EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Like all NFL teams this season, the Giants will give it the old college try.
One aspect of the agreement between the league and the players association necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic was the cancellation of the NFL's preseason schedule. When the Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, Sept. 14, they will wear their game uniforms and face another team for the first time – just as college teams do every year when they play their opening games.
The Giants have reported to training camp and undergone coronavirus testing. The 90-man roster is split into three groups for weightlifting and field work. There are meetings and evening walk-throughs. The veteran players who reported on Tuesday will take physicals this weekend and beginning Monday will engage in strength and conditioning through Aug. 11. The following day, they are permitted to practice in helmets but not pads, which they can first wear on Aug. 17th. Each team can have a maximum of 14 padded workouts.
"This is almost more like a college training camp because you are not worried about getting ready for a preseason game," coach Joe Judge said today on a Zoom call. "You are not concerned about having a plan in place for a specific opponent. You really have more time to work on your own installs and what you can address within your own team at your own progression. The number of coaches on our staff, myself included, who have been through college football, we have thought back as to how you can have this progression. For us, there are waves to training camp. While we are having these walkthroughs on the field, we are going to really emphasize the mental part. We'll bring these guys around in the systems and give them an opportunity to really learn this at a good learning and teaching pace.
"When we get the opportunity to get on the field, we have to really ramp it up. It's not ramping it up to say here's the green light, let's step on the gas. You have to get the players' bodies ready for competition. Each part of the season gets faster. Preseason is not as fast as the regular season, regular season is not as fast as the playoffs. Every round you go in the playoffs, it gets faster and more intense, that's just the truth. Not that the players aren't putting in max effort, it's just the reality of the situation of how the teams get better as you go, the reaction you have to have and the intensity of the game. We have to do our part as coaches in ramping up the practices in training camp, so when we get to the regular season, our guys are physically prepared to play safely on the field."
View photos of the Giants taking the field for conditioning drills as training camp gets underway.
Preseason games are vital not only for evaluating players, particularly newcomers and other youngsters, but for test runs in play-calling, substitutions and communication among the coaches. This summer, the Giants must finetune those operations on the practice field, where game situations will be simulated more often than usual.
"We have to do a good job of structuring training camp in that we're able to evaluate the players first and make sure we make the right decisions while we form this roster," Judge said. "You can't do that without playing full speed football, and you can't have a safe team who's ready to play on September 14 without having some full speed football, whether it's a situation of intra-squad scrimmaging or intra-squad games. We'll also develop the coaching staff as well through intra-practice communication and then within the scrimmages and intra-squad games. We'll also divide the coaches up and make sure the necessary communication takes place. We'll make ways within scenarios of, within game communication where a certain coach isn't there and practice those scenarios as well, so we have a plan in place."
*The Giants had seven captains in 2019 – Eli Manning, Nate Solder, Saquon Barkley, Alec Ogletree, Antoine Bethea, Zak DeOssie and Michael Thomas. Barkley is the only one of those players remaining on the current roster.
Leadership in training camp and during the season will be be a vital commodity. The team leaders must not only set an example on the field but can encourage their teammates to make smart decisions elsewhere.
"Our players are very committed to doing everything possible to make this work," Judge said. "Our team is committed to improving on and off the field on a daily basis. I would say in the short time we've been with the players in our stadium as far as the protocols, they've done their absolute best. Obviously, when you first get in, there are some natural tendencies you're used to from being in a team environment that you have to start to distance yourself from, both physically and just, hypothetically, having a form of distance among the players. The leadership aspect of it, I think we're going to see that emerge. We'll have a leadership council, we'll talk. Part of our culture is doing what's necessary to be successful. At this time, to be successful, we have to stay healthy. The healthiest team has an advantage, and we're going to do our part to stay healthy."
*Asked about second-year cornerback DeAndre Baker, who is on the Commissioner Exempt List, Judge said, "he's not on our 90-man roster. Currently, he's on the exempt list, so I'll let the league deal with that issue. I'm not going to comment on any ongoing legal investigation."
*Regarding the decision to release kicker Aldrick Rosas, Judge said, "we felt it was best for the team based on all things being put together moving forward. I like Aldrick a lot as a person and I wish him the best of luck. I am not going to comment on the legal investigation, but we made a decision we felt was best for the team."
*The Giants are reportedly going to sign linebacker Markus Golden, who led them with 10.0 sacks last season, and kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Judge was not yet prepared to confirm those transactions or discuss those players.
"In terms of Markus or any other player, there's an entry process that everyone has to go through," Judge said. "The testing, the quarantining, then the physicals. Once these players clear that process, I'll be happy to talk about all of them."
*After a spring in which remote learning was mandatory, Judge finally got his players on the field during the first walk-through on Wednesday. Even that lowkey event was an eye-opener for the first-time head coach.
"I'll be very honest with you, the other day was the first time I've been in a walkthrough where instead of being directly related to a specific group or running a period at a time, you're walking around observing everything," Judge said. "By the time we got to our second walkthrough, look, my natural tendency is to be very hands on, so I find my way to groups and I know what I wanted to get across to different players. There's definitely a lot of coordination that goes on. The planning is huge, but really ultimately, our job as a coaching staff, and my job, is to make sure we're positioned to adjust accordingly and keep moving. That's what I've seen right now from our coaches and players. We've got to figure it out, and right now everyone is figuring it out. Whatever we're allowed to work with, we're going to have to figure it out. We have to plan day by day. If that plan changes, we adjust and we keep going full speed."
*The Giants officially designated tackle Nate Solder as reserve/opt-out and announced tackle Nate Wozniak has retired.
Citing health concerns, Solder revealed on Wednesday that he will not play in 2020. He is a cancer survivor and his son, Hudson, 5, has undergone treatment for cancer on and off since he was three months old.
Wozniak joined the Giants' practice squad last Dec. 17 and was signed to a reserve/future contract on Dec. 30. He was previously with New Orleans (twice), Minnesota and Atlanta, but never played in a regular-season game.