EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In one respect, it was the most indelible episode in training camp, a hard hit followed by two retaliations and the entire Giants team coming together on the practice field in an outsized rugby scrum. And Joe Judge treated it with sufficient gravity, ending the workout early after putting the players through strenuous conditioning drills.
But in another regard, the much-publicized explosion of anger, pushing and grabbing was, for Judge, like every other drill, instruction or play that occurs on the field – a teaching moment. While those watching practice might have focused on the physical mayhem, the coach was attentive to the players' decisions and how they could negatively impact the team in a different setting.
"I'd say in terms of what happened in practice yesterday is it's important that we learn from it, that we can't do anything that's going to cost our team in a game," Judge said in his news conference today. "We coach on all aspects of the game to eliminate penalties, whether that's enforcing holdings on one-on-ones between receivers and DBs, offsides on offense or defense, false starts, whatever it may be. Listen, the result of having something like that happen is going to be 15-yard penalties, ejections from the game and, for players and coaches specifically, fines.
"We have to understand that for everything you do there's a consequence and we have to understand that our job is to put ourselves in a position to win football games. That's our job. And we don't want to do anything that goes ahead and puts us in a position that takes away the opportunity to win games. What happened yesterday at practice would have taken away an opportunity to win a game based on the actions on the field, so there needs to be consequences, there needs to be a lesson learned and we need to move forward as a team and not repeat the mistake."
The extra-curricular activity occurred in the Giants' first full-pads practice of camp. Running back Corey Clement broke through the line into the secondary, where he was hit by safety Xavier McKinney – who absorbed a retaliatory push from tight end Evan Engram, which was followed by safety Logan Ryan shoving Engram. The entire team was soon together in the middle of the field.
Judge quickly broke it up and ordered everyone to the goal line, where the players began a series of 200-yard sprints and 30 pushups. When the conditioning ended, Judge conveyed his displeasure in a post-practice address to the players.
Today, he repeatedly spoke of the importance of the players learning from the incident.
"It's a teaching point no matter how it happens," he said when asked if the early participation by veterans like Engram and Ryan made it more of a teaching moment. "To be honest with you, my message to the team is the reason it happened is insignificant, the result of what happened is what the consequence is going to be and we can't have that. We can't coach that. Listen, they're in pads for the first day, so there's obviously an elevated intensity, urgency, chippy-ness, but that can't carry over to having penalties and issues like that on the field.
"The offense and defense have been competing very hard now for over a week against each other. This time of training camp, guys do get a little bit chippy with each other, but I'd say that stays on the field. When all our players walked off the field yesterday, we had no issues carry over to the locker room, the cafeteria, the training room, anywhere else. Our guys are in here and I'm not saying we're laughing off the situation, but they understand that we're all one team and we can't do that to each other. And the most important part of that lesson we have to learn is ultimately we have to eliminate bad football. Penalties are bad football. The lesson has to be we're not doing anything that's going to get our team in a position to be penalized."
Daniel Jones somehow ended up under a group of players before he was pulled from the pile by guard Kenny Wiggins. But Judge declined to single out even his quarterback.
"The message to the team was consistent for every player," Judge said. "We don't want any player at the bottom of a pile, we don't want any player jumping in the way they did and that's why we took action immediately the way we did."
Training camp fights are as old as, well, training camps. The regular season is more than a month away, players put in long days of meetings and practice, and they can't hit anyone as hard or as frequently as football players prefer. Simmering frustration sometimes boils over, teammates have a brief physical spat, and everyone moves on.
Coaches treat such extra-curricular activity differently and Judge has developed his own philosophy.
"In terms of fights, my policy has been to get guys out of practice," he said. "So, that happened involving the entire team, I threw the entire team out of practice."
That's what he did – but not before the players completed the running portion of the practice script.
"We had two more periods left in practice, we had things we had to accomplish," Judge said. "Those were things yesterday that robbed us of an opportunity to keep preparing, that robbed other players of reps to go out there and compete. We just basically ended practice at that point, we're going to go ahead and got our conditioning in. We had things planned for conditioning anyway; however, when something happens there needs to be feedback.
"I know a lot of people out there are questioning why we're doing this or that. Yeah, I get it. I explain to my players all the time, when you get a 15-yard penalty, you've got to run that much further on the field to score. When you have a consequence of that where you have to run right away, that reinforces that, 'Hey, listen, I can't afford to make that mistake.' When there's an issue with ball-handling, substitution, lack of focus, whatever it may be, there needs to be some kind of reinforcement right away. It's not always running. Sometimes it is, you know."
There's no question the players now know.
*Wide receiver Kenny Golladay left practice yesterday with a leg injury.
"He's actually seeing a doctor this morning," Judge said. "I would say, in terms of a worse-case scenario, I think we've kind of avoided that in terms of dealing with it, but we'll see what the timetable looks like. And again, injuries are different for every player based on what they are, so we'll have to see how his body responds and make sure we do right by him."
*Wide receiver Kadarius Toney, the Giants' first-round draft choice this year, has continually increased his workload since coming off the Reserve/COVID-19 list eight days ago.
"He's doing everything we ask," Judge said. "Very pleased with the progress he's making. You can definitely see the passion. I know he's champing at the bit to do more and more and more, and we'll keep bringing him along each day doing a little more for him and see where his conditioning's at. But I was very pleased with how he's started off. I'm very pleased with how he worked with our trainers in the process to get ready for it."