EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For Leonard Williams, shoulder pads are much more than protective equipment on a football field. They are an elixir that gives him strength and confidence.
"When I finally put those on, I feel like a superhero," Williams said. "I feel like I'm putting my cape back on."
The Giants today practiced in full capes – um, pads – for the first time since training camp began last week. For the first two days of camp, the players wore helmets only. The next two days, they wore shells – smaller, lightweight shoulder pads. Most players, particularly the offensive and defensive linemen, today enjoyed their first taste of real contact since the end of last season.
"It's a good day to just break away from the OTA-style practice (without pads)," right guard Mark Glowinski said. "It's just a progression to get going the right way. To get the feeling of combinations and just popping one another and actually playing football instead of not having anything on. You have to get used to the fact there's going to be collisions and car wrecks every play."
"I might not be the strongest guy, but I make it up with my physicality, my toughness," said left guard Shane Lemieux, who has been taking snaps at center. "That's how I've always been. And it's been hard to show what I'm able to do without the pads on. So now that I'm getting the pads on, I feel like I can be more myself out there and really play without mental blocks."
The defensive players were equally excited to put on the pads.
"You got to look forward to this type of day," said linebacker Tae Crowder, the Giants' leading tackler last season. "It's a physical day. You get to fly around, have fun, compete with your teammates like always. Just get that feeling back. Banging around, hitting with the pads on. It takes time to get back used to running around in pads and getting that hitting feeling. But once it's time to roll, it's time to roll. So, it was good."
The Giants put on the pads for the first time this season as training camp ramps up.
The offense's focus in the pre-pads practices was on the passing game. Coach Brian Daboll opened training camp with four workouts devoted primarily to red zone and third down. But physical football requires a stout rushing attack. Introduced today, that element was well-received by the offense.
"The run game is the offensive lineman's best friend," left tackle Andrew Thomas said. "You get to be physical. We're not going back. We get to be the aggressor. So, that's definitely something we love to do."
"Anytime you can put the pads on, it's an exciting day," running back Saquon Barkley said. "You get to play football. The competitive juices flow even more. Go out there and compete and build the team that we want to have, especially when you haven't done it for so long. It's the first day of pads, get back into the swing of things. Get thudded up. Make your mistakes. And work on the stuff that you need to work on."
Quarterback Daniel Jones was happy to increase the number of handoffs he delivered.
"It forces the defense to respect that part of it," he said. "And your play action is more real. There's probably a bit more space in the defense because of that. It was good today, and we got to keep working on it."
Putting on pads does not result in game-like intensity. No one wants to get hurt. Wrapping your arms around a ballcarrier is fine but tackling him is not. And the red jerseys worn by Jones and fellow quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Davis Webb serve as a colorful directive that no one touches the quarterbacks.
"It's all about fundamentals right now: leverage, hand placement, ability to separate when you're getting grabbed and held," Daboll said prior to practice. "We're allowing more things at practice: picks and twists up front, power rushes, attacking the defensive linemen when they jump up in the…different things we're allowing. So, this is where the game is played.
"But today we're looking for good energy. We place, I'd say, rules on practice. We're not bringing them down to the ground. We got to take care of our guys. But want to be physical. Want to be in good position. Play with good leverage. Play aggressive. Move the line of scrimmage. Stop the line of scrimmage."
Will Daboll ever permit his players to tackle to the ground in practice?
"We may with our twos and threes at one point here," he said. "Probably maybe in a week we have it scheduled out for that. But we'll see as we go if we need it."
Even without full tackle football, the intensity increased in practice today.
"I think it ramped up a little bit, but just the right amount," Williams said. "Nobody went out there too juiced up. Too crazy. When you go out there like that, I feel like you forget your technique. You forget everything that you've been practicing. Just so you can overcompensate physicality. Really, you want to start mixing in physicality with your technique. And I think that's when the good players learn to do that.
"For the offensive line and defensive line, I think the pads matter the most. It's kind of easier for DBs and receivers to get their realistic looks because they're mostly running. Whereas in the inside in the trenches, it's a lot more physical."
Williams made that comment within earshot of cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who moments later spoke to reporters for the first time since camp opened. The first question he fielded was about defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, but his response was about pads.
"It's just always different when the pads are on rather than when you are just going in jerseys," Jackson said. "Especially for us as DB's, just more surface area for us to hit and play with. It's like you are playing a game and you finally get that first pop. Then it's like ok, you feel good, you get feet wet type of thing. So, it's always nice to put the pads on and get a little thump."
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