Joe Judge doesn't look at Monday as a defining moment in his career. Rather, he sees it is as a natural transition.
For the first time as head coach, he will step on the grass with a 53-man roster and have one thing on his mind: beat the upcoming opponent. That, of course, is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who come into MetLife Stadium on Monday night, Sept. 14.
Starting Monday, the playbook will no longer be basic. The field will no longer be strategically set up to maximize the number of practice reps for each player from the top of the depth chart to the bottom, like it was at training camp. The purpose is singular now.
"We have to change the way we think and the way we prepare from preseason now into the regular season where we have a defined opponent to work against," said Judge, whose team last took the field on Thursday for an intrasquad scrimmage. "The playbook is not a general overview of install; it's specific towards an opponent and how we are going to play next Monday."
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.
Before flipping the switch, the Giants had to finalize their personnel.
Ahead of Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline, NFL clubs reduced their rosters to the regular-season limit of 53 players. There have been a lot of firsts for Judge this year, but this was one he did not look forward to checking off his list.
"I'd like to just go ahead and thank all of the players that aren't going to be with the program at this point," Judge said. "Everybody we've had in at training camp did a tremendous job, showed a lot or urgency and effort. We really appreciate and respect every player that came through here. To answer your question, yes, we're going to keep every player on a short list to bring them back. We have a lot of respect for the guys who went through our program. Obviously, they know our system. In any year, let alone a year like this year, we're going to have to make sure that we have guys in the fold that we know, we trust, and that know our system and would be able to carry on in a short time period going forward."
Judge added, "This is not a fun part of the business. This is a very tough time of the year for every player and every coach. There are guys in the locker room who are seeing teammates walk out the door. There are coaches who invested a whole lot personally in players to develop them. The reality in this league is you can't keep everybody, and that's just the nature of the business. It's not an easy few days. They're not easy conversations. You want to make sure you give every player the direct truth on why the move was made, what we think they can work on going forward to get themselves the best chance, and really open it up for any questions the players may have so that you can always give them all the information necessary for them to improve in their craft."
The roster work didn't stop Saturday as the Giants claimed three players off waivers on Sunday. The newcomers are defensive back Adrian Colbert and tackle Jackson Barton, both from the Kansas City Chiefs, and wide receiver Damion Ratley, from the Cleveland Browns.
To make room on the roster, the Giants released wide receiver Corey Coleman and offensive lineman Chad Slade and waived safety Sean Chandler.
"In terms of the guys that we've added to the roster, each one answers specific needs at that position group, really as far as establishing more depth and giving us some versatility within the position," Judge said. "We were able to add some speed at the skill positions, safety and receiver, obviously. The offensive line gives us some position flexibility with the long body of Jackson coming in here. … We're going to work on getting these guys caught up to speed on our systems, on our calls and our terminology. It's our priority right now as coaches to get them going as fast as possible."
*Judge was asked about releasing linebacker Ryan Connelly, who was claimed by his hometown Minnesota Vikings. Connelly was a fifth-round draft choice in 2019 whose promising rookie season was cut short by injury. He played in the first four games, including starts in each of his final three games but suffered a torn ACL vs. Washington on Sept. 29, underwent surgery and missed the rest of the season. He tallied 20 tackles (10 solo), 1.0 sack and two interceptions. When he picked off a Jameis Winston pass at Tampa Bay on Sept. 22, he became the first Giants rookie linebacker with an interception since Oct. 26, 2008, when Bryan Kehl picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass in a victory in Pittsburgh.
"We have a lot of respect for Ryan," said Judge. "He's a good football player. We had to make the decision ultimately that was best for us. We wish him good luck. If things worked out perfectly for us, we would have loved to have him back on the practice squad. We didn't expect that to happen, to be honest with you, because he's a good, accomplished player and there are a lot of teams in the league that were going to be looking to claim him. We wish him good luck in Minnesota and look forward to seeing him play."
*The Giants recently traded for cornerback Isaac Yiadom from the Denver Broncos, who received a seventh-round draft choice in the deal. Yiadom (pronounced YEAH-dum), 6-1 and 190 pounds, is beginning his third NFL season. A 2018 third-round draft choice (99th pick overall) from Boston College, he has played in 29 games with nine starts. His totals include 55 tackles (42 solo), one interception, seven passes defensed and seven special teams tackles.
Judge has been familiar with him since he came out of college.
"He's been in here today already kind of talking through some different things, trying to get caught up to speed," Judge said. "He has an iPad, he has a playbook and availability. We like the way he plays on the line of scrimmage. He has some experience within the league. That goes a little bit of ways, but it's our job as coaches to get him caught up to our system as fast as possible. There won't be much carryover necessarily from the other system, but we try to keep as many of the techniques similar for him so he can carry over as fast as possible. But we like the energy and effort he plays with, we like the physicality he shows on the line of scrimmage, and obviously, this is a guy that we remember when he came out of college not too long ago in the draft. We've known about this guy in the league for a while."
*The practice squad takes on a greater importance this year because of protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, a player was ineligible to join a practice squad if he had more than three accrued seasons in the NFL. Under the 2020 rules, teams can keep up to six players on the squad regardless of their service time.
"All the players that we kept on our 53 and our practice squad are guys that we think give us versatility and have the ability to develop and keep shaping this roster in a positive way," Judge said. "Really, this is our team, this is the New York Giants' team. We look at this, everyone in here is in it together, the coaches, players and personnel. We're pleased with the players we have. Again, it's the National Football League, we're always looking to sharpen and develop. There's natural attrition throughout the year so we have to be aware of everyone else who is involved in the league on transaction moves."
View photos of every member of the Giants' practice squad.