EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: There’s a lot going on here with players coming and going, a new coach adjusting to new players, players adjusting to a new coach. How do you get everybody to focus on the game Sunday against Jacksonville?
Shurmur: “We’ve tried to establish a way to do business with the players that have been here for all of the spring and summer, and then we try to catch the new players up the best we can. Most of them have been in training camps, so they’re in pretty good condition. But it’s kind of a crash course in them learning how we function here in the building.”
Q: You brought in six defensive players this week. Can you get them up to speed quick enough to contribute in the game if you need them?
Shurmur: “I think we can. I think we’ll have to do things that they’re good at. Right now, it’s a matter of them learning the game plan and how it works against the opponent we’re playing and this week it’s Jacksonville. Most of these guys are veteran enough that they’ve probably been through this once or twice.”
Q: You’ve been coaching in the league for 20 years. Do you normally have a feel going into an opening game how your team, either as a head coach or as a coordinator, is going to perform? Do you have a feeling going into this game even though there has been so much change?
Shurmur: “You don’t really totally know what to expect other than I’ve watched our team compete through the preseason games. What you don’t know is how these players that have played partial games are going to play a full game, so there’s going to be a little bit more stress on them physically. I think we’ll be able to learn a lot about our team by the way we compete this week.”
Q: Is it harder for an offensive or defensive player to get up to speed quickly, or does it not matter?
Shurmur: “I think it depends on what your systems are. Hopefully you have systems in which the words make sense, the concepts make sense, so in a former life for one of these players, what you call apple, they called orange, and they learn it that way. There’s some solid concepts that we all use as offensive coaches and certain defenses and coverages everybody uses and they just have to learn how you call it, how you communicate it, and what the individual techniques are.”
Q: You must have some idea early in the week who your inactives are going to be, because you need to know who’s going to play special teams. Do you prefer to let the players practice and compete for a jersey on Sunday? What’s your philosophy on that?
Shurmur: “No, we want to put the best 46 guys on the active roster. I think that’s the most important thing and sometimes it’s dictated by injury, sometimes it’s dictated by performance, and as we get closer to game time, sometimes it’s determined by the team that you’re playing. If you’re playing a team that’s going to be big on you, 21 (personnel, two backs, one tight end, one wide receiver), 12 (one back, two tight ends, two receivers), 22 (two backs, two tight ends, one receiver), then maybe you keep an extra defensive lineman. If you’re playing against a team that’s going to play little on you, play 11 (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) or 10 (one back, four receivers) or 20 personnel (two running backs, three receivers), then you might keep an extra secondary player. The same could be said on offense, depending what works against their defense. Really, it’s somewhat fluid, so that last couple of guys every week can be determined close to game time.”
Q: What is your customary game day routine? What do you like to do before a game? Do you like to go over your game plan? Do you want time to yourself?
Shurmur: “I get up early like most days and then usually sit and have coffee and kind of gather my thoughts. Then early on, quickly go over the game plan and calls and how I see the game and how I intend to call the game. Then make my way to the stadium and go through the normal process of getting ready to play.”
Q: Do you go over it in your head how you think the game is going to play out?
Shurmur: “We do. Certainly your initial calls and things you want to get run, but as early as the first play or the first series, they can change on you, so you have to be ready – willing to change and move on. I think that’s where being able to adjust is very important. You certainly want to try to move the ball and score points early in the game, want to keep them off the board early in the game and you want to play good, solid football throughout, but especially early. I think that’s a little bit of the chess match that goes unseen. Everybody assumes you only make adjustments at halftime. It’s the old halftime adjustment narrative, which is not accurate. Adjustments are happening constantly.”
Q: Along those lines, are there more adjustments in an opening game because neither team knows what’s going to happen?
Shurmur: “There could be. I think everybody on Sunday will have some new wrinkles to what they did a year ago. Some of them work, some of them don’t, but you still, whether on offense or defense, need to be able to make sure you deal with them. You want to come out and be aggressive, but sort of like a boxing match where you feel it out to begin with and see what they intend to do to you. Most teams do what they do, though.”
Q: When you talk to the team the night before the game, do you focus more on mental and emotional things, or a strategic message?
