EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Sweaty and drained, Jon Feliciano searched for the words to best describe the Giants' just-completed practice.
"Today was definitely an old school head banger," Feliciano said.
Yes, it was.
This was unlike the workouts in the spring and early in training camp that featured passing and more passing. On a steamy morning, Brian Daboll ran a fully padded practice with a heavy concentration of red zone runs. The offensive and defensive lines went at each other with near-game intensity. Saquon Barkley carried the ball several plays in a row more than once. And because conditioning is an emphasis this week, Daboll intermittently ordered the players to sprint to the other end of the field and resume there.
"It was a mosh pit," left guard Shane Lemieux said. "We got a good defensive line and defense right now. It's good fits, and it's good competition. Every single play we're fighting. We're getting better, and times like this, days like this are going to make us better in the long run."
Though live tackling is not permitted, Barkley continually finished plays on the ground. After largely spending last year's camp as a spectator, he'll gladly absorb the pounding.
"It's funny how quick live, basically, it turns," he said. "It's a thud, but then it can become live real quick, not even with a real purpose. But I'm just happy, man, to be out there and practicing. Last year, I didn't get this. I was on the sideline, watching the whole time (rehabbing from his 2020 knee surgery), trying to get ready for a season and not being able to play football. So, I'm just happy, and God blessed me to be able to be on the field this offseason and this camp. It's a lot of runs, but all this stuff is going to carry over to the season and get us physically and mentally ready."
"I think now we're at the point where we're kind of acclimated to camp," Lemieux said. "I think Dabs wanted to give us a full run now that we're about two weeks in. We haven't had a bunch of run (work). We've been focusing – especially in OTAs and early in training camp – on pass stuff. It's good to get downhill, and it was like a nine on seven (running drill) the whole practice, which is good. Upfront, we take a lot of pride on running the ball."
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams distributed his share of punishment to Barkley.
"Me and Saquon had a pretty good battle today," Williams said. "A lot of competition. There was one time where I split the gap and hit him pretty hard. And then there was the next time I was coming off a block and was too high, and he lowered his pads to my chest."
At one point, 342-lineman Justin Ellis dropped Barkley as if he was an opposing back – and then went down with him.
"I tried to keep him up, but I was so tired," Ellis said. "He was already going that way, so I fell that way."
The tenor of the practice was established in the morning team meeting, where Daboll all but commanded the players to be aggressive.
"We got challenged by coach to be a physical team, and I think all the guys stepped up to the plate," Barkley said. "We came out, we practiced really hard. Both sides competed. And that's what you want. You want your practice to have both sides going at each other and getting each other better."
"We had a really long series a few times (Friday night), and I think Dabs did that intentionally to see where we were conditioning-wise," Williams said. "I think after that scrimmage, a lot of guys were telling themselves, telling each other, telling the coaches, 'We feel like we can be in better shape.' And I think that's the reason why Dabs had a designed day like today."
The taxing, visceral practice was the best preparation not only for the preseason opener Thursday night in New England, but more importantly the season beyond.
"That's about as close as you can get to it (a game) right there - a long drive, no one's coming to get you," Ellis said. "The roster's going to be smaller, so it's not as much rotation. It's for sure getting you ready for the games."
"We definitely needed it," Feliciano said. "We got to see what kind of team we're going to be. And if we're going to be a team that runs the ball, I think we need days like this to get our run blocking. We need reps of new guys working together. We need those reps, and I think that was huge today. Same thing for the defense. They're going to play teams like that that are really run heavy, and I think today's practice was an indication that if we play those kinds of teams, this is what we're going to need on that day."
Barkley said, "The O-line did a great job today. Obviously, a hot day. A physical day. But we came through, and we got better today."
The lines competed not only physically, but verbally, with both sides engaging is some fun give-and-take. One of the chief instigators was Barkley, who kept telling the O-line, "I want this, let's run the ball here, guys," or, "pick it up, we got to go."
"You could feel the energy in the huddle with Saquon," Lemieux said. "That's something that's really nice to see. Saquon plays with a lot of juice and a lot of fire, and he can make a lot of people miss. It's going to be a lot of fun blocking for him."
But it wasn't easy today, with Williams, Ellis and Co. competing on the other side.
"We need those types of days," Williams said. "As hard as they are, and as frustrated as you get, that's football. And all through OTAs, we weren't able to do that. And all beginning of camp, it was hard to do that. And I think time's winding down, and it's about time to go full speed against a different color. And we need to get that grit in us."
View the top photos from Sunday's training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
*Assistant defensive line coach Bryan Cox continues to coach that unit in the absence of Andre Patterson, who has a medical condition that has kept him from attending camp.
Asked if he has an idea when Patterson might return, Daboll said, "Sooner rather than later. But there's not a set date. He's still working through some things medically, and he knows we're there for him."
*Rookie linebacker Darrian Beavers and first-year running back Antonio Williams arguably had the day's most violent collision.
*Safety Nate Meadors, acquired last week off waivers from Cleveland, intercepted a Davis Webb pass in the end zone and weaved his way to a long return.
*Linebacker Carter Coughlin joined the list of players not practicing that includes tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, receivers David Sills and Robert Foster (who was wearing a red jersey) and cornerback Rodarius Williams.
*Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan – who owns the Giants' career and single-season sack records - watched practice.