EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He speaks to his teammates through a computer screen, but Daniel Jones is developing as a leader on the Giants in this unprecedented offseason.
The Giants are conducting their offseason virtually because of the social distancing rules mandated by the coronavirus pandemic. Unable to bring his team together to work on a practice field, coach Joe Judge and his assistants are getting to know their players and teach them remotely.
In an interview today with Mike Tirico on NBC Sports Network, Judge said Jones is asserting himself even in this restrictive environment.
"We're going to have different leaders," Judge said. "Daniel has to take on a role by the nature of his position. He's done a phenomenal job of setting the tone with the way he's working right now, and that's the biggest part of it. You can't be a leader if you're not effective at your job and you don't work hard for the team. Those are the two important things.
"But the other guys on our team have to lead as well. Everyone has their own style, and everyone has their own impact on the game, but we can't rely on one guy to lead. But I'd say Daniel is off to a very strong start in these virtual meetings by setting the tone on how he's working. That, to me, is the biggest thing. Everything he can do at this point, he's doing. That's all we can ask."
Judge spent his previous eight seasons on the coaching staff of the New England Patriots. Tom Brady, their six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, has a list of achievements that eclipse his leadership skills. But Brady didn't lead alone, and Judge wants that group dynamic to develop on the Giants.
"Tom is a phenomenal leader," Judge said. "He's a great player and his leadership comes in a lot of different ways. I don't have to sit here and talk about Tom at length or about how great he is. I think the thing that's impressive is that it wasn't just Tom leading. It was all areas of that locker room that stepped up and led, and that's what we're getting our players at."
Like all NFL coaches, Judge is working through an unwritten playbook – how to prepare an NFL team during a lockdown that has closed the Giants' headquarters, the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. His challenge is exacerbated because he is a first-year head coach working with his staff for the first time and learning about his players.
How, exactly, does he clear those hurdles?
"I think we're trying to make everything as normal as we can," Judge said. "When we're in control, we can control and not worry about reacting to everything around us. It's my job to have a few plans that we can adjust to on the fly based on what the league makes decisions as far as the offseason, which they've handled. Then as we go in the fall, however that shakes out as well.
"The biggest thing is we're working virtually, but we have to knock down some of these walls and bridge the gaps for our players and form relationships. The one thing we can't have is we walk in for training camp in July or August and we start looking around and now we're introducing ourselves to each other. We can't have that. We have to find a way as a coaching staff of eliminating those gaps with our players and start just forming relationships. The X's and O's are very important, but the thing we're missing right now is the lunch table conversations, the locker room bonds, walking off the field in phase two and three and just taking your cleats off on the steps together. There are things you can't replicate through a computer. But we're going to do our best as a coaching staff to put the players in a situation where they can start forming some of those relationships."
That bonding is formed not only when they are working but also during the leisure time that in a normal spring would be spent in the locker or lunch rooms.
"A lot of it has to come through the football meetings themselves and the X's and O's and conversations," Judge said. "A lot of it has to really come along, give the understanding to the players that at some point, they have to reach out themselves. Look, a lot of these guys play video games together. As much as that seems like just something to pass time, it's as important for team bonding right now as anything, if they can get on an Xbox and play with each other or pick up a phone and FaceTime like we are right now, at least look each other in the eyes as they talk. There are a lot of different modes. We kind of told players to be inventive. We're always searching for ways as coaches ourselves that we can put them in positions to try to create competitive situations within meetings. But the more interaction we can promote, the better it'll be for us as a team."
Judge discussed several other topics in his conversation with Tirico. A sampling:
*On how he keeps his emotions in check as he waits for the day he can coach his team on the field:
"I think the best thing I can do is just stay as busy as I can day by day," Judge said. "We have a lot of work leading up to it right now. We're mapping out training camp already, talking as a staff trying to get advanced scouting reports and everything on the same page. We're still a new staff, so there's a lot of things we need to make sure we cover without being in the building. There are things as simple as, 'Alright, first time we go on the field, we're not having spring ball right now. First time we go on the field, where are the different position groups going? When I blow the whistle, does everybody know where to run?' So, they are all the discussions we're having through computers right now so when we get back in the building, we can work faster together. There's plenty to keep me busy. Let's kind of manage a little bit of the anticipation or the energy as far as tapping my foot and waiting. But it'll come fast enough, and we're excited for the season to start."
*On the value of having on his staff offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who spent the previous 10 seasons as the Dallas Cowboys' head coach:
"Starting with the big picture, the first thing is I feel we have a very good offensive coordinator," Judge said. "That's the biggest part. We have control in the offense, there's a consistency within the system, there's experience to rely on there. Look, there's security in counsel. We have a great staff with a lot of good minds, and I find it important that we talk through different situations and make sure we're collectively sharing our ideas. Ultimately, I have to make the final decision, and that's the way it has to rest. But I've had a lot of great conversations with Jason to this point in terms of the situation we're in and different things he's been through and how we can handle things going forward."
*On his family dog, Abby, who received a lot of pre-draft publicity when a photo of Judge working alongside Abby circulated. Abby, however, got no TV time during the three-day event because the coach was working in New Jersey:
"We had to kind of bring her down a little bit," Judge said. "She was getting a pretty big head there for a minute, so we kind of kept her in her spot. No, you know what, I had to go down to Jersey and just get a better Wi-Fi connection. I had a couple issues leading up to it here in my house, and I wasn't going to chance it the evening of the draft. So, I went down, our IT department set us up. She's actually out here (in the backyard) right now chasing a ball as we speak. I kind of got her out of the house away from the kids for a little bit."
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.