The NFL offseason is a time of optimism.
And after three straight losing seasons, the New York Giants found even more reason to be optimistic in 2017 after braking through with an 11-5 record last year.
The emphasis in OTAs is on teaching and learning, on laying the groundwork for the work to come in mini-camp, training camp, and the preseason. But even while coaches caution against reading too much into voluntary OTA practices, that optimism still seeps through.
“We had an excellent day out there today,” head coach Ben McAdoo said Friday. “It was good to get out there on the grass. A lot of situational football, guys are working hard, working well together, that is what this time of year is about – a lot of teaching, a lot of learning, going in and fixing some mistakes afterwards. It was an encouraging day.”
Darian Thompson was a promising rookie starter at the start of last season before losing most of his season to a Lisfranc injury. McAdoo admits that the Giants are going slow with him, as they are with several other players coming back from injuries or dealing with dings. However, he and second year linebacker B.J. Goodson are earning praise for their grasp of the mental part of the game.
McAdoo said of Thompson, “He [Thompson] has been working the whole time back. He has been in a limited role, so we are being smart there, easing him back into it and he will get better as the offseason goes. He will have a couple weeks left there and then into training camp as well.”
And when asked about what he has seen from Thompson and Goodson, McAdoo added, “Yeah, again this isn’t the time that you go out there and you necessarily want to evaluate performance. That is not what this time of year is about. It is about teaching; it is about learning and seeing guys grow. We are not out there counting numbers right now. Communication is a big part of it, but those two guys are definitely players who dive into the book and spend a lot of time in their book and it shows on the field with the way they communicate and the way they are working.”
Second-year cornerback Donte Deayon is another young player getting recognized for his work, reportedly getting snaps with the first team defense as a slot corner along side of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
“He is a competitive guy,” McAdoo said. “Double D works hard at it, brings a lot of energy to the game. He gets football and he did a nice job out there today. He has been doing a nice job all offseason.”
Finally, third-year undrafted tight end Matt LaCosse had a big day at practice, and he was recognized for it. McAdoo said, “Yeah, he made some nice plays. He is a big target down there in the green zone. Matchup-wise, he gives you that length that you are looking for, he can run and he is a functional blocker, so he has a nice skill set.”
The Giants’ head coach recognized the difficulties placed on rookies and inexperienced young players on the mental aspect of playing in the NFL. It seems, at least now, that the kids are doing a good job in the class room.
“Right now, mentally, it is heavy for them and they are working hard at it,” McAdoo said. “They are getting a lot of meeting time in the afternoons. We keep them here as much as we can and they go out, they practice hard, they make some mistakes, they seem like a conscientious group that doesn’t repeat a lot of mistakes and that is a big advantage for them.”
But that being said, he isn’t going to shy away from playing the young guys. In fact, McAdoo professed a belief in just the opposite.
“Absolutely. I believe in playing young players,” he said, “giving them an opportunity to grow, especially early in the season, so that you have the most competitive team early in the year.”
Optimism abounds in the spring, particularly when it comes to young players. And while that is all well and good, the Giants’ head coach tried to temper expectations a bit and put things in perspective before the press conference wrapped up.
“I don’t even know who the team is right now,” McAdoo said. “We are out there teaching, we are learning, we are working to get better skills and communications and working together. We are not competing against each other. Right now we are working with each other to get better, to learn, so that when we do get to camp and we do put the pads on and we start cracking the pads and get to the preseason games, that is when we will evaluate and that is when we will know more about the team that we have.”