EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — In any other year, the New York Giants would be entering September wondering whether Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and a rebuilt defense would revive the struggling franchise under new coach Joe Judge.
This is 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic has changed most everything. There has been little team offseason training, no minicamps nor preseason games.
Virtual learning and out-of-the-box thinking are in. And that's just the way the detail-oriented 38-year-old Judge is handling his first season. It's just another challenge for the former New England Patriots special teams coordinator, not an excuse.
“I think you always have to rely on your base and your philosophy,” said Judge, one of five new NFL head coaches this season. “Really, our practice tape is what we have to go on, based on how we compete on a daily basis and the progress we see. The biggest thing we do is monitor our own players’ improvement. We know what the standard is. We explain it to our players every day. They know if they’ve met it or not.”
Judge wants to see a fundamentally sound team play tough, fast and mistake-free football. Attention to detail and emptying the tank are everyday musts.
“The beauty of working for Joe is his vision and how he has set it out since he got the job,” said defensive coordinator Pat Graham, who worked in New England with Judge. “We know what we want it to look like. We are trying to build towards that.”
The Giants have a long way to go. They won 12 games total in the past three seasons, and have made the playoffs once since winning their fourth Super Bowl in February 2012.
Judge isn't focusing on that. His concern is the present and executing a plan.
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey remembers Judge as an opposing coach, always attacking a weakness.
“He would make you play with your left hand," McGaughey said. “His guys were super prepared, they always had a veteran group that you knew they weren’t going to make any mistakes.”
In other words, you had to beat them.
That's the goal this year for the Giants under Judge. Don't beat yourself. Make the other team do it.
ALONG CAME JONES
With the retirement of Eli Manning, Jones is the Giants’ quarterback. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft threw for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie. His big drawback was losing 11 of 18 fumbles. He enters his second season with a new offense and coordinator in Jason Garrett. If Barkley can avoid the ankle problems of last season and return to his Rookie of the Year form of 2018, and the O- line improves, the offense can be good.
Graham is reworking one of the NFL's worst units. It gave up 451 points last year. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams was franchised, leading sacker Markus Golden was re-signed and the Giants spruced up the unit by adding linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell and cornerback James Bradberry.
The pandemic and injuries turned this into another rebuilding year for the O-line. Left tackle Nate Solder opted out and injured center Jon Halapio was not re-signed.
The guard spots are set with Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler. The tackles and center will be new for coach Marc Colombo. Andrew Thomas, the No. 4 overall draft pick, will replace Solder at left tackle. Former Cowboy Cam Fleming was signed and seemingly will be the right tackle. Versatile Nick Gates is playing center, where he is competing with veteran Spencer Pulley.
OFF THE FIELD
The pandemic and legal problems caused audibles.
Besides Solder, third-year cornerback Sam Beal also opted out for health reasons. Away from the team, placekicker Aldrick Rosas, a Pro Bowler in 2018, was charged with leaving the scene of an automobile accident. He was released before camp.
Cornerback DeAndre Baker, the last of three first-round draft picks in ’19, has been charged with armed robbery in Florida and is on the commissioner's exempt list.
Chandler Catanzaro briefly replaced Rosas, who struggled last season. Graham Gano, the former Panther who missed last season with a leg injury, is now the kicker.
The Baker situation has put fourth-round draft pick Darnay Holmes, Corey Ballentine and Julian Love in the mix at cornerback opposite Bradberry.
Judge is the 10th former assistant coach under Patriots boss Bill Belichick to become a head coach. Few have had success. Bill O’Brien of the Texans is the exception, getting to the playoffs four of six seasons .
The recent crop has struggled. Brian Flores was 5-11 in 2019 in his first season with Miami. Matt Patricia is 9-22-1 in the two seasons in Detroit.
Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel never coached under Belichick. He got Tennessee to the AFC title game last season in his second year as head coach.
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