Head Coach Joe Judge
Opening Statement: Happy New Year everybody. I hope you guys had a fun night. In regards to the statement we released earlier this morning about the COVID positive we had in the building, Dave DeGuglielmo, Guge, has a positive test. There are two potential close contacts. Immediately upon notification last night, we isolated all three. We've had no close contacts other than those three. We're going through all of the information. We went through it with the league this morning, went through all the players, went through all the coaches as well. We deemed it safe to open the building. We've been going through our normal protocols. All of our players have been masked up and wearing the protective shields and spaced our accordingly. We've continued with our meetings which are in our indoor facility and about as well of a ventilated space as can be. We've continued with our pre-practice walkthrough, an abbreviated version to make sure it's extra spaced out and avoid more close contacts. We've moved on now. The players are getting dressed and getting ready for practice. Really, we're trying to keep the day as normal as can be. We went through everything last night to make sure it was completely safe to open the building. All the information we've been given, we deemed it was. We've not been a club who's been slow to delay or change the schedule at any point this year based on a positive. But because we were out of the building on Monday and Tuesday and with the close contacts being very limited on Wednesday and having a virtual day yesterday, all information pointed us in the direction that today was safe to bring the players in the format we have and continue with normal Friday prep. That being said, I'll open it up to any questions you may have.
Q: Just to follow up on that, who's going to fill in for Dave at practice and then again on Sunday?
A: The immediate plan is for Ben Wilkerson, he works with Dave on coaching the offensive line, so that's the immediate plan going into the game this weekend.
Q: Will Guge be doing the kind of thing that Jason (Garrett) was, kind of helping virtually via Zoom and all that stuff?
A: Yeah, he will be. He's already run several meetings this morning virtually. We actually just had a walkthrough, and it's a deal where they actually put the iPad behind the huddle and Guge can sit there and watch and have feedback in and out. It's a different deal but hey, it's something that we've become accustomed to. The players are able to communicate with the coaches through the Zoom app, and that's been something positive for us.
Q: The close contacts were players, coaches, staffers?
A: They were staff and coaches. I'm not going to go into specifics until we find out anything more about it though.
Q: But no players?
A: There were no players, no.
Q: Just in terms of this game on Sunday, can this season be considered a success without a win?
A: Yeah, I think there are a lot of things in terms of what we set out to accomplish this year that no one game is going to go ahead and define the season. I'm proud of the culture and the foundation we've laid and the work ethic and urgency we've instilled in these players going forward. That being said, there are a lot of things we need to do better as an organization across the board going forward. We have to keep building this thing in the right direction. But I know there's a vision going forward and there are a lot of people pointing in the right direction right now. So yeah, absolutely. But that being said, look, our job is to go out and win on Sunday. We're doing everything we can right now to go out there and win a football game.
Q: Can you just talk a little bit about your comfort level with Ben Wilkerson? Obviously, when you made a change at this position a month ago, you didn't promote Ben, you brought in Dave. So, what's your comfort level here with Ben?
A: My decision a couple months ago was in no way reflective in any confidence or lack thereof of Ben Wilkerson. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Ben. He's a good coach. He's a good, young coach. Draws from a knowledge of playing the game. He's a very good communicator. He has a very good passion for the game. The players respond to him very well. He's great on the field with technique instruction, and he's very good in terms of communicating and forming relationships off the field. Look, this is a guy, to be honest with you, when I got here last year, Ben was down at the East-West Shrine Game coaching. We had more requests put in for Ben Wilkerson last year while he was down there. This is a deal where I talked to him before he went down there, I said, 'I won't make any moves on the staff without talking to you first.' Then we agreed when he got back that I would like him to stay, he wanted to stay, we made some arrangements with the contract, and I'm glad to have him on our staff going forward. This is a guy that obviously we want in the program. He's going to help us going forward.
Q: Dante Pettis played quite a few snaps on offense for the first time last week? What have you seen from him in practice this year? Could he be more involved in the offense?
A: I think his involvement in the offense is growing with his knowledge of the schemes and the system and that's been big. Obviously, he has some athletic ability. He's shown he can get open, beat man coverage, find some holes in zones. Obviously, like I said the other day, he missed some time early on. He first got here, he was on the COVID list not too soon after. It was one of those deals where it took him a little bit of a while to get going. Not that he couldn't learn or couldn't get going. It just took him a while to kind of get his feet set in the system. He had an opportunity last week to get up for the game. He did, he made some plays. He's had a good week of practice.
Q: I know you always pretty much work on contingency plans, but do you have to make any adjustments knowing that you don't know in the next couple of days if there is going to be more positive tests? Especially pertaining to the offensive line, considering he worked with them? Do you make any changes on that end? If so, how much?
