EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The nature and form of offseason workouts across the NFL has been a hot topic of discussion throughout the spring. Players on several teams have negotiated directly with their coaches to change practice schedules and regimens.
The Philadelphia Eagles did away with 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills and canceled their mandatory three-day minicamp. In Green Bay, the coaches agreed to two weeks of virtual workouts and to move the minicamp up one week. And Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores consented to a modified schedule in which the team won't have virtual meetings on the two days per week that they hold walkthrough practices. And to ensure they're strictly walkthroughs, the Dolphins players negotiated for mandatory flip-flops at those workouts.
Giants coach Joe Judge said he's had no such discussions with his players, and he is sticking to his offseason plan.
"I think our players understand that any time we put them on the field we are always going to do so first off with their safety in mind," Judge said in a Zoom news conference before the team took the field for an organized team activity. "Then also what we think is best for the team to progress each individual's technique and conditioning as well as the team collectively going forward. No, look, I'm always very clear, very transparent with the team in terms of how we're going to practice, what we are going to do and what our intents are going on the field and the reason behind that. We haven't had any discussions like that. If at some point some player wants to talk, I'm always very open and I'll give them a very direct answer."
The Giants will be on the field 11 times this spring – eight OTAs (two under the allowed maximum), plus a three-day mandatory minicamp next month.
"That was just a good schedule for us to work on in terms of getting what we want accomplished through the install and the players to get a chance to jump on their summers," Judge said. "A lot of guys will be training elsewhere with different players and locations and others go to family vacation and build back into training. We thought it was a good time frame for us to wrap up camp. The rookies have time on the back end when the vets leave to stay and get some extra meeting time and with the strength and conditioning staff and to really help their development leaving training camp."
What does Judge hope to accomplish before the players depart for their pre-training camp break?
"The first part is see where our players are at physically," he said. "Until I know these guys can go out and operate at 100 percent and stay healthy and protect themselves on the field, soft tissues, and we want to avoid collisions at this part of the camp. Until we know that, we are not really going to go ahead and keep this as a competitive drill. You will see team on team, 11-on-11 activities out there, but we will control the tempo in practice. But there are other times in individual and group work where we will ramp that up and make sure the guys work on skill development, timing, offense, defense, and place a large emphasis on communication this time of year.
"You have to take the mental steps forward in terms of the understanding of the scheme and you have to develop chemistry with the communication on offense and defense. This is a great time of year to have it. You're not preparing for an opponent and you can take it day-by-day and challenge the players in different ways and see the interaction grow with young and old guys."
View the best photos from the Giants' spring practices at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
*Because of the pandemic, the Giants did not have a single fan attend any of their eight home games in Judge's first season as coach. But the state of New Jersey this week gave the Giants the green light to host capacity crowds this year in MetLife Stadium.
"I couldn't be more excited to know there's going to be 100 percent capacity," Judge said. "I'm not going to speak for the entire team, but I know there's a lot of energy, upon hearing that announcement. Personally, I can't wait to walk in a stadium and hear it at a deafening level. That's something I'm really looking forward to and feeling the energy of the fans. It's something we've missed, and I've expressed before how much we value and thrive on as a team, going out playing in front of your home crowd and the animosity playing on the road against a visiting crowd."
Sixth-year wide receiver Sterling Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player, looks forward to the return of large and loud home crowds.
"I feel great about it," Shepard said. "I missed the fans a lot. Last season was a little weird playing without them. Happy to get them back in the stands, cheering us on."
*With the NFL loosening restrictions on jersey numbers, Shepard has switched from No. 87 to No. 3, which both his late father and he wore at the University of Oklahoma.
"(It's) something that means a lot to me," Shepard said. "It's been a number that I've been since I was a little kid, after my father passed. He wore No. 3 in college. That's something that meant a lot to me, a lot to his teammates. I wanted to carry that on.
"When I came into the league, you couldn't get single digits. Whenever the rule changed, I was happy to grab that."