Nearly one year ago, Eli Manning returned to the Giants facility for the start of the offseason workout program.
“You come in, had a good offseason, worked hard, excited to be back with the team and the coaches,’’ Manning said at the time. “Going into that second year you always have an advantage, you know what the offense is a little bit, you know what the coaches like.’’
One year later, who could have fathomed that Eli Manning’s retirement would be the only aspect to the scheduled opening of the 2020 offseason workouts that made any sense?
These Giants are not back with their team and coaches. These Giants are not going into the second year of anything, not the offense and not the defense. Thus, these Giants do not know what the new coaches like.
Monday was supposed to be a big day for Joe Judge, the 38-year old novice head coach. The Giants were one of five NFL teams (the Cowboys, Panthers, Browns and Redskins are the others) with new head coaches allowed to begin their “voluntary’’ offseason programs, getting a two-week head-start on teams retaining their head coach. Nothing is business as usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result there will be no gathering of anyone at the Giants team facility, not Monday and not for the foreseeable future.
Still, this is a day of significance for Judge. The Giants are permitted to send the new playbooks to players, all downloaded remotely to their team-issued electronic tablets. According to a memo from the league issued to all teams late last week, clubs can send to the players not only playbooks but also video for “voluntary use” that “may include coaching or instructional voice overs or audio content, superimposed diagrams, schematics or written commentary.’’
Other than that, no coach-player interaction is permitted at this point, as the league tries to figure out new rules and regulations while dealing with social distancing, stay-at-home restrictions and the best way to maintain competitive balance during an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
The memo also stated the league is discussing “possible revisions’’ to the offseason workout programs that would permit teams to “conduct classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs on a virtual basis’’ while the team facilities remain closed.
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While not ideal, Monday’s developments are a boon for the Giants. For the first time, quarterback Daniel Jones, heading into his second season, gets to take a look at the system Jason Garrett, the new offensive coordinator, will eventually install. For the first time, players on defense get to see the new system put in by coordinator Patrick Graham, a system expected to be quite different than the one used by James Bettcher the past two years. Previously, Jones and the other players on offense could take a look at what Garrett ran with the Cowboys and defensive players could study what Graham ran last year with the Dolphins. Now, they all get to see what this new staff actually will run.
Last week, newly-signed inside linebacker Blake Martinez admitted he was “kind of in limbo’’ as he worked out at home in Tucson. He looked ahead, and forward, to what he was able to finally receive on Monday.
“I know once I’m able to get the playbook, it’ll kind of be my starting point of writing the notes down, doing the things necessary to make sure I know all the plays and checks and everything,’’ Martinez said.
The problem for Martinez and the other newcomers is they do not get to take what they see on their screens and bring it to the field.
For all the Giants, it is basically this: “Here is the material you need for the test. We cannot answer any questions right now; study on your own.’’
Teams with returning head coaches and systems in place figure to have a significant advantage this spring and summer, as remote learning cannot replace actual on-the-field lessons. Judge got the job and circled April 6 on his calendar as the first time his team assembled together. That meeting will have to wait.
“Without having the players on a daily basis, being able to work with them on a daily basis, there’s so much you’re missing on getting to really know these guys,’’ Judge said in late February at the NFL scouting combine.
For now, it is paramount to keep the players out, away from each other. Quite unexpectedly, building while apart is the greatest challenge this year confronting a first-time head coach.