EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rookie minicamps traditionally cover the fundamentals in terms of schemes, rules and franchise norms, but for all NFL teams the basics included an added dimension this year: player introductions.
With the scouting combine, player visits and in-person interviews canceled because of the pandemic, the Giants were among the teams to get the first up-close looks at their draft choices when minicamps were held this weekend.
"Look, to be honest with you, yesterday was the first time that I got to see in person a lot of players that we drafted," coach Joe Judge said today. "Which is bizarre to say any other year but without a combine, without having full pro days everywhere, it was just a different process.
"So, it's funny, there's a lot of guys you meet for the first time in person. You turn around, me and (defensive coordinator) Pat (Graham) are talking walking off the field, yeah, that guy is bigger than we thought he was going to be; that guy has thicker legs than we thought they were going to be. The first time seeing a guy in practice is bizarre because even our meetings are virtual."
Practice field intros were also strange for the players who experienced them.
"I was one of them," said Azeez Ojulari, the edge rusher from Georgia whom the Giants selected in the second round. I never met him (Judge) before, face-to-face.
"It was great, just got to finally meet the head coach, the one that runs the show. It was a great opportunity for me to meet him. I'm happy to be here with him and I'm ready to work with him."
So is cornerback Rodarius Williams, though he did have some jitters seeing Judge up close for the first time.
"I was one of those persons that coach Judge hadn't met," said Williams, a sixth-round selection. "We just had conversations over the phone. So, this was our first time, first meet-and-greet.
"I was nervous at first but at the end of the day you settle in and getting to know where he is and what he can tolerate around the facility, just learning and adapting to the new system right now."
That is something that did not change from a normal rookie camp.
"Honestly, the most important thing we can do right now is trying to establish requirements, establish what the boundaries are within our organization, let them know what to expect on a daily basis, but ultimately we have to start forming relationships with these players beyond just evaluating from the draft.
"Your first experience is on the grasses and they are wearing a helmet looking at you. It's different. But look, it's great to have life in the building and it's great to have players back and it was a fun weekend working with these guys."
View the best images of the draft class on the field for the first time at the 2021 New York Giants Rookie Minicamp.
Just 22 players participated in the camp, perhaps a quarter of the normal number – again, due to COVID-19 protocols. But Judge welcomes any opportunity to observe and evaluate players, even under unusual circumstances.
"With the guys this weekend, you're looking for a mix of things in terms of how they look on the field, what shape they are in currently, your interactions with them as a player," Judge said. "That's a big part … getting them in your meetings and having them on the field and it's your first chance of really getting these guys in person on the field with your coaching staff and really seeing how they react to your style of coaching.
"It's a good experience for us. I really enjoyed all those guys. I thought they did a good job this weekend, and the unfortunate thing is there's only a limited amount of spots on the roster total. So again, it was a good experience to have them all here and we'll see where it goes from here."
*Ojulari, who led the Southeastern Conference last season in tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (8.5) and forced fumbles (four), is excited about playing in Graham's defensive scheme.
"It's nice," he said. "They had some similarities between what I have been doing at Georgia, so really it's perfect. It's great. It's a great scheme for sure."
*Fourth-round selection Elerson Smith, an edge rusher from Northern Iowa, is wearing jersey number 58. The Giants' most famous 58 is Carl Banks, the third overall selection of the 1984 draft – and still the last linebacker selected by the Giants in the first round – a member of the NFL's 1980's all-decade team and a current analyst on the team's radio broadcasts.
"I didn't pick out the number," Smith said. "It's an honor to have the number. I am extremely grateful he gave me that number. I haven't met Carl yet, but I heard he'll be around the building. Excited to get a chance to meet him and pick his brain a little bit and get some advice from him.
I know he was a great player, but … he was a little before my time. I'm excited to get a chance to watch it and see what he's done."
*Wide receiver Kadarius Toney, the Giants first-round choice, did not participate in drills in the second half of today's practice.
"It's not an injury situation with him right there," Judge said. "I think every player out here is kind of on their own program in terms of what's best for them, what the schedule of the day is. One thing we keep in mind with these guys is these guys have not been with team sports now in over five months, and that's something we have to consider bringing them in and for all these guys, the first time of football activity. That's why we structure practice the way we do. There are different positions on the field. A lot of them are skill positions early in their career, so you have to make sure you don't put two days together that may put them in a stress position.
"Again, this is an orientation weekend. Our goal is to get them started so that this week coming up they can jump in with our vets and they can jump in with our full off-season program and be moving and stay healthy. It's going to be a four-day week of working this next week for them and we want to make sure we don't take it and make it a seven-day week for them. It's a different pace we work at for different reasons, but no, it's not an injury case to answer that."
*Safety and special teams standout Nate Ebner is trying out for one of the 12 spots on the United States National Rugby Team that will compete in Tokyo Olympics this summers. Ebner participated in the Games in Rio in 2016.
"Technically Nate is a free agent right now, but we fully intend for him to be a member of the Giants," Judge said. "He has to go through Olympic rugby training and we're supporting him with that."
When Ebner was an Olympian five years ago, he played for the New England Patriots and Judge was the team's special teams coordinator.
"That's an experience I've been through with him before," Judge said. "Actually, he returned from the Olympics in 2016 and had a tremendous year for us. So, I've gone through this before with him. I understand exactly how his training applies, rugby and can lead into football, and look, honestly it was one of his most productive years ever.
"He's a guy that's very locked in and focused. He was a captain last year and is a great team leader. This team, what he's helping build is very important for him and while I don't speak for anyone else, I don't mind echoing that for Nate because I know I can speak very directly and honestly. But look, he's a very important part of this team and we look forward to getting him back."