EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Judge is not going to typecast his players.
The Giants' first-year coach likes players who are versatile, can produce at multiple positions and give personnel deployment options to the coaching staff on both offense and defense.
Judge made that clear today on a Zoom call with reporters, stressing that he likes adaptable multipurpose players.
For example, third-year offensive lineman Nick Gates signed a contract extension this week. He is widely thought to be a contender to start at tackle or center. But Judge wouldn't preclude playing him at guard, where incumbents Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez have returned.
What is clear is Gates has a trait that Judge seeks in his players.
"One of the strengths of Nick has been his flexibility," Judge said. "He's a guy that can factor into any of the five positions on the offensive line. The priority now is to give him a chance to compete for a starting position at any one of those five spots. As coaches, we have to do a good job of mapping out how we are going to allocate his snaps and his reps on the field between primarily center and tackle and give him a fair shot at both. We are going to work him day by day based on the priority for him. It will start shaking out once the pads come on (the first full-pads practice is scheduled for Aug. 17)."
Gates, 6-6 and 318 pounds, played left tackle in college at Nebraska. Signed as a rookie free agent in 2018, he spent that season on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury in the preseason. Last year, Gates played in all 16 games with three starts – two at right tackle and one at right guard.
The Giants see him as a potential center, where Jon Halapio, the starter last year, tore his Achilles tendon in the final game. In keeping with the versatility theme, they are also looking at another newcomer to the position, Shane Lemieux. The fifth-round draft choice started 52 consecutive games at Oregon – at left guard.
"(Gates is) a guy that has good athletic ability, he's got length," Judge said. "He's definitely a smart player that we want to make sure we give him the opportunity to get inside and operate in that signal caller mode and play center. For him and Shane both, neither one of them has played center, so training is part of it right now. (Offensive line coach Marc) Colombo has to dedicate a little bit of extra time to those guys to make sure he is giving them some basics and building on what they know about the position."
Gates has demonstrated he can handle the most essential requirement of the position – snapping the ball.
"We have (seen hm snap)," Judge said. "Between the walk-throughs we've had the last few nights, footballs are allowed to be on the field, obviously at a controlled tempo. Some basic drills we can operate and watch the QB-center exchanges. We've watched them all snap balls, and work with the quarterbacks. Of course, at this point, we are all sitting out there in our underwear, the real test comes when the pads come on."
The desire for adaptability extends to the defense. Linebacker Markus Golden, who led the team with 10.0 sacks last season, rejoined the team this week. He joins a group of pass rushing candidates that includes holdovers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines; offseason acquisition Kyler Fackrell, a fifth-year pro; and draft choices Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin.
"Even though we have a lot of guys in the same position group, they all have a different skill sets," Judge said. "So along with that, we have different packages we can build in based on who the opponent is that week. We talk a lot about doing more on the field. They have a skill set in rushing the passer, but they are not exclusively a pass rusher. These are guys that are going to play in the kicking game. These are guys that are going to factor into different run stopping units, different packages we put on to match the offense's personnel. Building depth at significant positions is something we have to do.
"There's going to be several of these guys that as we go we will see how they factor out at the outside backer position. Maybe some of those guys will get shifted to the inside and we'll see how they fare at the inside position as well to build our depth on the roster. At this point we are going to give them a chance to get their feet wet at the outside backer position. We are not limited to what we can do. We want to make sure we find out what every player can do well. Then we will put them on the field in a position to execute."
That comment was in reference to the outside linebackers. But as Judge puts together his roster, it can apply to almost every position on the team.
*Judge first spoke about Golden in the offseason and is happy the six-year pro has finally landed in MetLife Stadium.
"I'm excited Markus is in the building with us," Judge said. "Obviously, this is the first time I have worked with him on a personal note. His reputation throughout the league is a very solid one. He was someone we wanted to have on the team, we are lucky it worked out the way it is. At this point right now, like all the other players, we are giving him a chance to acclimate and catch up with our systems and just get going and competing full speed."