Through 22 practices and three preseason games, the marching orders for the Giants can be edited down to the following two items:
What the Giants embark on this week is more endurance test than anything else, with Sept. 12 out there blinking in neon, a target date that is never out of mind.
The full squad will report Tuesday, and the first of 22 scheduled practices will kick off Wednesday. Every snap, movement, decision and gaffe in the coming days will be videoed, analyzed, discussed and corrected. Nothing will be dismissed as trivial. Joe Judge, heading into his second year as the head coach, will examine every workout session, assessing the talent, or lack thereof, on his roster.
All of it is important, but nothing supersedes the need to keep as many players as possible fit enough to take the field when the season finally starts in seven weeks against the Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Until then, the continued development of Daniel Jones, the recovery status of Saquon Barkley, the incorporation of newcomer veteran Kenny Golladay and rookie Kadarius Toney into the mix at wide receiver and the investigation of various edge rushers all will warrant time and effort. Nothing, though, will take precedence over getting to the finish line — or, more precisely, the season’s starting line — still standing.
Judge and his new staff did a good job of that in 2020, though rookie second-round pick Xavier McKinney, who was expected to play immediately at safety, went down late in training camp to a broken foot. That Barkley was lost in Week 2 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was crushing for both Barkley and the Giants, but at least he got to the season. Getting hurt before the games even begin is about as bad as it gets.
One year ago, Judge, new on the job, was hit with swift (and silly) criticism — mainly from those nowhere near the vicinity of the Giants’ training facility — when word got out that he doled out penalty laps for mistakes (players and coaches had to jog around the field) and that he put his team through full-contact goal-line drills only one day in. Judge gave an early indication of how he would handle shots at him, stating, “We can’t go out there on a practice field and just sing ‘Kumbaya’ together.’’
Some were agog when Judge said, “We’ll pop his pads in a little bit in a controlled environment.” Then, when referring to how to best test Jones, Judge offered this sarcasm-laced rejoinder: “We’re just going to take him out back and wale on him for a while.’’
Judge stepped in last year amid unprecedented uncertainty. He was a 38-year-old, first-time head coach, having to deal with keeping his team as safe as possible amid a global pandemic. This time around, Judge is tasked with protecting a roster of (mostly) vaccinated players, once again dealing with situations that never made their way into the coaching manual.
The Giants went 6-10 in Judge’s debut season, missing out on the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and for the eighth time in the past nine years. That the Giants were able to run off four straight wins and go 5-3 in the second half of the season gives reason for optimism. That they were alive for the NFC East title in Week 17 only means that their division was lousy.
More is expected of this group, a year into the systems put in by coordinators Jason Garrett (offense) and Patrick Graham (defense) and a year into Judge learning on the job.
“Look, I talk to the team all the time about expectations,’’ Judge said in the spring. “There’s a lot of expectations externally. We can’t do anything about that until we take care of the little things inside, so the expectations are there to improve at our job every day and put the team first.’’
Everything on the field should look more crisp, because the majority of the players are acclimated to Judge and his staff. So, too, should Jones appear more in command, a year immersed into Garrett’s playbook.
This will be an unusual camp for the Giants in that they will have no fans sitting in the bleachers ringing the practice field — heck, there won’t even be bleachers set up this year. Judge, looking to up the ante on competition, will take his team on two road trips for joint practices, the first to Berea, Ohio, in advance of the preseason game against the Browns, the second to Foxborough, Mass., to work out for two days with the Patriots before returning to face Bill Belichick’s team at MetLife Stadium.
“I’m a big fan of them,’’ Judge said of participating in joint practices. “I think it’s a great time in training camp to break the monotony, to get some competition against a friendly opponent.’’
Things will become decidedly less friendly on Sept. 12.