Xavier McKinney sees similarities between Joe Judge and Nick Saban
Giants second-round pick Xavier McKinney enjoyed plenty of success in his three seasons at Alabama.
As a sophomore, McKinney earned the Defensive MVP Award at the 2018 Orange Bowl. He then went on to have a stellar junior campaign, finishing with 95 tackles (59 solo), three sacks, 5.5 tackles for losses, three interceptions, one touchdown, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and five passes defended. His performance earned him a spot on the All-SEC First-Team.
There is no denying that Alabama is one of the finest college football programs in the country. But despite the level of talent on the Crimson Tide and the rest of the SEC, the rookie safety understands the adjustments he must make in the NFL.
"The quest is a little different. The transition is a little different from college to the pros," McKinney told reporters Thursday. "It's definitely a different level of speed and tempo. Like you said, it's still somewhat similar as far as what we do. As far as tempo wise, it's a little bit faster. It has a lot of similar things to it."
The jump from college to the pros is tough for any rookie. However, McKinney may have a slight advantage over others due to the fact that he is already accustomed to many of head coach Joe Judge's ways.
Judge's connection with Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been discussed at length since the 38-year-old was named the head coach of the Giants in January. He spent three years in Tuscaloosa on Saban's staff, serving as a special teams assistant.
Judge has made it clear that he plans on developing his own coaching philosophy with the Giants. However, McKinney has already seen many similarities between his current and former head coaches, which the defensive back believes will be an advantage for him as a rookie.
"It's very similar," he said. "When I kind of figured (it) out and when he discussed some of his rules and how he wanted things to be handled and how we wanted us to be as a team, it was almost like a mirror version of how it was at 'Bama for me. As far as that, it was an easy adjustment for me. I have already been in this type of system. It wasn't that hard of a transition."
One of the biggest things Coach Judge has preached in training camp is attention to detail and accountability. When a player makes a mistake during a game, he typically receives a 5-, 10- or 15-yard penalty. Judge has been trying to limit the number of mistakes that might come in a game by holding people accountable during practice. Mistakes during practice result in penalty laps around the field, and this goes for both players and coaches.
Some on the outside may question these tactics, but McKinney made it clear that everyone in the locker room is on-board with Judge's methods.
"I think as a team, we love it to be honest," McKinney said. "Everybody is trying to get better, everybody is trying to improve. Everybody loves discipline, especially here. Right now, we go out there, we focus on what we need to focus on … which is becoming a better team, getting better as individuals, that's what we do. Everybody on the team likes Coach Judge, I think we're good on that. We just go out there and work and try to get better as a team."
Judge has repeatedly stated that no starting role will be handed out due to one's draft status or current contract. However, it has not taken long for McKinney to impress with his positive attitude and work ethic.
"The thing that I really like about the way those guys come to work every day is the points you make in the morning meetings you see show up on the field," Judge said, referring not only to McKinney but fellow rookie defensive back Jarren Williams, too. "Whether that's eye control on the quarterback in zone coverage, whether that's playing aggressive on the line of scrimmage in man, whether that's blitzing off the edge and taking an edge of the blocker and not fitting thick down the middle of them.
"Whatever it may be, those guys care about what you're talking about, and that's important. When you see a guy who's working the technique you're coaching and they're executing how they're supposed to execute, that's what you can really coach and clean up."
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.
Giants coming together but still have long way to go
It is entirely too soon for Joe Judge to know what he has for a football team, but it gets late early in the NFL.
The New York Giants host the Pittsburgh in 25 days and, like he said, the Steelers aren't coming to hug them. That is why incremental gains are so important to the first-year head coach, who thinks you start constructing the Empire State Building with the foundation and not by washing the windows.
"I'm pleased with the way they work right now," Judge said after Thursday's practice at training camp. "They come to work every day with a lot of enthusiasm and urgency. They're very coachable. These are guys that are very in-tune to the details that we're preaching within our program. I've seen a lot of camaraderie being built through the competition on the field, as well as the interaction off the field in the meeting rooms, in the dining hall and the locker room. You're starting to see a lot of the personalities really start to come out. It's a fun group to work with. I love coming to work every day."
Eventually that day will be game day.
Even then, the best teams are still works in progress, a lesson he learned while winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
"Tomorrow is our first scrimmage, an opportunity to go out there and really start working," Judge said. "I'm pleased with the direction we're going in right now. I see daily improvement from everyone. I see an urgency to improve. This is an evolving process. It's a long season. You're going to see a lot of teams come out there in Week 1 and no matter how they look, good or bad, Week 1, they're going to be a completely different team Week 16."
Judge referenced his final season in New England, where his last regular-season game was a 27-24 loss to a 4-11 Miami, a team the Patriots had beaten 43-0 in Week 2. It was also defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's final game with the Dolphins before joining Judge's staff with the Giants.
"We went down to Miami, they really weren't much of a team. They came into our place Week 17 and beat our butts," Judge recalled. "They were a much better, much improved team. That's why I have a lot of confidence in what Pat's doing out there. I've seen his guys in live action. I've seen him play with practice squad players and get them to the level of being NFL, on the field, game day players and beat us. That's important to me. To me, it's not what you are right now. It's where you're building towards. Where is this progress going? We're coaching every day to get every player to develop, and that's key. We're trying to get every player as many reps as we can so that they can have the experiences in practice that will carry over to the games."
Photos: Giants back on the practice fields Thursday
Check out the gallery below to view photos of the Giants back on the practice fields Thursday as training camp continues.
View photos of the Giants back on the practice fields Thursday.