EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Except for occasional interruptions from one or more of his four children and the near-constant companionship of the family's golden retriever, Abby, Joe Judge has been working alone in his basement as he prepares for his first season as the Giants' head coach.
Operating in relative isolation has not changed his thinking when it comes to talking about players instead of the team at large. That was apparent in a conference call today, when Judge adhered to his team-first mantra so firmly that he again declined to name or discuss individual players when given an opportunity to do so.
Judge had a couple of opportunities today on a conference call. But he responded to questions about Daniel Jones and the team's recently-signed free agents with the more global answers he prefers.
Not unexpectedly, Judge was asked about Daniel Jones, who, with the start of the team's offseason program on Monday, will begin a deep dive into the offense new coordinator Jason Garrett has brought to the Giants. It will be the second offensive system in which he will play in his two NFL seasons. Are the Giants doing anything in particular so Jones doesn't fall behind the learning curve without on-field reps?
To Judge, any current question about Jones applies to the entire roster.
"I'll tell you what, really for all of our players, everybody is in the same boat right now trying to start from scratch," Judge said. "What we've been allowed to do right now by the league is we've had contact with our players, but everything has been non-football to this point. We've just wanted to check on them and their families and make sure everyone is safe and healthy and if there is anything we can do to help them in this process. We want to make sure that all of our players and their families really have the access to our medical team so if something comes up, we can head it off before it becomes a major issue.
"In terms of the players football wise, we've been able to give out iPads, and we've been able to load information on it, but we haven't been able to have any instruction or interaction dealing with football. Now, on Monday that's different. We get to go fully virtual with it, which will be a big advantage getting to meet with the players face-to-face, so to say, and start dealing with the players. In the meantime, the players have looked through what's on the iPad, they've watched old film, they've had a chance to look at playbooks which have been loaded up. But really, Monday is when the instruction and teaching starts. That's what we're looking forward to."
That and the NFL Draft, a three-day event that begins on April 23. The Giants already bolstered their roster this offseason by signing 11 free agents who played for other teams in 2019. Eight of those players previously worked with Judge and/or a member of his staff.
Judge attached no significance to that familiarity, particularly regarding those players setting an example for their new teammates.
"I don't think we are looking for any players to come in and be ambassadors or to raise the other players," Judge said. "We added players to the roster who we think are good players. Some we had previous exposure with, some we didn't. It's a small league, whether you are coaching a player, coaching against him or watching him on crossover tape every week, you know the league. I believe all the players we added have a great deal of value, I believe they are all going to add to our team. They are all going to compete, which is the biggest thing we like out of all the players we've added. You watch them on tape, and they all have very competitive natures in how they play and that's the biggest thing to us right there.
"As far as the previous relationships we have with these players, that's not going to give them an edge or an advantage over any other player on the roster or we are going to add at any point to the roster. We are always going to play the best player, we are always going to play the player that gives us the best opportunity to match up with an opponent by that week's game plan. I'd say the players that are coming in should know that about us already. They don't expect special treatment. I've had the opportunity to talk to all these players when we signed them. The message is very clear, the expectations for them are the same as everyone else on this team. No one at this point has an advantage on the roster over anybody else for a spot on this team."
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.
Judge has spent the three months evaluating the players who were on the Giants roster, those he added and those he hopes to acquire. And though he won't single anyone out, he does have strong positive opinions about the group.
"I'm excited to work with all the players," Judge said. "We've watched them and, again, we have watched them from a distance is the key thing to say. We've watched them on tape, we have watched them from afar. Most of us were on other teams last year, so we have watched them from an outsider's perspective. We are really anxious to work with them in our building and put our hands on them.
"It wouldn't be fair to give a true evaluation of anybody who you haven't worked with. We are excited to work with every player from the previous roster and the new guys we added to the roster right now. We are looking forward to the draft and we are all kind of tapping our foot right now just anxious to have any type of exposure to players that we can. When we start going virtually, it will give us a great insight to the players as to how they interact in meetings, how insightful they are with the questions they ask, how current they can stay on the information, and that's what we are really waiting for."
They will start answering some of those questions on Monday.
*Judge began his conference call offering condolences to the family of Anthony Causi, a much-admired and beloved New York Post photographer who passed away last weekend from Covid-19. He also spoke about the challenges we all face during this unusual and unsettling time.
"I'd like to take a second to acknowledge Anthony Causi and his family," Judge said. "I know it's a very tough time for his family specifically, but also everybody else in the media. There's a lot of things going on out there, people's lives have been turned upside down, that I think it's important we keep in perspective as we talk football through this call, that there are bigger things going on, that ultimately what we do is entertainment and a means of escape for people dealing with much bigger issues."
Judge delivered a similar message to conclude the call when he was asked what his message is to Giants fans.
"The biggest thing is beyond football," Judge said. "I hope everyone out there is safe, I hope everyone is healthy, I hope everyone is staying in good spirits. We're doing our best right here to get back to work for you guys so you have something to watch and be proud of. I can assure you, we're going to make sure that the hard work that they have in their communities and things that people are looking forward to getting back to when normal life resumes, we're going to make sure that what they've been anticipating, we put that on the field, we give them a product that they can be proud of.
"I just want to thank all of the first responders, too. The police, the fire department, every doctor, every nurse, ambulance driver. You find out how essential life is, how about essential employees, how we really would be struggling to function without people to do the everyday things for us. Look, it's tough sitting in your house. It's a lot tougher going out there every day, being exposed to the virus and doing your job, and then having to go home and look your family in the eye. We can't take lightly the sacrifices all those people are making for us, and we appreciate it."
*The NFL last had an interrupted/delayed offseason in 2011 because of the lockout during the negotiations for a new CBA. Judge was then a special teams assistant at the University of Alabama, a position he assumed when he began coaching in the NFL with the New England Patriots. Although he wasn't in the league that spring, he is fully aware of what happened and how it affected the league in the 2011 season.
"What we're dealing with right now is a lot of uncertainty, so we have to control what we have the ability to control," Judge said. "For us as a staff right now, we're looking at just making sure we get the installs in the way we want to get them in and make sure that whether our players get back to us this spring or not, they've got a solid base on the knowledge of our program so that when we start truly practicing competitively in training camp that they've got a good head start on it.
"I would say there are some significant differences between this year and 2011. In the lockout, the biggest difference was our players' ability to train and condition themselves to be ready to practice when they returned. And when you think about it, at the time, you had Drew Brees bringing the Saints down to New Orleans to throw, Colt McCoy took the Browns down to Austin, Texas. Travel was accessible, these players had the ability to go to a gym in their local town and train, to work with trainers. That's been removed, for the most part, across the country right now.
"The biggest thing we've got to make sure that we adjust for is the ability for our players to be prepared physically when they get back. When you track 2011, which is the last year we didn't have an offseason program with players, the injury data is what it is - it was the highest recorded in league history, especially in recent years. That was even with the players training on their own as hard as they could. The tough thing for our players is to really get pushed through football movements to prepare themselves for practice. So, we have to make adjustments so that when we finally do get the players back, hopefully sooner than later, but we have to make sure we practice the right way and give them, give the players, a chance to condition their body and be physically ready so that we can avoid injury. That's really our top concern right now is football wise, making sure the players can physically prepare their bodies and we can give them the resources and tools to do so, so that when we return to play everyone can play safely and aggressively."
View photos of the New York Giants free agent signings.