EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When NFL players and coaches are asked what they think of the opinions of those outside their bubble, it's a good bet those perceptions are not particularly positive.
So it is with the Giants' offensive line, which has received its share of scrutiny from fans and the media that cover the team. Neither group is particularly bullish on the players who will open holes for the team's running back and protect Daniel Jones in the pocket.
But coach Joe Judge and those linemen are adept at blocking out the noise, particularly as they begin to narrow their focus on the season-opening game Sunday in MetLife Stadium against the Denver Broncos.
"It's funny, sometimes the assessments on the outside don't really have the entire picture at hand and understanding all the other 10 pieces that go together," Judge said today. "So, you've got to take that with a grain of salt sometimes when you read certain things. Now look, everyone can play better. I can coach better, a player can play better. That's why we're here today practicing. If it was a finished product, we'd just sit on the side and just relax. We're all here to get better today."
Last week, right guard Will Hernandez fielded this question: "there's a lot of people that come away from that (preseason) saying, 'this offensive line it's not going to be good, this is going to be a bad offensive line.' What do you say to that and what's your reaction when you hear that from people?
"That's fine," Hernandez said. "We are a line of constant improvement. That's our thing. We constantly want to get better. We need to get better quick. But it's never going to change, we're always going to want to get better. Even if they would have said we were the best O-Line in the NFL, I would have given you the same response, we need to get better."
Two days later, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett met with reporters. The first query directed at him was not about Jones, Barkley or any of the other offensive ballhandlers. It was about the line and how it had "struggled a little bit" in the preseason finale vs. New England. Inquiring minds wanted to know, how did Garrett feel about the group's development?
"Really, it's the same answer that we've had all training camp long," Garrett said. "I think we're getting better and better. I think if you look at that game the other night there's a lot of good examples of guys playing well individually, guys playing well together. There are certainly some examples of stuff where it wasn't good enough, so we're just in that process of trying to build on the good stuff and learn from the stuff that wasn't quite as good. Some of it is recognition, some of it is technique, some of it is just experience, but they're working hard every day and I think they're getting better."
In addition to Hernandez, the starting line has included guard Shane Lemieux, center Nick Gates and tackles Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart. Because he was the fourth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft and he plays left tackle, Thomas is more thoroughly examined than the others. He admittedly did not have his best game against the Patriots.
"I wouldn't say (it was) necessarily a step backwards, but definitely a learning experience," Thomas said. "Like I said, I went back over the tape, (and) corrected some things going into the season."
Thomas is always a paragon of calm when he addresses the media, so the outside chatter has altered neither his attitude nor his preparation.
"For me personally, (I) try not to pay attention to it, one," he said. "Then two, as a unit, we always talk about (being) confident, have confidence in your play, have confidence in your preparation. That comes through practice. If you're focusing on what happened in the past, you won't be confident for what's approaching you in the future.
"I try to put pressure on myself. Anything outside is not more than the pressure I put on myself to be great, to be a great offensive lineman."
Judge has high expectations for the entire line. Where, exactly, does his optimism originate?
"The way they work and prepare every day," he said. "They're a tough group, they play together. As a team, we're going to stand together. We're going to come out here and get better as a team. That's it. That's all we can control is getting better every day."
*Judge said "from everything we've been told at this point right now" all Giants players had negative COVID-19 tests after returning from a three-day break.
"You're all very aware of what happened in Dallas with (Cowboys guard Zack) Martin (who tested positive), Judge said. "You don't want to see that happen to anybody on any team. You want every team to really have all their players. That's what it's about, it's a competition. We just talked to our team and hit them again in a squad meeting about being safe, just making sure that we take the measures we have to. It's the same conversation that we started camp with, the same thing. There are protocols in place whether you're vaccinated or unvaccinated and whatever the protocols are to you, you have to follow them."
*Judge said he will know more about Saquon Barkley's availability for the Broncos game after a full pads practice on Wednesday.
"I know the next question coming is, 'Where are you on Saquon?'" Judge said. "Look, that won't be decided until later in the week. I want to see how he responds to a couple things physically within his body and make the best assessment going forward for him this weekend and going forward past that.
"I'd say a number of these guys coming back right now, we're optimistic about all of them, to be honest with you. We'll see how they do throughout this week in practice. Saw a lot of guys make a lot of gains last week. There are a lot of guys that are getting reintroduced to the team that missed some time in training camp. I'd say it was a productive week in terms of them making progress with the team on the field. Obviously, this week will be a big thing for them. Having today is a big part of that, kind of a bonus day, tomorrow being a little bit of a rest day. Gives us a little bit more of a window going into the tail end of the week. Again, I'd say as much as Saquon with all those guys, I don't think we'll make any final decisions until later in the week."
*Wide receiver Collin Johnson and offensive lineman Billy Price each practiced with the team for the first time since being acquired last week.
View photos of the New York Giants' active 53-man roster as it currently stands heading into Week 1.