The New York Giants’ offseason program, such as it was in our new virtual reality, is over. Sure, the NFL says those virtual programs can go on for two more weeks — and Giants’ rookies aren’t out of school until that time elapses — but the offseason is basically over with.
What have we learned about the 2020 Giants? Well, virtually nothing.
By now, media has generally had access to a half-dozen or so on-field OTAs. We have had a meet the assistant coaches get-together. We have seen a rookie mini-camp. We have a attended a mandatory full-team minicamp.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown it has necessitated mean that none of those things have happened.
The Giants arranged post-draft Zoom calls for media with the players they selected. We had an opportunity to speak via video-conference with coach Joe Judge, with quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, and some of the big-name free agents the team signed. I have talked to as many people as I could about the players the Giants drafted and signed, and about what various analysts expect from the Giants in the upcoming season.
All of that was insightful, but we still really have learned little about the 2020 Giants. Not nearly what we would normally have learned in a typical offseason. Not nearly what we would have hoped to learn about a team with yet another new coaching staff, its third since 2016.
None of that is a complaint. It’s reality. It was, and is, necessary. I absolutely understand it and, as close as I will come to any sort of political commentary, fully support the social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions we have all had to live under to varying degrees for the past few months.
In terms of your New York Giants, the biggest thing I have learned this spring is that it is difficult to really learn anything about a team when you can’t get near said team.
Usually at his time of year I might be putting together a “things we learned about this Giants this spring” post. So, in this highly unusual and unforgettable year, here are some of the things we have not learned about the Giants this spring.
Which side will Andrew Thomas play?
When the Giants made Thomas the No. 4 overall pick, Judge said he would “compete on both sides.” OTAs and mini-camps would have given us a big hint as to which side Thomas was more likely to play. We really don’t know any more than we did the day he was drafted, which is that he will be on one side and Nate Solder will be on the other.
How does Joe Judge operate as a head coach?
We have heard from Judge a number of times. He is an impressive guy. He is well-spoken. Judge is pretty direct, and what he says has a purpose.
How will Judge, a 38-year-old who has never been a head coach, run a practice? Football is football, but practices run by Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, and Pat Shurmur have all had their nuances.
How a Judge practice will look or feel different, and how Judge will interact with players during practice, remain a mystery.
How is Jason Garrett adjusting?
Or, maybe the better word is “re-adjusting.”
Garrett, of course, was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for the past 10 seasons. Prior to that, he was a highly-regarded offensive coordinator with the Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.
Garrett has not spoken to media. If he had, he most likely would have given us some coach-speak about the terrific opportunity the Giants have given him, how much he has always loved the organization he once played for, and how much he has enjoyed working with Judge.
Still, we would know more about how Garrett is handling running an offense and being a coordinator again if we had actually seen him function in that capacity.
Who is at center?
As Shaun O’Hara said to me the other day, “Nobody’s going to be able to answer that until training camp.”
Coaches will usually tell you that spring work doe snot decide position battles, but is for players to put themselves in position to compete for spots in training camp. The reality is that if you pay close attention to who is getting first-, second- and third-team reps in the spring you can get a huge hint how some of those alleged “competitions” are going to play out.
Center is a prime example. The last two years the Giants told us the center competition was wide open. Yet, in both seasons nearly all of the spring first-team reps went to Jon Halapio, first over Brett Jones and then over Spencer Pulley. Halapio, of course, was the starter each season. Fact is, there just aren’t enough practice reps for teams not to make decisions as early as possible.
Judging by who is on the roster currently (the rehabbing Halapio is not) you would have to think Pulley would be the odds-on favorite. That, though, is just an educated guess because not a single rep has been taken.
Who’s in the slot?
That is such a multi-layered question. And, without any on-field work, we have no way of offering an educated opinion.
Does the new coaching staff consider Julian Love a slot cornerback or a safety? Will Corey Ballentine — as he probably should — get moved back to an outside cornerback role? Does rookie fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes have a legitimate shot at the job? Can someone like former Carolina Panthers’ third-round pick Rashaan Gaulden or former XFL-er Dravon Askew-Henry win the job?
Who plays if DeAndre Baker doesn’t?
Whatever happens with Baker’s legal situation, there is probably a decent chance that he will at least be suspended when the season begins. So, who takes that spot? Sam Beal? Ballentine? Love?
It would probably be Beal or Ballentine, but we just don’t know.
What will the defensive scheme look like?
We have a pretty good idea that Patrick Graham will run a multiple scheme with a variety of three and four down-lineman looks. Maybe some two down-lineman looks.
This is what Judge said when the Graham hire was announced:
“We’ve had a lot of discussions, both before he came here as well as since he’s been here, in terms of what he would want to do with the scheme,” Judge said. “We share the same vision to be able to run multiples and use the players on our roster to the best of their ability to match up against the opponent.”
That’s the theory. What does it look like in practice?
Again, not a clue.
Which UDFAs have the best chance?
It’s funny. Each year, we watch OTAs and mini-camps and if you canvas the different reporters at practice you will get different opinions on the most impressive undrafted free agents.
A couple of years ago, wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo was a summer sensation. Last year, tight end C.J. Conrad had many convinced — including yours truly — that he was making the 53-man roster. Neither guy stuck.
So, you always have to remember that what you see when guys are in shorts and t-shirts, with veterans who know they are making the team not giving an ‘A’ effort on every 50-50 ball and contact of any significance not allowed, that you aren’t getting a full picture of what a guy can really do.
Still watching spring workouts generally gives you an idea which undrafted guys deserve attention heading into training camp.
This year? Well, you know.