It is entirely too soon for Joe Judge to know what he has for a football team, but it gets late early in the NFL.
The New York Giants host the Pittsburgh in 25 days and, like he said, the Steelers aren't coming to hug them. That is why incremental gains are so important to the first-year head coach, who thinks you start constructing the Empire State Building with the foundation and not by washing the windows.
"I'm pleased with the way they work right now," Judge said after Thursday's practice at training camp. "They come to work every day with a lot of enthusiasm and urgency. They're very coachable. These are guys that are very in-tune to the details that we're preaching within our program. I've seen a lot of camaraderie being built through the competition on the field, as well as the interaction off the field in the meeting rooms, in the dining hall and the locker room. You're starting to see a lot of the personalities really start to come out. It's a fun group to work with. I love coming to work every day."
Eventually that day will be game day.
Even then, the best teams are still works in progress, a lesson he learned while winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
"Tomorrow is our first scrimmage, an opportunity to go out there and really start working," Judge said. "I'm pleased with the direction we're going in right now. I see daily improvement from everyone. I see an urgency to improve. This is an evolving process. It's a long season. You're going to see a lot of teams come out there in Week 1 and no matter how they look, good or bad, Week 1, they're going to be a completely different team Week 16."
Judge referenced his final season in New England, where his last regular-season game was a 27-24 loss to a 4-11 Miami, a team the Patriots had beaten 43-0 in Week 2. It was also defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's final game with the Dolphins before joining Judge's staff with the Giants.
"We went down to Miami, they really weren't much of a team. They came into our place Week 17 and beat our butts," Judge recalled. "They were a much better, much improved team. That's why I have a lot of confidence in what Pat's doing out there. I've seen his guys in live action. I've seen him play with practice squad players and get them to the level of being NFL, on the field, game day players and beat us. That's important to me. To me, it's not what you are right now. It's where you're building towards. Where is this progress going? We're coaching every day to get every player to develop, and that's key. We're trying to get every player as many reps as we can so that they can have the experiences in practice that will carry over to the games."
*Veteran kicker Graham Gano addressed the media for the first time since signing with the team. Two years ago, Gano kicked the longest field by an opponent in Giants history, a 63-yarder with one second remaining to give the Panthers a 33-31 victory.
"I had a feeling that would be the first question," Gano said when asked if anybody with his new organization had brought the moment up. "I've heard it a few times. I think it's probably best if I don't talk about that much here. That was as good memory. I'm definitely excited to be here now and hopefully too many people don't bring that up."
Gano last played in a regular-season game on Dec. 2, 2018, his seventh season with Carolina. He missed the final four games of that year and the entire 2019 season because of injuries to his left (plant) leg. Gano was released by the Panthers on July 30.
"I had surgery up here in New York at HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) with the best doctor that does what I had done, Riley Williams," Gano said. "I feel like my leg is better than it's ever been. I feel strong and I'm just going to keep getting better and better. I feel really good. As far as missing time and all that, that's just part of the game. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control and really you can control what you can. My mindset was I'm just going to keep getting better at what I can do and just move forward. I feel you always have to have a positive mindset. Sometimes life is going to throw things at you that are going to be tough. It's how you respond to it is what matters."
*Rookie safety Xavier McKinney, a second-round draft choice, flashed again today with some highlight plays. The Alabama product played under six-time national champion head coach Nick Saban, a mentor of Judge.
"It's very similar," McKinney said. "When I kind of figured out and when he discussed some of his rules and how he wanted things to be handled and how he wanted us to be as a team, it was almost like a mirror version of how it was at 'Bama for me. As far as that, it was an easy adjustment for me. I have already been in this type of system. It wasn't that hard of a transition."
*The Giants will hold their first intrasquad scrimmage on Friday. Judge was asked what he hopes to get out of it.
"Tomorrow will be a lot of 'put the ball down and play it out,'" he said. "We may put the ball down more in a red area and let them play in the red area, or we put them in a backed-up situation and let them play it out from that zone. But tomorrow is definitely going to be a lot more of just aware on the field, see the sticks, what's the down and distance. Jason (Garrett) call it, Pat call it, T-Mac (Thomas McGaughey) have his unit ready to go if it's third down. Go down to fourth down and let's just go ahead and play it out and see how smart our players can react, see how physical they can play, and see how we can hold up our fundamentals and execution through a higher intensity."