“#The extra hurdle Joe Judge faces heading into Giants camp”
The best teams are the most cohesive teams, and cohesion is born out of familiarity. All this is counterintuitive amid a pandemic, and all this is exactly what falls at the feet of Judge, a first-time head coach thrown into the deep end of the NFL pool at age 38.
All spring and summer, he has created, adjusted, scrapped, recreated, readjusted and re-scrapped schedules for his team. Coaches have a thing for their schedules — the where, when and how — and everything Judge thought out in painstaking detail was predicated on actually having his players available — live and in person, in the weight room, in the meeting rooms and on the practice fields.
As we all know, COVID-19 raged in, and the world then is not the world now. The original plan and the many alternative plans for his first training camp as a head coach are now useless. There are no preseason games to use as barometers, and a prolonged “ramp-up’’ to football activities means it could be nearly three weeks until Judge can see his players actually wearing pads.
Plus, Judge has to get to know these guys — 80 of them, instead of the usual 90 allowed for camp. He has never been in the same room with most of them, and introductions via Zoom meetings are not the same as a hearty handshake. Interpersonal vibes cannot be squeezed through a computer screen.
“It took some time for all these players, for us to develop a relationship,’’ Judge told The Post earlier this summer. “Probably the toughest thing going into this was not how are we going to teach football but how are we going to break down those virtual walls and have some team-building and create a sense of team. That’s something our guys have worked hard to do and have done. Our player development department did a great job with that, using competitions within their daily schedule. I encouraged guys to reach out within the meetings themselves and talk and share, and they’ve done a phenomenal job of that.
“It’s one thing we emphasized early in the whole deal is we weren’t going to walk in the building for training camp as strangers. I don’t feel that we are. I feel we’re going to walk in there in training camp and be excited to be around each other in person and get ready to get to work.’’
Walking into the building nowadays comes with severe restrictions and means temperature checks, sanitizer stations, one-way walking through halls and the unprecedented use of the locker rooms at MetLife Stadium. Players will be bussed across the parking lot to and from the nearby Giants training facility.
Once there is actually offense, defense and special teams progress on the fields, Judge for the first time will get to see and feel what general manager Dave Gettleman has assembled for him. The Giants were 5-11 and 4-12 in Pat Shurmur’s two seasons as head coach, and Ben McAdoo and interim Steve Spagnuolo went 3-13 in 2017. Given the youth on the roster, the seeming lack of many impact players (Saquon Barkley on offense; who, exactly, on defense?) and Judge’s novice status, the outside perception of this team is one that will struggle to avoid last place in the NFC East.
“We’re really, truly focused on the energy inside the building, inside these meetings at the time, the energy put into preparing, to making progress,’’ Judge said. “And to building a foundation to what we can build on, long term.’’
In the short term, Judge needs to implement the plans on offense (with new coordinator Jason Garrett, the former Cowboys head coach) and on defense (with Patrick Graham now in charge). Judge needs to get in sync with quarterback Daniel Jones, entering his second season after a promising rookie year, and show he is up for this challenge in a season that promises to be unlike any other.
“Everyone’s dealing with the same circumstances right now,’’ he said. “If it rains, it rains and both teams play in the rain. So, who can handle it better? And right now I’m very blessed to be in this situation. I’m very encouraged by the group of guys we have to work with. And we’ve had a positive spring. I’m looking forward to getting to training camp right now and building going forward.’’
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