A: So, what we do is we stress making sure every player is ready. That's every player on the roster, practice squad. Making sure they're all prepared. They get reps in practice. Some guys have to get it through the practice looks of the other team. We work our techniques. Other guys may have to get extra work through walkthroughs and extra meetings. From a coaching standpoint, we always make sure we have people within the system that understand the big picture of what we're doing. Guys like Freddie Kitchens, Jerry Schuplinski, these are guys that are very fluent within our offensive line. Because of the use of protections as a tight end or a quarterback of how they tie-in, there's multiple guys that are always talking anyway. This is a situation like you see Jerry a lot of times talking with the offensive line if they have a question about a Mike ID or how we're going to handle something. He may go to Guge and they (inaudible) together. All of our guys work together. So, in terms of the coaching system, we've built it so we have multiple coaches who can handle multiple positions at any time if we're shorthanded in something like this, also with just the development of our staff as a whole. In terms of the personnel piece with the players, it's our job to get everybody ready. It's their job to stay ready mentally and physically.
Q: Any updates on these injured guys? How do you think Evan Engram has looked? Is Eli Penny making progress and Golden (Tate)?
A: With Eli, we're going to see how he does today. He's in with the trainers right now. It's more of an illness thing right so (we'll) kind of find out if he can get on the field and where he is going to be at physically. Obviously, he's missed a couple days. He missed the game last week. Golden has been encouraging. He's working hard. We'll see where he is moving around wise today. I'd say the way he was able to go out there Wednesday was further ahead than we thought it be. A lot of that he just him being a tough guy and really competing. That being said, toughness can't get you over every injury. We're going to see how he moves around today and where he's at. Who are the other ones you asked about?
Q: Just how Evan Engram has moved this week. I know he's been limited.
A: We've controlled some of his volume, but to be honest with you, this time of year that's not really unique to just him at all. He's had a good week of practice and getting ready to go.
Q: Just listening to you talk about what your walkthrough was like with an iPad behind a huddle. All the preparation and the contingencies and everything else. You're two days away from playing the final game of the regular season. To have this kind of go into motion today. I know you don't take a step back and look, but how are the players reacting to it? Are they reacting to it the way you would expect them to? Do you kind of see some guys looking around going is this what we're doing now at the end of the season?
A: No, to be honest with you, it's really the opposite. Our guys are so used to change at this point, they just keep on moving. That's really the way we want to build this team anyway. To be able to adjust on the fly. That's in-game adjustments and that's off the field adjustments. When we talked to the team and I addressed it this morning at the team meeting in terms of what the situation was. There weren't a lot of heads looking around like what's the answer, what are we going to do. They know we have a plan. We have something in place. They just go out there and just start executing.
Guard Kevin Zeitler
Q: I guess the whole season has been a season of adjustments and changes to coaches and things like that. What's the last 12 hours been like for your group?
A: Obviously a big surprise. Obviously, we wish Guge to get healthy quick and it doesn't affect him much. This team, we've been prepared. It's been a crazy year with COVID. We knew anything could happen at any time. I think we have a resilient group here and we're ready to keep moving and getting better and get ready for Sunday.
Q: I know Ben (Wilkerson) wasn't with you guys today. Were you working with Freddie (Kitchens) or somebody else?
A: We've had a bunch of guys rolling through right now. Whoever (Joe) Judge decides to stick out there with us, we know it's going to be good. We know the coaches here are very well versed in protections no matter what they officially coach. Anyone can come in and work with us.
Q: How much do you work on a normal week with Freddie or Jerry (Schuplinski) or any of those other coaches? How much input do they actually have when you're actual offensive line coach is around?
A: I think what a cool thing here is kind of like what I was trying to mention. All the coaches really do work together. We get together a lot here. There's a lot of back and forth about different ideas and things. The players are together. Everyone does have a very good understanding of O-line here. We do get to work with everyone throughout the week.
Q: How much in a game is just on the players? You're a veteran guy. Do you almost have to be a coach on the field? Especially if Ben is not around?
A: Absolutely. The players are the ones out there that have to figure it out on the fly. You can come off and the coaches can help you, but when you're out there the players have to be able to figure it out on the fly.
Q: Joe Judge mentioned earlier during walk through that they kind of had an iPad up and Guge was coaching you guys from the iPad? Could to hear him back there? Was he giving you coaching points from the iPad?
A: Of course.
Q: What was that like? That was probably 2020 in a nutshell, right?
A: Exactly, it's just how you move forward and deal with the challenges. After this, we're going to be use to everything.
Q: How do you feel like the offensive line has played the last few weeks? I know there was a stretch during the winning streak especially where you guys were playing your best football. How do you feel like you guys have played the last three games?
A: I think we're a resilient group. Obviously, we've had some challenges. Nothing has left this building. Everyone is integrated, everyone is trying to get better. We want to finish this out right. We're just working to get better every day. I love the group of guys. We're doing what we need to do.
Q: What does your position coach actually do on game days? I know it's kind of an obvious question. We see come over the sidelines and huddle up between series. What would you be missing without Guge there?
A: You come to the sideline, they tell you what you did wrong and they fix it. Obviously, it sucks. He is the guy in charge. He has the full thing and what not. Like I have been saying, whoever is out there helping this Sunday, we're going to be able to work with them, they are going to work with us. We're going to get everything done we need to get done.
Q: Just to bring it back to the actual play Kevin. How has this season gone? How would you describe the arc of this offensive line? Obviously, Week 1 was a struggle. To where you are now, how has this season gone?
