The Giants underwent some major changes this offseason. Joe Judge was brought in as head coach, and with him came an almost entirely new coaching staff.
After spending the past 13 years, including 10 at head coach, in Dallas, Jason Garrett will now lead the Giants' offense as the team's offensive coordinator. During his time in Dallas, Garrett's offense experienced a ton of success. The Cowboys finished in the league's top 10 in yards eight times and were in the top half of the NFL in yards all but twice during that time. The Cowboys' offense also finished in the top seven in points during seven of those 13 seasons.
Former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna knows Garrett well. Kitna served as the Cowboys' backup quarterback from 2009-2011 and again in 2013, starting nine games across those four seasons. Upon his retirement, Kitna got into coaching on the high school level before Garrett brought him on his staff as Dallas' quarterbacks coach last season.
Kitna joined Big Blue Kickoff to discuss Garrett's new position and what the Giants offense might look like in 2020.
"I get asked often, 'Who is your favorite head coach that you've played for?' and without hesitation I always say Jason Garrett," Kitna said. "I got to see somebody in 2010 that was a coordinator, and then had a head coaching job thrust upon him because we went in a different direction with Wade Phillips as an organization because the players weren't doing what they needed to do. A good man had to lose his job in Wade, but Jason Garrett just did not flinch. It was clear that he was prepared for that opportunity and had been preparing for years. When he stepped into that role, it was a thing of beauty to watch how he led through that. What he's done the last 10 years, he's been a great mentor to me in terms of coaching and somebody that I look up to. Now being back as a playcaller, just look at his offenses. When he's the playcaller, they're usually a top 5 offense."
In the six seasons that Garrett called plays for the Cowboys (3 ½ as coordinator and 2 ½ as head coach), Dallas' offense finished 3rd, 13th, 2nd, 7th, 11th and 6th in the league in yards, respectively. The numbers get even more impressive when looking at the success of the unit's passing offense. During those same six seasons, the Cowboys' passing game ranked 4th, 9th, 6th, 6th, 7th and 3rd in yards and 2nd, 4th, 13th, 7th, 5th and 6th in touchdowns.
Garrett will work with second-year quarterback Daniel Jones and the Giants offense. Jones put together a promising rookie campaign last year, completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his 12 starts.
If there's one thing Jones should prepare for this season, it's an aggressive offense.
"(Jason) wants the offense to have an aggressive mindset," Kitna told BBK. "He's going to call plays aggressively. Obviously, that's all going to be predicated on how well he gets his quarterback up to speed and all that stuff, and dealing with the younger guys. It's different, but he played well last year, so I'm sure he's excited about that. But he's an aggressive playcaller. He's going to call plays that are meant to get the football down the field and trust the quarterback that if we don't get what we're looking for, to move on and get it to the back coming out of the backfield and then we'll call the next play. That's what he wants to do. He wants to call the game aggressively. He wants to be on attack mode all the time. He really tries to instill that in his offensive unit."
While Jones showed a lot of potential last year, his rookie season was not perfect. The young quarterback fumbled the ball 18 times, 11 of which were recovered by the opposing team. Several of those turnovers were caused by Jones holding onto the ball too long, something Kitna believes will not be an issue in Garrett's offense.
"He's going to call plays, and we're calling this play to throw this route. When you get that route, let that thing rip," Kitna said of Garrett's approach. "Get back and let it rip. But if it's not there, move on. Move on, find the back, find the tight end, find the next thing. Don't stand back there waiting for something to come open. You're going to find a quarterback that, like I said, he's going to play free. Jason does a great job of not overcomplicating the game. Guys that have played quarterback in this league are great at doing that, of making the game simple for the quarterback so he can get back, get rid of that football.
"It'll be a lot more friendly for that offensive line. You get the ball to all of your playmakers in space. That ball is going to come out of his hand fast. But Daniel was already doing that last year. I watched it a lot. But a lot of the time, when you get in trouble or the defense confuses you, Jason is going to keep preaching to him, 'Just move on. Move on. Take that back and move on. Get the ball out of your hands.'"
Jones is not the only playmaker who should benefit from the addition of Garrett. Since drafting running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, the Cowboys have consistently had one of the strongest run games in the NFL. Dallas ranked 1st, 5th, 10th and 8th in rushing attempts while finishing 2nd, 2nd, 10th and 5th, respectively, in rushing yards over the last four seasons. Elliott has accumulated over 300 rush attempts in three of his four seasons, with the only year he came up short of that mark being the one in which he only played 10 games.
The Giants have a young star running back of their own in Saquon Barkley. Barkley shined as a rookie in 2018, running for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on an average of 5.0 yards per carry and adding 91 receptions for another 721 yards and four touchdowns on his way to being named NFL Rookie of the Year. A high ankle sprain caused his numbers to dip last year, but Barkley still finished with 1,441 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in 13 games.
Through his first two seasons, Barkley has averaged almost 21.5 touches per game. According to Kitna, the 23-year-old back can expect those numbers to increase in Garrett's offense.
"I can tell you this much, I would imagine that Jason is probably devising ways to put the football in that guy's hands 25-30 times a game," he said. "That's not going to be just handing it off to him. It's going to be all the different ways you can get him the football, get him the ball in space… All I know is, Jason's track record is pretty good at getting the running back the football upwards of 20-25 times a game so that that runner is feeling in the flow and comfortable."
Judge has said often this offseason that the offense will be geared to the players' strengths. Kitna repeated that point when discussing how Garrett will vary the run scheme in order to benefit Barkley and the offensive line.
"It often times was dictated on what the linemen do best and what the runner likes best," Kitna said when asked about Garrett's run schemes with Dallas. "When you look at Demarco Murray, that guy was more of a zone runner, whereas Marion Barber was a 'let me get the football and get downhill.' They were completely different. Felix Jones, 'how can I get the ball to this guy outside the tackles?' Then you have Ezekiel Elliott, well, he's a zone runner. That's what they've done. It's really just about the personnel. Jason has been around the league forever. I think he was born into the NFL. There's no scheme that he doesn't know."
Garrett is not the only coach to make the move from Dallas to East Rutherford this offseason. After four years as an assistant with the Cowboys, Marc Colombo will serve as the Giants' offensive line coach, a move that Kitna believes will greatly benefit Big Blue's O-line.
"I'll tell you this about Marc Colombo, he's a no excuses kind of guy, tough as nails kind of guy," Kitna said. "That offensive line is going to have a great brotherhood and relationship with each other… I think you're just going to see an offensive line that takes on the personality of Marc Colombo, which is tough as nails, do whatever it takes to get it done, focus on the fundamentals. But at the end of the day, your job is to win one on one battles. There's no excuses. Having been on the staff with him last year, that's exactly how he went about his job day in and day out. He's incredible at the run game and putting things together. He and Jason work really well together."
Kitna added that the familiarity between Garrett and Colombo will go a long way in helping the Giants install their new offense.
"Obviously, there is always a lot of positives that go with familiarity," the former QB said. "Jason sat us all down last year. Myself, Colombo, Kellen (Moore), and talked about, 'Okay, how do we want to construct the offense? How do we want to systematically install our system of football?' He and Marc understanding that together now that Jason is not going to have to explain that to the offensive line coach, how he wants to systematically put things together, I think that's going to be a huge advantage for them. It's going to help them kind of get that message out faster to both the staff and players. Obviously, it's hard right now. But I know Jason, I guarantee he's doing some innovative things with how you communicate things virtually."
The situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has altered offseason plans for every team across the league. Instead of being at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center for OTAs, installing the new offensive and defensive systems in-person, the offseason program has been all virtual. While one would think that could lead to a disadvantage for a team with a new coaching staff, Kitna told BBK he is confident in Garrett's ability to teach his offense, even in these unforeseen circumstances.
"It's tough. It's tough on everybody. Certainly tough for new coaches," said Kitna. "But I guarantee you, like I said, Jason Garrett is using every tool and thing that he can to make things come to life for the whole staff and for the players. Jason is so good at being present and controlling what he can control. He's not going to spend one minute thinking about the things that he can't do anything about. He's just going to be the best he can be at what he has available to him. I know that he's a guy that can coach up as good as anybody in the league right now. I think that's going to pay off when they get a chance to actually put their hands on the guys and start teaching."
In addition to Garrett and Colombo, the Giants brought in two other former Cowboys this offseason in offensive tackle Cam Fleming and quarterback Cooper Rush, both of whom received high praise from Kitna.
"Cam Fleming, I love the kid" Kitna said. "Consummate pro, going to be ready to play. He fits Colombo, which is man, it may not always look pretty for him but he's just going to win. I know both sides, he's never going to complain. He's going to be a good, solid player for them.
"Cooper Rush is going to be the best thing that's ever happened to Daniel Jones, I guarantee that. He's going to be able to help Daniel see things so much better, so much faster, because Cooper is probably one of the smarter people I've ever been around, and I've been around a lot smart ones. But not only is he smart, being able to convey it, and then I think he's an arrow up physical ability guy. If he has to play in a football game, I guarantee he gives the team a chance to win. That's all you ever want from your backup quarterback."
Finally, Kitna was asked about his thoughts on Jones as a young quarterback, and again offered a promising outlook.
"I had a chance to evaluate him last year going into the draft and watching a bunch of tape on him," Kitna said. "Of all those guys coming out last year, this guy was the best one, not even close, from 20 yards and in. He would dice people up. He knew exactly where to go with the football. He was accurate as heck from 20 yards and in… He's everything that you're looking for in a quarterback. He's mobile enough, but he's a person that's going to play the game from the pocket first. You just love that. The sky is the limit for him, honestly."
View photos of every roster addition made by the Giants this offseason.