New York Giants coordinators Jason Garrett (offense), Patrick Graham (defense) and Thomas McGaughey (special teams) spoke to the media Friday. Here are some of the key players and game plans they discussed.
Jason Garrett’s “interesting challenge”
Garrett had his work cut out for him this week after left guard Will Hernandez tested positive for the coronavirus. The Giants were forced to quarantine all but four of their offensive linemen. This resulted in a strange Thursday practice in which the Giants had just four linemen and tight end Eric Tomlinson playing right tackle.
“It was a really interesting challenge, obviously,” Garrett said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever been out on a practice field where you try to function with four offensive linemen, a couple young guys playing, guys playing out of position. Hats off to Eric for being able to jump in there. He’s a good football player, he’s a smart guy, he’s a tough guy, handled the work well and allowed us to function.”
Garrett said that as a football coach, he must always be prepared with backup plans and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has made that adaptability even more important.
“I think all of us, in football and out of football, in 2020 are having to think about contingency situations,” Garrett said. “Yesterday was an up-close look at it for us as a coaching staff. You’re always going through those ‘what if’ situations and you’re probably doing it more so now. You try to make sure you dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. Yesterday we had a number of offensive linemen who weren’t in our building. That’s a real-life situation that we have to contend with and have to be ready for.”
The lack of linemen caused Garrett to emphasize the early down passing game in Thursday’s practice. He said that it was particularly different for the guys on defense because they are typically going against a scout team offensive line.
“A challenging day, but our guys embraced it,” Garrett said. “We’ve been talking about being mentally tough enough to be your best regardless of circumstance and thriving under adversity from day one in the offseason. A good example yesterday of our guys stepping up and getting that done.”
That ability to bounce back is especially important as the Giants prepare to take on the 5-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, the offense is led by Tom Brady but Garrett stressed the quality of the defense. The Bucs are ranked third in the league in yards allowed per game with 291.3 and eighth in points allowed with 142.
“Great against the run, great affecting the quarterback, great taking the ball away,” Garrett said. “The way they play leaps off the tape. They have really good down guys. Fast, aggressive, playmaking linebackers. They’re good in the backend. It all works together. They pressure you a lot of different ways. They win one on one matchups, really across their defense. As rushers, defeating blocks in the run game, making plays in the pass game. There really are not many holes in this defense.”
Garrett will lean on Sterling Shepard, who returned from injury last week and Wayne Gallman, who will have extra weight to carry if Devonta Freeman (who missed Thursday’s practice due to an ankle injury) is unable to play.
“Sterling is just a good football player,” Garrett said. “He’s probably the most accomplished skill player that we’ve had. A veteran guy who’s made a lot of plays in this league during his time with the Giants, and it’s just good to get him back. He has great quickness and change of direction, he has a good feel and instincts for playing, he has savvy, he’s quarterback friendly, and he has playmaking ability.”
Gallman, meanwhile, got some extended work in against the Eagles last week and responded well.
“Wayne is still a young player,” Garrett said. “We’re trying to help him grow and develop as a player and be a complete back for us. I think there’s been evidence over the first part of the season where he has demonstrated that. Inside runner, outside runner, pass receiver, pass protector, Again, we’re trying to help him continue to grow as a player.”
Patrick Graham’s Brady moment
As Graham readies his defense to take on Tom Brady, he reflected on his first interaction with the future Hall of Famer. Graham’s first job in the NFL was as a quality control coach for the New England Patriots. He would go on to spend seven years there and get to know Brady well.
“He introduced himself to me,” Graham said. “I was in there early in the morning in the offseason. I was working on the exercise bike and I had my hoodie on and I had my head down and I was just on the bike. This told you a lot about Tom, there were not a lot of players in the building at the time. I felt someone tap on my shoulder, you could imagine my first year in the league, it’s like maybe the first month I’m there. I look up and boom, it’s Tom.”
Graham said that Brady introduced himself first while it took him a second to volunteer his own name.
That first meeting has stuck with Graham because it reflects the type of leader Brady is on and off the field.
“He leads by example,” Graham said. “I have a lot of respect for him as a football player, as a man. He was never too big to talk to, whether it was me as a defensive quality control or a rookie wide receiver. That’s what makes him special. I haven’t seen anybody work as hard as him, be as studious as him.”
This familiarity with Brady allows Graham to prepare to face him without intimidation.
“We always say we don’t want to talk out of two sides of our mouth,” Graham said. “It’s a people league, so obviously if you know the person, it gives you some sort of, I don’t know about advantage but at least you are familiar with him as a football player.”
Graham said that knowing Brady’s style of play is not enough to be successful against him though because of the star QB’s playmaking ability.
“He understands, get the ball to the skill players,” Graham said. “You think about the positions, wide receiver, running back and the amount of talent they have over there. You get those guys the ball in space, it’s a problem. Tom is a master at getting them the ball in space and let them use their tools and their skills.”
Thomas McGaughey’s juggling act
For McGaughey and his special teams unit, the motto is aways “Stay Ready.” Those are the two words to live by as both players and coaches have to be prepared for when their name is called.
Due to the injuries the Giants have at the linebacker position, McGaughey has had to be particularly creative in his preparation.
“It’s always a juggling fest with the job,” Graham said. “Each week it’s a little bit different. We just make those midstream adjustments. As the season goes on, you’re going to have injuries. You just have to make sure you’re preparing guys daily and weekly for those opportunities.”
For Corey Ballentine specifically, adjusting to the kick returner position has resulted in some positives on the field, but also some negatives. Ballentine was called for an illegal targeting penalty late in the game against Philadelphia.
“It’s a bang-bang play,” McGaughey said. “He’s got to keep his head up. Anytime now, it’s all about optics. If it looks bad, then they are going to call it. He just has to understand when he enters into the contact area, that his eyes have to be up.”
McGaughey understands though that Ballentine is part of a young group of guys that have not taken many snaps at the NFL level, much less together as a unit. There is a learning curve due to the limited amount of live-game returns each player has had the chance to experience.
“When Corey was back there returning kicks, he was returning them, he wasn’t doing all the blocking,” McGaughey said. “We had a pretty good group that was in front of him that was blocking the last couple of years. Just some timing, I think it’s more the timing, the spacing, and just getting used to the whole aspect of a play.
“There’s a lot moving parts in kickoff return. We’re just trying to make sure we get it coached up better. Execute the techniques better up front. I think the back end, that stuff will come. With Corey and whoever is back there returning kicks, I think once we clean up all the stuff in front of him, that we’ll have better results.”
On a positive note, McGaughey said that Graham Gano is healthy, despite looking like he tweaked something in his leg last week. McGaughey added that the Giants also brought Corey Coleman back to the practice squad who will look to add more depth to the kick returning group moving forward.