A: I think given everything, it goes like with a normal O-line. A normal O-line development for a season. Had a lot of young guys to start. Came to work every day. It started how it started and we kept getting better every week. We're definitely better than where we started, and we just want to keep that continuing trend going.
Q: Offensive linemen are sort of notorious for having off the field gatherings. Dinners and things like that. You weren't able to do any of those things this year. Did that hurt? Did that slow down the comradery?
A: It's unfortunate. Looking back over my past couple seasons. Being able to get together in the offseason or for dinners, that's some of the most memorable times of your NFL career. Obviously, this year the O-line was diligent. We wanted to follow rules. We always wanted to be available for the team this year. We had to put it to the side. God willing, next year when we get to OTA's, we can do that stuff again.
Wide Receiver Dante Pettis
Q: This is obviously the first time we've talked to you. I'm just curious obviously, this last year has been crazy for everybody. But you went from being on the 49ers where you weren't getting as much playing time as I'm sure you would have liked. Then you got cut, claimed by the Giants, you got COVID, finally made your debut this past week. How would you describe how this last year has been for you?
A: You hit it right on the nose. It's been crazy for everybody, not just me. No one really saw any of this coming. There were certain things that threw me for a loop in particular with just the way the season started for me, getting cut and all that, coming out to New York. But I'm happy with how everything has turned out. I like being here. Like I said, I'm happy with how things have gone.
Q: What did you think when you were claimed by the Giants and what has the experience been like since you got here?
A: I was excited. Obviously, I know the Giants have such a big history and all that, so I was excited to be a part of that. It's been good being here. All the teammates and coaches, everyone's been helping me get caught up to speed and all that. It's been really good.
Q: How did it feel to get your first catch, your first couple of catches, when you played the other day?
A: It felt good. I don't know the last time I had a catch. It felt good to just be a part of the team and contribute. Like I said, it's been a while since that had been a thing. I wish we would have been able to get the win, obviously. But it did feel good to at least be out there with everybody.
Q: Obviously, the thing you're most known for is special teams returns. How quickly have you been able to pick that stuff up? Is it like when an offensive or defensive player has to learn a whole new playbook on a new team or are returns not quite like that? It's catch the ball and run.
A: Return is more simple I think. There are going to be things that are specific to what certain coaches like, whether it's they like catching the ball a certain way or they like certain returns. But for the most part, I guess punt returning especially, it's mostly like you catch the ball and find space based on the return.
Q: How comfortable are you as a kick returner? I think you did that at Washington, but I think you only had one and it was this year in San Francisco. I don't think you ever did it for San Francisco kick returning before this year?
A: I actually didn't even kick return at Washington. I did it in high school. I don't know why I didn't really do it in college but it just didn't happen like that. Yeah, this year was the first time I actually returned a kick for the 49ers. I'll do it. I have no problems with it. It was just something that they felt like they had other people or something, I don't know.
Q: So, all eight of those touchdowns at Washington were punt returns?
A: Nine, but yeah.
Q: How difficult was it to kind of come into this offense so late and trying to mesh with Daniel (Jones) and the guys? What were the main difficulties associated with that?
A: I think just the terminology in the first week and a half. It almost felt like I was learning a new language for the first couple days. I had no idea what certain words meant and all that. But everybody was very helpful with trying to get me up to speed. If I had any questions, they would always help. They would be like 'Oh no, you got this.' All the receivers too, if I was lined up, they checked in like 'You good? You got it?' Yeah, so the first week and a half was rough but after that, extra meetings and everything it kind of went a lot smoother.
Q: Obviously, the football thing is the football thing. But personally, did you know anyone with the Giants when you got claimed and when you came here? How hard is it to develop relationships beyond football when you guys, Kevin Zeitler was just in with us telling us it's hard for guys who were here last year to continue to develop relationships. For you coming in the way you did, what has that been like?
A: I knew a few of the guys on the team. There were some guys that were on the 49ers before or that I trained with, been at the same agency. There were guys that I knew, some that I was familiar with, and so that helped a lot. Then the receiver group at least, I feel like we're very close. They were very welcoming. There are a lot of guys that live at the same apartment that I'm at, so it was easy to just kind of go to their room, stop by, hang out for a little bit. I didn't think it was too hard. I feel like we have a lot of good guys in the locker room that have really just been welcoming.
Q: A lot of guys who have had experience with being in quarantine say it takes a lot out of them, just sitting around a hotel room. You had to go through that twice. Once when you got here and then once with the actual COVID. What was that like and how did that affect your body and your athleticism?
A: The first quarantine wasn't too bad. It was like six days, and I could still do workouts. I could do pushups in my room or something like that. So, that one wasn't too bad. But then the second one when I actually got COVID was a little rougher because I wasn't supposed to work out or anything. I was just in my room for, I think it was 10 days. After about six days, I started to feel better so I could walk around and everything. But I lost probably eight pounds. When I came back, it was just my body was a little weaker. It took a while to kind of get back up to speed after that.
Q: Do you feel like you're back to where you were before COVID?
A: Yeah, I feel perfectly fine now.
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