Players have had to get creative during the coronavirus pandemic when connections to new coaches and teammates can only be done virtually.
That, according to New York Giants cornerback Julian Love, is where video games come in.
“A lot of guys have been playing [video games] in their spare time,” Love said on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Bob Papa and David Diehl on Wednesday. “Playing together and talking about something as trivial as a video game together, helps build that camaraderie.”
When Love is not connecting with fellow teammates through video games, he is training for the upcoming NFL season. He said that he put together a gym piece-by-piece in the basement of his Chicago home.
“It’s definitely a gritty feel,” Love said. “But just really trying to get it going and then going to a local field and conditioning each day. Everyone has been accommodating around here for me. Just trying to hone in on what I need to do to be ready when I go back.”
Love will be entering his second season with the Giants. During his rookie campaign, he played in 15 games and started five. Love recorded 37 combined tackles, including 30 solo and one interception. After not seeing much action on defense for the first nine weeks of the season, Love took on a more active role in the final five games. The former fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame finished up the 2019 season as one of the Giants’ starters at safety next to Antoine Bethea. At the time, Love was filling in for Jabrill Peppers who had a fractured bone in his back. Peppers is ready to rejoin the lineup next season.
But signing cornerback James Bradberry and drafting safety Xavier McKinney with the 36th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has put Love’s role on the defense into question. Amidst this uncertainty, Love is trying to take the patience and work ethic he learned from his rookie campaign and apply it to his preparation for the upcoming season.
“No matter which phase I’m at in my career, I’ve kind of taking everything with a grain of salt,” Love said. “I didn’t expect anything to be handed to me. I prepared myself to really work for it. This past season, I really had to work each day for my chance. It’s weird because nobody is ever perfect, but I was trying to be as close to perfect as you can be in practice. Though I wish I could have played earlier, it really prepared me to get my preparation level to where it needs to be to contribute to the team.”
Love’s physical and mental preparation ultimately payed off last season when he hauled in his first career interception in his hometown city of Chicago.
“It felt like a year of emotion being released with that one play,” Love said. “The combine and leaving college and getting ready for the league - it’s stressful. And I wasn’t seeing the field as much on defense, so I was just pent up a little bit. So catching that interception in front of a lot of family and friends felt good. It felt like ‘I’m here now.’”
New head coach Joe Judge has preached versatility on defense and Love showed his ability to play numerous positions last season. Love hopes that athleticism will help him get the snaps that he wants on the field next season.
“Being physically ready is important,” Love said. “If I want to be on the field all the time, I have to be in shape enough to be on the field all the time.”
Love said that the Giants have fostered an open online environment in which everyone can participate.
“Nobody is off limits,” Love said. “Rookies, old guys, we can all speak to each other openly. That allows us to understand where we’re coming from and who we are as people.”
Love said that the openness has been especially helpful in the past week as everyone struggles to reconcile their emotions.
“A lot of my values are family-based, so I relate a lot of my team values to a family member,” Love said. “People are anxious, pent-up, sad, angry. So I think in order for us to kind of move forward on this, we have to feel those same emotions that are brothers and sisters are feeling. That’s what will help us get through this. I’m grateful to be on this team because everyone is backing each other and everyone is sharing the same emotions, no matter who you are. I think that’s pretty special. Even with a lot of new guys, you still feel that energy that we are in this together.”