Shurmur: “It depends on the team you’re playing. I think the pregame speech is more about emotion. The night before the game, they’re going to go to bed, so I’ve always sort of felt like you give them some quick reminders. Remind them of the importance of the things that we need to do, the keys to victory, and get them a good meal and get them some rest.”
Q: Do you like to script the plays you’ll use early in the game?
Shurmur: “I think we all have ideas of where we want to go.”
Q: Is excitement your overriding emotion going into your first game here?
Shurmur: “I’m excited for our team. I certainly am excited to watch them perform well. I don’t really have any anxiety. I feel really good about our group and I feel good about the fact we’re going to compete. We’ll try to help them where they don’t make a lot of mistakes, and then hopefully they’ll put us in a position to win.”
Q: You have several rookies who are probably going to play big roles – Saquon Barkley Will Hernandez, Lorenzo Carter, B.J. Hill - do you say to them, “you’ve been playing football your entire life, this is just another game” or do you say, “this is not just another game, this is a team that almost went to the Super Bowl last year and it’s a big game for us?” What is your message to the rookies?
Shurmur: “You have to make sure that they’re confident in what they’re doing and that’s what practice and preparation is all about. That’s why you practice, so that you go to Sunday having a pretty good feel for your opponent and what we want to try to do on offense or defense. I think you want to try to, especially for a young player, you want to try to keep them calm. These guys have played in big games before. They’ve been involved in this type of a setting, although it wasn’t pro football, they’ve played the game their whole life, so I think what you try to do is do what you can to keep them calm.”
Q: Do you try to make or not make any one game more important than any other game?
Shurmur: “They all count one. I learned that a long time ago from my old coach (at Michigan State), George Perles. It didn’t really matter who you played, they all count one. Along the way you just realize, you have to fight to be better than the team you’re playing on the day you play them. That’s the challenge and that’s why game planning and the emotions and everybody doing the best they can for those three hours and 15 minutes, let’s just put it all out there. Then once the game’s over, then you kind of take a step back, reassess, and move forward to the next one. I think each game you have to think about it as a one-game season.”
Q: You have seen Eli Manning now for several months and you’ve seen how he immerses himself in a game. He watches a lot of tape. What have been your first impressions of seeing him prepare for a regular season game?
Shurmur: “No different. I think by the time we have the game plan on paper, he sees it minutes later and he does everything he can to master it. I’ve seen that through the preseason games, and now certainly as we go through our first regular season game together, so you know he’s a pro. He wants to be accurate and not make mistakes, and so he spends his time trying to learn things.”
Q: With a veteran like him, do you accept suggestions and bounce things off him?
Shurmur: “We talk all the time and we have since day one of working together. There’s certain things he likes. We may have a list of five plays and there may be two or three of them he really likes, one he’s not so sure of, and one he just absolutely doesn’t like at all, so we factor that in.”
Q: Odell (Beckham, Jr.) hasn’t played a game in 11 months and he’s obviously very excited. Can a veteran get too amped up for a game?
Shurmur: “I think what makes our players or really all players and all competitive people unique is they look forward to the competition and the competitive environment, and sometimes emotions run. I think the important thing, and we talk to all our players all the time about this, is to make sure you can control your emotions and try to stay in the moment and forget about the last play and move on to the next, and Odell’s no different.”
Q: When you look at Jacksonville’s defense, it seems there is no weakness. What do you see as a strength of their defense?
Shurmur: “I think the strength of their defense is they’re very talented. They play excellent team defense in terms of stopping the run and they have guys in the back end that can cover. There really aren’t any weaknesses, so that’s why it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Q: Offensively, they have that big line and Leonard Fournette. It’s a cliché that every week you want to stop the run, but it seems particularly important now, since they led the league in rushing last year.
Shurmur: “It’s not a cliché. I would say control the run. I think it’s very important we play good team defense, and everybody’s got to be where they’re supposed to be to make sure we don’t let them gain lots of yards against us. That’s what they like to do, that’s what starts for them and then they have a quarterback (Blake Bortles) that’s playing winning football. They’re doing what works for them and took them to one game shy of the Super Bowl a year ago.”
View the starters for Sunday's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars