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Julian Love explains how Giants bonded virtually

On one video conference, his head coach, Joe Judge, grilled him about which high school another defensive back attended. On another video conference, a college professor giving him a final exam.

That is how Julian Love spent his spring. In the process, the second-year pro bonded with his teammates, learned a new playbook, and graduated from Notre Dame, all in a virtual setting in the middle of a pandemic.

"It was a huge accomplishment for me," Love said on the “Giants Huddle” podcast. "I was just really grinding this past spring and got it done. I'm definitely going to hang that [diploma]."

Love's first NFL offseason was unlike anything he could have imagined. Instead of walking across a stage to pick up his degree in Management Consulting from the Mendoza College of Business, he waited to see his name scroll across the computer after his dean, provost and president gave their remarks in front of a green screen.

The optimistic Love turned the unprecedented circumstances into a positive, academically and athletically.

"Honestly, I'm very fortunate because the situation with everything going online kind of helped me out," Love said. "I was able to be locked in. Obviously, I was in class for a certain amount of the day and then I was in football for a certain amount of the day. All of my professors were accommodating. It sounds messed up, but my first priority was football. And they knew that. So they knew classes and finishing up the semester was second on my mind. I was really just trying to get everything down, really trying to get to know everyone. That's important over this virtual setting."

Judge has said the advantage this offseason goes to the most prepared team. The first-year head coach has left no stone unturned in his quest to be that club.

Knowing team-building would be the biggest challenge to the virtual environment, the former three-time Super Bowl champion assistant in New England set up trivia challenges to get to know each other and their surroundings.

"We kind of took some lessons from really watching my kids do virtual school and some guys from around the country on what they were doing at different colleges and different pro programs," Judge said in a remote interview with the Voice of the Giants Bob Papa as the team wrapped up its offseason program. "I was watching my kids use the Kahoot! app, and we found out a couple of colleges were using the same thing. Really, it started through player development and went across the offense and defense as well in terms of having some daily competitions and weekly competitions. We subdivided the teams into different groups and made it competitive, played for some prizes. We were able to ask questions about things related to getting to know your teammate or getting to know the area, organizational history or maybe something directly tied into offense or defense.

"It was fun. It changes it up a little bit. It gets guys interacting. When you first start the meetings, everyone will come in with a muted screen the first couple of weeks. It was very quiet. Then over time, they got more comfortable. Really the best part of the day was you'd click on a few minutes before the meetings start and you'd hear the players cutting up on each other, kind of calling out who needs a haircut, who's been doing what. That was really the best time, hearing the guys interacting like they would in the locker room. We wanted to let that grow as organically as we could throughout the spring."

Love thought it was very effective.

"There's an importance on getting to know the area because we're the New York Giants and we encompass a lot of demographics, a lot of people, a lot of areas geographically as well," Love said. "So part of it could be know the New Jersey area, know different areas of New York in trivia and geographic ways, and then there is get to know your teammates. It could be where somebody is from, what high school they went to, their picture and name this person – coaches as well. Everybody is involved into who could pop up on the trivia. So that's a conversation starter with that person going forward. You learn such interesting [backstories] on people. I think you learn more doing that than you do in person with each other in a way."

Love added, "That implementation has been awesome. I really enjoyed each day hopping online to meet with people and meet with teammates and to see what the new challenge is for that day. Communication has been flowing, very fluid and open. I think that's important right now to build that camaraderie, which we're not able to because we're not in the facility together."

View photos of Giants second-year defensive back Julian Love.

On an individual level, Love hopes to be that versatile defender this coaching staff values.

As a rookie fourth-round pick in 2019, he played all but one game and made five consecutive starts at strong safety to end the season. He recorded 32 tackles, broke up three passes, and grabbed his first career interception in Week 12 at Chicago.

Now he has to learn a new playbook under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, no small task even in normal circumstances.

"It's tough at first, but they've done a great job setting up film, setting up meetings, certain PowerPoints," Love said. "Some coaches might step back in the camera and demonstrate something, which is kind of funny. But I think it's gone well. None of us can control what is happening right now and why we're in this virtual setting, but all we can do is our very best to learn as much as possible in this setting. And I think we've done a great job so far. Everything is very easy, they put it in front of you, a lot of guys are asking a lot of questions, and I think that's a start of building something great."

Over the offseason, the Giants signed veteran cornerback James Bradberry from Carolina and added two more defensive backs in the draft in Darnay Holmes (fourth round) and Chris Williamson (seventh).

"I like to say I'm always confident in my abilities and learning playbooks and being intelligent, just learning to grow – and I am," Love said. "I'm excited for all that, but then you've got to have that element of pressure behind you to be able to grow and get better. I think that's kind of what I've always done every year of football no matter what level I'm at, no matter what I accomplished the year before. You've got to feel that element of pressure in order to grow."

In addition to the academic side, Love also had to get his body right while back home with his family in the Chicago area. Craig Fitzgerald, who was hired in March as their new director of strength and performance after Aaron Wellman left for the University of Indiana, made sure the players had the proper resources to train by themselves.

That's how "Camp Love" started.

First, Love ordered resistance bands. Then came the center mass bells, which are somewhere between a kettle and dumbbell. He already had a medicine ball and jump rope, but he needed a squat rack, a flat bench, an adjustable bench, a few Olympic bars and sets of plates to go with them, power blocks, and an adjustable dumbbell set.

But, as Love said, his office is turf. So the former member of the Fighting Irish needed to find green.

While adhering to the proper health guidelines, Love tried to get in as much fieldwork as he could, wherever he could. To kill two birds with one stone, he would do his strength workouts at a fast pace to work in the conditioning element, something he also did at Notre Dame. 

His goal was to to stay in shape physically and mentally so he can play any position in the defensive backfield.

"I want to just be a factor," Love said. "I want to contribute in a positive way and do whatever I have to do to do that. Last year – I don't want to talk about last year too much – but I tried to be there in any way I could [by] knowing the playbook, knowing different things I could do to see the field and just try to help. And it's not for, 'Oh, I want to play, I want to play.' No, I want to help. I want to build on this. So my personal goal is just to be ready for that."

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