There was one topic on everybody's mind when the Giants returned from their bye week on Monday: the status of injured players.
In particular, the questions centered on running back Saquon Barkley and left tackle Andrew Thomas. A week ago, coach Joe Judge said the team was "hopeful" the key offensive pieces could return for Monday Night Football in Tampa Bay, the Giants' first game back after entering the break with a 3-6 record while winning two of their last three games. That notion has not changed.
"Andrew will move around a little bit with the trainers today," Judge said before Monday's light practice as they transitioned back from "vacation mode" and got the players moving. "We'll kind of see him over the next couple of days in terms of progress he's making. It's been moving in the right direction. In terms of Saquon, he'll be out here today doing some stuff with us and we'll see how that kind of builds in throughout the rest of the week. He lost a lot last week not having the availability with the COVID stuff. That set him back a little bit – I wouldn't say set him back physically but in terms of his timetable and not having him ready for that game. But optimistic we'll have him out there today and see how he moves."
Thomas has dealt with ankle and foot injuries this season. He suited up against Dallas but did not play. The following week, he hurt his foot against the Rams and was placed on injured reserve two days later. He is eligible to return against Tampa Bay.
Barkley, meanwhile, has missed four consecutive games after suffering an ankle injury during the Oct. 10 road game against the Dallas Cowboys. He has not practiced since then, a result of the injury and a positive COVID test that later proved to be false leading up to the Week 9 home victory over the Raiders.
"He lost a lot last week not having the availability with the COVID stuff," Judge said. "That set him back a little bit – I wouldn't say set him back physically but in terms of his timetable and not having him ready for that game. But optimistic we'll have him out there today and see how he moves."
While the first official injury report of the week won't be released until Thursday, Barkley will look to return for the second time this year. Barkley came back from a torn ACL in Week 1, scored the overtime game-winner in New Orleans in Week 4, and injured himself on a fluke play the week after that.
"First of all, I would say the two injuries are completely unrelated, and [the second was] definitely more of a freak accident," Judge said. "This isn't something from a guy who's injury-prone or something of that nature. It's a freak accident – a guy steps on somebody else's foot. It's nothing related to another injury that keeps lingering. He did a tremendous job rehabbing the knee coming off of last year. That was a big injury. He did a great job, did a great job off the field for us. He's continued to be a leader for us through this process.
"I'm not going to speak for any player in terms of their mood or whatever, but you know for any player who's competitive to get out there, it can be tough as you make a lot of strides to get back and then feel that you're uninvolved for a little while. For us, it's been keeping him involved mentally, physically trying to get him back out there on the field. We're pleased today we'll have him out there for a little bit with us, get moving around, but the emphasis is to keep him involved with us as a team because he's an impact player for us on and off the field. He's done a great job as far as leadership, staying active as a captain on the team and active in the captains' meetings. He has a lot of great insight into what's going on in the locker room for me, a lot of pertinent feedback that I need, so he's done a great job as far as that's concerned."
Here's what else you need to know from Monday's media availability:
*Judge, a longtime assistant in New England, was asked if he gets excited for the challenge of facing quarterback Tom Brady, who won his seventh Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.
"Absolutely," Judge said. "Yeah, absolutely. You get the opportunity to go against a player like Tom, who is obviously one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest, it makes you do everything you can to prepare and make sure you're giving your guys absolutely the best information possible, the best plan possible. Then, understanding that throughout the game, there's going to have to be a number of adjustments because this guy has seen it all. You're not going to go ahead and throw one thing at this guy and think that's going to work for 60 minutes. As a coach, you've got to look and think ahead and play ahead. That all sounds great, [but] you've got to get in the flow of the game, actually get out there and do it and execute it. In terms of playing against a guy like Tom, a coach like [Buccaneers Head Coach] Bruce [Arians], these guys are phenomenal, some of the best to do it ever for a reason."
This will be the second consecutive year the Giants face the NFC South leaders on Monday Night Football. The Giants took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter of their Week 8 meeting last season but lost, 25-23. This year, the Giants face a Buccaneers team coming off back-to-back road losses at New Orleans and Washington. A reporter asked if Judge would rather face an angry Brady or a content one.
"I don't know if that exists," Judge said. "This guy is always working to be the best out there. I would expect to see their best football of the year this (week), I really would. I'll expect to see Tom play his best football, I'll expect them to play their best defense as a team, best offense, best coaching job they've had. It's a very, very talented roster. They won the championship last year for a reason. Very, very rare to return all of your players the way they did. That's something you just don't see a lot in any kind of professional sports, let alone in the National Football League. It's a great opportunity for them to go against a team like this and compete. I would expect to see their absolute best this week."
*Rookie running back Gary Brightwell was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list. The sixth-round pick missed the final game before the bye week, as did running backs coach Burton Burns, who also tested positive leading up to the game. Burns has returned to the team. Every coach, player, and staff member had to test upon re-entry from the bye week, and everyone passed.
*The bye week is used by coaching staffs around the league to self-scout and make adjustments for the home stretch of the season. So, what changes can the Giants make?
"I don't think you try to radically change what you're doing," Judge said. "I think there are some things schematically maybe you've looked to do throughout the course of the year. It gives you a couple of extra flex days to really introduce it from a teaching mode and get it practiced with the right pace leading into a game. A lot of it is just reaffirmation of fundamentals and getting back out there and working back on some things you did in training camp. Sometimes, it's for a guy who joins your team early in the season or midway through the year that you've got to go back to the beginning for that person and kind of bring them up to speed so that everybody's working on the same page."
At the same time, they need to stay focused on the task at hand and not their schedule past this Monday.
"Our job right now is preparing for Tampa," Judge said. "All those other games are hypotheticals. To go ahead and start looking beyond things that don't exist – we're going to have our hands full today getting better as a team and then leading into Tampa. They're one of the best teams in the league for a reason. They have arguably the greatest player to ever play the game down there running the huddle, so we've got a lot of things to prepare for. Talking about hypotheticals, we've got enough real things coming at us in a week's time."
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