EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – With no preseason games to work out operational kinks, Joe Judge was determined to closely simulate game conditions in the Giants' intrasquad scrimmage Friday night in MetLife Stadium.
The Blue (offense) and White (defense) players and coaches teams worked on opposite sidelines. Judge ordered punts and field goals as he normally would instead of keeping his offense on the field. The coach participated in a halftime sideline interview, because he will be asked to do one during the season opener vs. Pittsburgh on Sept. 14.
Judge even threw his red challenge flag, an occurrence that will certainly be repeated. What will not arise again is his reasoning. Judge claimed Saquon Barkley stepped out of bounds and should have gained fewer yards than he was credited with after catching a Daniel Jones pass. After a very brief review, the call on the field stood and Judge lost his first unofficial challenge as a head coach.
"Everything we did tonight was very intentional in making sure we checked every box for what myself, every other coach and every player would experience as close as we can to when we play our opening night game," Judge said. "Everything from the interviews coming off at halftime, everything to the setup of this press conference right here with how we're doing it, Coaches Club, the way we conducted our pregame and halftime adjustments, the challenge which obviously wasn't a critical play. I wanted to make sure we took an opportunity to get used to the challenge operation to the entire team. Then we made sure that we gave the opportunity to manufacture some two-minute drives at the end of the half and the end of the game. These are things we wanted to make sure that we experienced as much as players, as coaches, for the communication aspect."
So, how did Barkley feel having his coach challenge perhaps his biggest play of the night?
"At first, I was a little confused for the challenge," he said. "But everything, every yard counts. For me, I have to just be more aware of the sideline, know where I'm at, have a presence on the field. You try to make those yards because like I said, every yard counts in this game of football."
The final result, which will not be long remembered, was Blue over White, 23-22. The offense scored points in traditional football fashion, while the white team got three points for a three-and-out or a takeaway, two for a turnover on downs or a two-point stop and one for a forced punt. It would have received 12 points for a defensive touchdown or a field goal blocked for a touchdown but got neither.
After Alex Tanney led a unit of offensive reserves down the field, Graham Gano kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal while the final 12 seconds somewhat inexplicably disappeared from the clock.
As always in these affairs, it was a thumbs up/thumbs down proposition for the head coach. Daniel Jones and the starting offense scored just three points in four possessions. But if the offense was not as sharp as Judge would have preferred, it indicated the defense performed admirably.
Jones unofficially completed eight of 11 passes for 88 yards. He was also sacked five times, though not in the traditional sense because the quarterbacks' red jerseys make them off limits to bruising contact and tackling to the ground was prohibited. Sacks can be difficult to determine under those circumstances, but Lorenzo Carter perhaps had four.
"Obviously, I have a dual perspective," Judge said. "Zo has been very particular in training camp, he has made a lot of improvement. He plays with a high motor. He is developing a skill set to really expand on what his game has been in the past. Bret (Bielema, the outside linebackers coach) is doing a phenomenal job with him.
"The offensive line, to be honest with you, it's live competition. We're going out there, there's some different tools we can use to help these guys in games. We chose to keep this a little bit vanilla tonight so it takes a little bit of tools you can use through game planning away from it. We have to see more improvement in the one on one matchups and how they handle it across the board."
Jones gave the offense a mostly positive review.
"Overall as a group, as an offense, we did some good things and moved the ball at times," he said. "I don't think we were consistent enough through the course of the scrimmage and we left some plays out there. I certainly did, and need to look at a few things. Like I said, overall we did some good things and some encouraging things. But I think in any situation like this, there are going to be things that you have to clean up, there are going to be things we'll work on and look to improve here going forward.
"Each of those plays, each of those situations in the first half are something we're going to look at specifically and individually. To kind of look broadly at a half overall and come to a sweeping, generalized statement about that, I don't think that's going to be helpful for our progress moving forward. As a team, as an offense, we'll look to narrow in on certain situations and look to improve those. Also, we do the same thing in my evaluation of my play tonight."
*Tight end Evan Engram was in uniform but it was revealed prior to the scrimmage he would not participate.
"We've just been pounding him so much in practice that we've really kind of backed off a little bit with load management," Judge said. "It wasn't just him. We made decisions going in in terms of how we were going to use all of our players. These are things we look at in terms of total reps they're taking at practice, some of the GPS numbers we get from our strength staff and training staff. It was a calculated decision tonight that we just said hey, you know what, tonight's a night, even if it was a regular practice, we may have backed off Evan a little bit. We made the decision tonight. There were a lot of other guys we had to evaluate, so we wanted to make sure they got maximum reps and we pulled back a time limit for everyone."
*Linebacker Blake Martinez, who did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, was not in uniform. Judge said he had no update on his condition. "I'll check with the trainers and see where he's at right there," Judge said.
*Rookie cornerback Darnay Holmes left the scrimmage with a lower body injury and did not return. Holmes and wide receiver Alex Bachman had a mock jersey exchange following the scrimmage. That exercise, which has become popular in recent years, has been banned this season by the NFL.
*MetLife Stadium was empty, just as it will be for the foreseeable future, and yes, the players thought the atmosphere was very strange.
"I remember at one point on the sideline, Evan and I looked at each other and said, 'Wow, we're really in a pandemic,'" Barkley said. "We looked at the coaches, the coaches had masks on, there were no fans there. Obviously, we have tremendous fans and we would love for them to be there. But we know what's going on in the world, especially with COVID going on right now, too.
"It kind of felt like practice. I think that's kind of going to be the vibe for the season. Hopefully, we're able to find something that we would be able to bring fans back by the end of the season. But that's the way it's going to be. It felt like practice. You go out there with your teammates, you have music going, you go out there and you just try to get better. Obviously, there's no fans there. It's definitely going to be different. You said what do I miss. Anytime you make that big play and you hear those fans roar, you get that energy from them also. Fans do play a big part in a game, especially for me, coming from Penn State and coming to New York. For me personally, I've always had great fans. But now, you have to find that spark in yourself. To be honest, that's why you do it. You love this game. You wake up every single day and be able to play the game you love since you were a little kid. So, go out there and have fun with it, whether there are fans or not."
View the best photos from Friday night's Blue-White Scrimmage