouraged."
*The Giants will hold another scrimmage Thursday afternoon in still-empty MetLife Stadium.
*Perhaps no position group has been scrutinized as thoroughly as the offensive line, where guards Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez are the only returning starters. The starters and reserves all acquitted themselves favorably in the scrimmage.
"You saw a lot of things from them," Judge said. "You see the young guys and the athleticism. I thought Nick Gates did a good job in the middle, commanding the calls and getting everyone on the same page. I thought he played with a lot of toughness the other night. I thought the tackles did a decent job. There were some other times, obviously, our defense was able to mix up some different looks and create pressure. There is a lot of parity in the night between our offense and defense based on the situation they were in. I thought Hernandez and Zeitler did a good job really playing physical. That showed up with (rookie) Shane Lemieux. I was pleased with how (rookie) Matt Peart and Eric Smith played on the edges. There are a lot of young guys who showed up as well. Tyler Haycraft had a large load the other night, did a decent job in there handling it, especially with the mental and the changes our defense gave with different looks. That's always a key thing for the center position, to be the smart guy who steers everyone on the same page. I was pleased with the way the offensive line worked. They're improving every day.
"Marc (Colombo) coaches those guys hard. Him and Ben (Wilkerson) get after it pretty good. They understand it's coming from the right place. I've seen those guys improve because they come to work every day with their lunch pail."
*Center Spencer Pulley and inside linebacker Blake Martinez – who did not participate in the scrimmage - returned to practice after missing several days.
"I'm not going to go into the specifics of any injury or reason they're off the field." Judge said. "But I'll tell you what, I'm relieved to have Blake back out there with us. It was good to have him out there today."
*Tight end Evan Engram, who was held out of the scrimmage ("we've just been pounding him so much in practice," Judge said) returned to the field today.
*Saturday is the deadline for all NFL teams to reduce their roster from the training camp size of 80 players to the regular-season limit of 53. This year, practice squad rosters have expanded from 12 to 16 to account for the possibility of positive COVID-19 results forcing players off the field. The new collective bargaining agreement permits teams to expand their game-day rosters to 55 players (48 active) by temporarily promoting players from their practice squads.
With three practices and the scrimmage remaining before making cuts, how far along is Judge on the composition of the roster?
"We've had a lot of conversations," he said. "We spent about six hours yesterday as a coaching staff and personnel talking through the roster. We really do that every week, at least once a week, especially after the scrimmages. But look, at this point, there's a lot of things that can happen. There are a lot of guys who have left strong impressions. We want to make sure we take advantage of the remaining time to give everyone a fair shot and make sure we don't oversee someone's ability and make an assumption too quick."
*Those considerations were one reason Javon Leake, a rookie free agent running back from Maryland, was released yesterday when the Giants signed cornerbacks Brandon Williams and KeiVarae Russell.
"We thought with the way we kind of had to look at some spots on our roster and addressing different positions with depth," Judge said. "This time of year, there's a lot of movement on the roster. That's kind of natural throughout the entire league. Look, he made a lot of progress for us. He did some good things, he did some good things the other night in the scrimmage. With the way the rosters move throughout the year, every player we have here through camp, we express to them that however the roster moves, we'll have all of them on a list as far as possibly being brought back for roster or practice squad spots when available. He's a guy that came in and worked his tail off for us. He made a lot of progress and I enjoyed coaching him."
View the best photos from Friday night's Blue-White Scrimmage