EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As a new head coach in the year of COVID-19, Joe Judge has been presented with numerous trials he could never have foreseen when he was hired in January. But all those virtual meetings, a spring with no practices and a summer without preseason games help Judge react to the Giants' latest and most serious challenge with his now-customary equanimity.
The Giants today placed Will Hernandez on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. In addition, the team instructed eight players and two coaches to remain home today.
"There's always some kind of adversity we're going to have to deal with," Judge said on a Zoom call this morning. "To us, this is just a sudden change. We just keep on moving forward. We emphasize working on what we can really accomplish as a team. We get everyone ready who may be part of the game plan."
The Giants are scheduled to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday night in MetLife Stadium.
Asked if he had concerns about the game being played, Judge said, "we have none right now. We're expecting to play Monday night and that's our mindset."
This is the second week in a row the Bucs' opponent has been hit with a COVID-19 outbreak among its offensive lineman; in their 45-20 loss to Tampa Bay, the Las Vegas Raiders started four linemen who didn't take a single practice snap in the days prior to the game. Whether the Giants will be similarly handicapped is uncertain, though Judge is optimistic about getting rapid player returns.
"We've been fortunate in that there's really no high-risk guys within the tracer contacts," Judge said. "We have some precautions we have to take as a team. We're optimistic to get all these guys back. We're operating that we're going to have them back right now."
But the positive test has altered yet again how the Giants will go about their daily business.
"In terms of what we're going to do and adjust as a team, I'm going to change the post-practice meetings to meet virtually," Judge said. "We've made some adjustments on the field to incorporate some face shields and some masks during practice, which has not been required before now. But we're going to make sure our players are wearing the masks during the actual activity. That will be different for our guys right there. But we'll meet post-practice virtually. I'll determine as the head coach how we're going to approach tomorrow's morning and afternoon meetings. But we're going to plan on practicing in person tomorrow regardless. I'll make that decision later on today and I'll talk to the team about it."
Since the team began its offseason program – remotely – in April, Judge has spoken to his players daily regarding the importance in remaining vigilant in the fight against COVID-19. He has stressed the importance of avoiding crowds and people outside their tight circle and following commonsense mandates like wearing masks and washing hands. None of that changes with today's news.
"The message has remained constant," Judge said. "We just need to remind each other constantly. Look, it's all about being safe. It's all about making sure we put ourselves in the right situations. It's about the social distancing in the building, the protocols with the masks and PPEs. We just need to go ahead and stay consistent with that throughout the season and make sure we put ourselves in the best position possible.
"I think it starts with our facilities. Ronnie (Barnes, the team's senior vice president of medical services) and the facilities director (Victor McLoughlin) have done a great job of setting up where we have them meet. We've transformed our indoor facility into really our meeting space for this year. That's really allowed us to remain spaced out in more of an open-air situation to help with the players and ventilation in terms of having the protocols set up to make sure we're spaced out in meetings and to be able to still have in person meetings. That's really been something that we've benefited from and it's helped us along the way."
But it's impossible to protect everyone 100% of the time.
Since joining the team as a second-round draft choice in 2018, Hernandez has played all 2,523 offensive snaps, including 429 this season. Rookie fifth-round selection Shane Lemieux is listed as the first backup behind both Hernandez and right guard Kevin Zeitler. Lemieux has been on the field for two offensive snaps this season. He was one of the linemen who did not practice today.
"Shane has been doing a good job really improving for us throughout the season," Judge said. "He's done a really good job in practice. We were planning on really working him in throughout the games anyway to be honest with you. In terms of just like we kind of worked Matt Peart (a first-year tackle selected in the third round) into games as well. We have confidence in Shane. He'll be in the mix with different guys that may factor into that position. We'll see where it goes by the end of the week and where everything leads going into Monday. We have confidence in Shane, I would expect him to play regardless of what the scenario is."
If he does step in for Hernandez, Lemieux has plenty of experience at left guard. He started 52 consecutive games and played 3,611 snaps there at the University of Oregon, where he was a two-time All-Pac 12 selection.
"Shane is definitely an aggressive player," Judge said. "He's definitely got that bruiser mentality to it. He's settling in a lot technically. He's shown a lot of improvement throughout the year. We liked him from the jump. He's definitely a guy that wants to get after it, wants to play physical, wants to play aggressive. He's really made good adjustments to a lot of the movements schemes and also the speed of the game of how it comes to it. His communication inside has really improved throughout the year. with the centers and guards inside that's definitely a critical piece for everything they are going to do, because the multiples they'll see inside. He's really shown a lot of growth for us."
In four days, Lemieux might get to show just how much growth he's made on Monday Night Football.
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.