EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Mike Kafka is in intense training for a role he hasn't officially received.
Giants coach Brian Daboll has not publicly announced who will call the team's offensive plays this season. Kafka, the Giants' first-year offensive coordinator, assumed that duty throughout the offseason practices and in training camp, and will do so when the Giants play their first preseason game Thursday in New England.
"I look at it as an opportunity," Kafka said today in his first public comments since camp opened two weeks ago. "An opportunity not only for myself, but for the players. Everyone out there is working hard to make the team and show what they can do and show that they can build themselves a role. So, I'm looking to go out and do my job to the best of my ability and put the guys in the best position to be successful and show what they can do."
The uncertainty regarding the regular-season play-caller stems from Daboll's experience and success doing it. He has been a coordinator/play-caller for nine years, including eight in the NFL, the last four with the high-scoring Buffalo Bills. The Giants are running his offense, but Kafka is certainly equipped to succeed if he's the one reciting the plays to Daniel Jones' headset.
"It's been very collaborative as far as between myself and the staff, the offensive staff and Dabs," Kafka said, "working together on what we want our players to do, what we want to do in the run game, the pass game, movement, screens, play action. And it's been really cool that way and really collaborative, and it's been fun."
Kafka's short tenure with the Giants marks his first stint calling plays.
"It's been great learning experiences between the situations we call in practice, and Dabs does a great job of mixing those type of things in throughout practice, whether it be in the red zone, two-minute, backed up, short yardage," Kafka said. "We've thrown so many situations at not only just the coaches and play-callers but also at the players. And I'm really proud of how they've responded to those things."
View the top photos from Monday's training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Though he's never held the job of play-caller, Kafka has been unofficially training for it. He was an outstanding quarterback at Northwestern University, where he threw for 4,265 yards and 19 touchdowns. One of the NFL's most respected offensive coaches, Andy Reid, selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft for the Philadelphia Eagles. Kafka played four games for the Eagles and spent time with New England, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
In 2016, he began his coaching career as an offensive graduate assistant at his alma mater. The next year, Reid hired him to be the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive quality control coach. Kafka then spent four years as the team's quarterbacks coach, adding the title and responsibility of passing game coordinator in his final two seasons before joining the Giants.
During Kafka's tenure in Kansas City, the Chiefs were one of the NFL's most successful teams and deployed one of the league's most prolific offenses. Patrick Mahomes became an NFL most valuable player and Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman developed into elite receivers.
"The light really went off for me when I was a graduate assistant at Northwestern," Kafka said. "As soon as I got finished playing, coach Fitz (Pat Fitzgerald) had an opportunity to be a G.A. there, so he said, 'Hey, come out, try it out, see if you want to get into coaching.' And it was great, my alma mater. I was really familiar with the staff and coaches there and how they want to run the team. Coach Fitz runs the team. Pretty much within the first three days really, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. Loved every minute of it. You kind of see behind the curtain a little bit what the coaches have to go through to get ready for just a practice: scripting and carding and putting together the practice plans, and practice installs.
"And for me as a player, like being the third, second and third quarterback for most of my career – all of my career – that was something that was easy for me. I had to do those type of things to kind of be in the back of the room behind the curtain, kind of watching, and trying to help out any way that I can to try to stick on the team. When I got into coaching it was like, 'This is awesome. This is fun. This is what I love to do.' So, I think that's where it really set myself up for, 'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.' And now, having the opportunity to be with Coach Fitz at my alma mater, and having the opportunity to come back with coach Reid and be with his staff, who again I had a lot a familiarity with, and with the offense, that was an awesome experience and one I'm forever grateful for."
Working for someone who held the role you want can create an uncomfortable situation. Should Kafka call the play he thinks Daboll wants to run or the one he prefers? Kafka said it's a non-issue.
"We talk all the time about those type of things and how we want to run things," he said. "When you're in a training camp mode, it's evaluation. You're evaluating the players; you're evaluating the scheme. So, there's a balance of that, but again, me and Dabs talk all the time about how we want to attack certain defenses. How we want to attack certain teams. How we want to use our players. So, that's been an open conversation since the day I got here."
Although his background prepared him for the job, play-calling is like driving a race car – there's much more pressure the first time you actually do it. Hundreds of decisions are required within a short time span, any play can disrupt the plan for the next snap, and the call must be transmitted to the quarterback quickly and distinctly.
Kafka is getting the hang of it.
"It's been fun," he said. "I'd say the biggest thing right now is just the coach to quarterback communication. That's probably one of the biggest things that we've talked about. Just making sure I can get them the play fast, clearly. You know, sometimes I get excited and amped up and might be a little too high with my volume. But I think that's probably been the biggest thing right now. … I'm probably just screaming it too fast, and then all of a sudden it comes out a little too muddled."
Kafka will iron out those flaws in the preseason and be ready to go should the job be his when the regular season begins.