EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants today reached back into their past and had an old-timey day of preparation – if you consider 2020 the good old days.
Once again, COVID-19 testing mandated alterations to the team's schedule as it prepares for a home game Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders. The players reported to work and tested before being sent home to participate in meetings on Zoom and then returned to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center to eat lunch and practice.
The virtual meeting was a daily fact of life during the COVID-ridden 2020 season, enabling coach Joe Judge and the players to work seamlessly when forced to retreat to their computers today.
"This has been, obviously, a different type of day," Judge said. "We've kind of flowed with it pretty well, I think, as an organization. We got the meetings accomplished virtually. It was kind of like stepping back into last season."
The players took it all in stride.
"I think it's unfortunate that some people have tested positive or false positive or whatever the case may be, but I think we have some experience with the COVID stuff going on," defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. "All of last year, we had to get tested every day, we did virtual meetings at times, had no fans, so I think we've dealt with some of these things before. I think because we have experience, we know not to let that be a distraction throughout the week."
"It's a little adjustment," tight end Evan Engram said. "Some things change, a little sudden change. Some unfortunate stuff that we're not really in control of. We just have to abide by the rules. Everybody is in here taking care of business, following the rules and we just got some good work in on the field."
View photos from Thursday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 9 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.
But the Giants did not complete their day unscathed. Rookie running back Gary Brightwell joined fellow running back Saquon Barkley and starting safety Xavier McKinney on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
That leaves the Giants thin at running back with only Devontae Booker, Eli Penny (17 rushing attempts this season), and Cullen Gillaspia (two snaps on offense, 139 on special teams) on the roster.
Left guard Matt Skura, in the COVID protocol yesterday, was cleared to return to the field today and practiced fully.
Judge indicated player availability for the game Sunday remains a fluid situation.
"We told every player to be ready, that we expect everyone to be completely focused in and locked in and available for this game," Judge said. "No one has been ruled out completely as a player at this point. There are still some players that are going to miss practice today – not a large number. There are some players that are going to miss practice today while we're waiting on follow-up tests and things of that nature."
Barkley is a unique case because, in addition to being in the protocol, he has an ankle injury that sidelined him for all but a quarter of the last four games.
"In terms of the players who haven't been with us coming off injuries, Saquon as well as some others … a little bit of lost time does affect you," Judge said. "Not having the full morning available for treatment, strength training, or whatever is going to get your body back does affect you. That being said, the silver lining of this is we're getting ready right now to go out on the field and practice, so there's still going to be guys moving around and making progress. Some of the other guys you're going to ask about in terms of (wide receiver) Kenny (Golladay) and those guys, we plan on those guys being more involved in practice and seeing where they go. They did the PM walkthrough with us last night and we'll see how they move."
The only member of the football staff who has been declared out of the game is running backs coach Burton Burns, who tested positive for COVID yesterday. Burns is working remotely.
"He's certainly involved in everything we're doing," offensive e coordinator Jason Garrett said. "He's been remote, but he's involved in all our staff meetings and he's in our meetings. He just hasn't been able to be out on the field. Freddie Kitchens, the senior assistant for us, so he's going to work more with the running backs, along with (offensive assistant) Jody Wright. Those guys will handle that, but Burton is still a part of everything we're doing every day."
The Giants' COVID issues surfaced yesterday when testing of the players and coaches revealed 13 positive results. That forced practice to be delayed as everyone got re-tested. The only positive in the second round was Burns. The Giants eventually completed what was otherwise a fairly normal workday.
But today brought more concerns, prompting the Giants to issue an update this afternoon:
As a precautionary measure, we canceled in-facility meetings for players this morning and closed our office to non-football staff. Football meetings are being conducted virtually. Players, unless their test results are still being assessed under COVID protocols, will return this afternoon for practice.
Bio-Reference Laboratories (BRL) is experiencing an unusually high number of false positives using the Rapid Mesa Test at our facility. With the exception of one individual, all of the positive Mesa test results over the last two days have come back negative through PCR testing. The laboratory is working with experts to determine the source of the problem.
The NFL and BRL are monitoring this situation closely. We are temporarily halting the use of the Rapid Mesa Test and administering PCR tests only.
Judge did not reveal the exact number of positive tests today.
"I know it was a good amount," he said. "There were a number of guys, where it was coaches, staff members, players, even some people in the media yesterday that went through a similar thing in terms of getting a positive then getting a negative later on and saying you're cleared to come back to work. It's something we're working through operationally that as we keep getting results and guys are cleared to come back in the building, we will. There are a couple of cases of guys who are unvaccinated where they're a little bit more in limbo because there's a little bit more extensive testing for those guys and clearance methods.
"No one has been ruled out. We're getting everybody ready, whether that's virtual meetings or however we have to do it. We'll keep everyone ready and up for the game, and when we have final answers, then we'll go ahead and plow forward. Until we find out whether we have to test tomorrow or continuously throughout game day, I've told the coaches and players that everyone's got to be ready. I've told the coaches, we could get to Sunday morning and they could tell us we lost a dozen people. I don't want to hear any excuses, have the next guy ready to go, have a game plan ready that includes changing personnel, changing scheme. Whatever we have to do, be very fluid in this. That's our job as coaches, make sure we have the best plan available regardless of who's available."
*Linebacker Benardrick McKinney was activated off the practice squad as a COVID-19 replacement. He had five tackles (three solo) in his first two games with the Giants.
*Defensive back Steven Parker, who made his Giants debut Monday night in Kansas City and was waived Tuesday, was re-signed to the practice squad.
*In addition to the three players in COVID protocol, those not practicing today were wide receivers Sterling Shepard (quad) and Dante Pettis (shoulder), linebacker Lorenzo Carter (ankle), safety Nate Ebner (ankle) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (personal).
Players limited in practice were Golladay and fellow wide receivers Kadarius Toney (thumb) and John Ross (quad) and tight end Kaden Smith (knee).