EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They have yet to run a play or even step on a field together, but Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley have learned virtually that they're going to enjoy playing in the Giants' new offensive system.
The two marquee players have attended regular meetings with coaches and teammates sitting at their computers as the Giants, like all NFL teams, continue working remotely while their headquarters are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. On separate Zoom calls, the second-year quarterback and third-year running back offered positive reviews on the attack being installed by new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
In 2019, Dallas had league-high averages of 431.5 yards a game and 6.5 yards per play. The Cowboys were second in the NFL in passing yardage (296.9 a game), fifth in rushing (134.6) and sixth with an average of 27.1 points a game. Dallas' offense finished in the top 10 eight times in Garrett's 13 seasons as a coordinator or head coach.
"I think the biggest thing is it's been successful," Jones said from his family's home in Charlotte, N.C. "It's scored a lot of points and gained a lot of yards. When you compare it to, I've only played in the NFL for one year, so there's a lot out there I haven't done, there's a lot out there I don't know. … But the system has been successful. When you look at it, guys have been successful in it. I think that's the biggest thing. I feel like we have a lot of guys that can make plays. We have guys at every position that can make plays. You'll see that in the system like you have in the past."
Barkley, the first Giants back in history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, got a glimpse of what he might produce in the offense by watching Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 5,405 yards and 40 touchdowns playing for Garrett in his first four NFL seasons.
"I don't think I get excited just because of how successful Zeke has been," Barkley said. "Just how successful Dallas has been in recent years. Obviously, kind of just meeting coaches and talking to coaches and getting to know them, I'm kind of just more excited for that. It's a fresh start, it's a new start. You learn a new system, kind of feel like a rookie again. Obviously, you understand football a little more than you probably would coming from college into the NFL, but I'm really excited to just attack it and get ready for it when an opportunity presents itself."
Coach Joe Judge, his assistants and the players meet for two hours on their designated working days. At this point in a normal offseason, they would spend part of that time on the field, learning the new offense live. This is anything but a standard spring, but the players are adjusting and learning, not only the new concepts and terminology but how to digest information remotely.
"It's definitely different," Jones said. "We're doing the Zoom meetings like we are now, over the computer, so it's definitely different than being in person. But I think it's going well. We're adjusting to the different circumstances. I think guys are really picking up the system, are able to learn and be like we would in person. We're able to get together, ask questions, converse with each other and our coaches. I think it's been going well. The only thing I have to compare to is last year. It's different, but having the advantage of learning a system is helping me trying to find ways that are similar, ways that are different and using that to learn as much as I can."
How different or alike is the system he played in last year compared to the offense Garrett brought to the Giants?
"I think there are definitely some similarities," Jones said. "When you look at any offense, there will be similarities, but also a lot of differences. I don't know if it'll be apples to apples, but a lot of ways I can find comparisons and ways I can speed up my learning through doing things similar as the past."
Just as they must learn their assignments away from their teammates and coaches, the players must get in top physical condition without someone monitoring their weightlifting and running every day. Barkley has found a way to compensate.
"I am very fortunate enough to have a little facility, gym setup I guess you could say," Barkley said. "I kind of always wanted to get my own little gym and this kind of happened, so it kind of planned out perfectly for me. So, I'm really not missing a beat. I've got everything that I kind of need. Obviously, it's just different not being with your teammates. That's just something you miss the most and being with your coaches. But just trying to attack it as best as I can and try to keep my body in tip top shape for when the opportunity does come, I am more than ready."
Barkley's personal gym is in the basement of his New Jersey home. He is also running regularly.
"Whether that's running in my neighborhood, finding little fields where you can get on – obviously, I know the rules and everything," Barkley said. "That's kind of the way I try to stay in tip top shape but also with my strength program. I've got a similar setup to what we have; if you could just put in your mind what we have in our weight room and have it for an individual, that can go for like two to three or four people on one rack, I kind of have all of that stuff that's needed."
Running and lifting can be solitary pursuits for any players. But for Jones to maximize his offseason, he must throw to someone who can catch a football. Fortunately, the current circumstances haven't precluded him from slinging footballs.
"I'm throwing with a small group of guys, trying to stay consistent and do our best to do that," Jones said. "But at the same time, keep my arm in shape, staying in shape, trying to stay on top of all of that. Down here in Charlotte, we're obviously doing our best to social distance, but in terms of using space outside, we're still committed to doing that. I've been throwing with a couple of guys."
Jones described his current receivers as, "some college players, some people who I used to throw with in high school who went on to play in college at different places, and a couple other guys."
Challenging circumstances demand creative solutions. Jones and the Giants are thriving under these less than ideal conditions.