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‘Valentine’s Views:’ New era for Giants, training camp musings, Ross Cockrell signing

Some things I’m thinking about as the Giants work toward the 2020 season

Sterling Shepard leaps to catch a pass during a recent practice.

Zak DeOssie retired on Friday. The New York Giants had already replaced the 36-year-old as the team’s long-snapper and it was assumed his career was over, but the timing of his announcement ended up being symbolic.

DeOssie’s announcement, just a few months after Eli Manning retired, meant there are officially no Giants remaining who have connections to the 2007 or 2011 Super Bowl-winning teams.

The announcement also came on a day when media got to talk to Sterling Shepard via videoconference. At 27 and entering just his fifth NFL season, Shepard — amazingly — is now the longest-tenured Giant.

“I might have to shake the “Young Shep” off,” Shepard joked in regards to his “elder statesman” status. He added that he hopes to “set a good example for the young guys and kind of teach them about some of the different rivalries that we have and how important those games are to the New York Giants as an organization.”

For years, the Giants seemed caught somewhere in the middle, a virtual NFL no-man’s land. They were caught somewhere between knowing they had to build for the future while still attempting to honor the past by trying to win with Manning.

No more.

Look around. The Giants have a 38-year-old first-time head coach. They have a 23-year-old second-year quarterback in Daniel Jones. Their best player is 23-year-old running back Saquon Barkley.

Their future rides with those players. Oh, and guys like 21-year-old first-round pick Andrew Thomas, 22-year-old Dexter Lawrence, 22-year-old Xavier McKinney, 23-year-old Darius Slayton, 24-year-old Jabrill Peppers, 24-year-old Will Hernandez and a host of other players under the age of 25.

The only connections these players have to Giants’ history are all of the pictures on the walls you see when you walk through the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Right now, with the team operating out of MetLife Stadium due to COVID-19, Giants players don’t even get to see those.

It is, undoubtedly a new era of Giants football. There are grizzled veterans like Golden Tate and Kevin Zeitler. There is not, though, a single player on the roster who has won a playoff game as a Giant.

During the offseason, the Giants even turned to ‘Kahoot,’ a game-based learning software, to help teach players about the history of the franchise.

“I think it’s very important to know the history,” Shepard said. “You have to know what the guys before you have done and how they played football, and to continue to play that way because that’s what this organization was built on and that’s what it’s used to. I think it’s important and the coaches do as well.”

Recent years aside, the Giants have a glorious franchise history. Four Super Bowl titles. Several championships in the pre-Super Bowl era. One of the league’s original franchises.

Friday, though, was a stark reminder that this is a new era of Giants football. The way most of the last decade has gone that’s not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

Shepard’s decision to play

No one should have been surprised by Nate Solder’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season. We know his personal and family health history. Another player I thought might consider opting out is Shepard, who has two young children at home and has already made a considerable amount of money from the game. I asked him Friday about his decision to play. Here’s what he said:

“I’m supportive of all the players that did [opt out]. Everyone is going to make a decision based on what’s going on around them in their household, and make the decision that’s best for them. That’s the way we approached that as a family. We sat down and talked about it, and I made the decision that was best for my family.”

Ross Cockrell signing

The addition of Cockrell by the Giants isn’t yet official as there are some COVID-19 nasal swabs to deal with first. Still, I really like this move by the Giants.

I banged the drum a few times throughout the offseason for the Giants to sign veteran cornerback Logan Ryan, but I honestly didn’t give enough consideration to the 29-year-old Cockrell.

Cockrell has been on four teams, including spending 2017 with the Giants, in a six-year NFL career. He is a better player, though, than that vagabond resume would indicate. Cockrell has never allowed a passer rating when targeted above 96.2. In 2017 with the Giants, he had a passer rating against of 69.7. Last season with the Carolina Panthers, opposite James Bradberry much of the time, his passer rating against was 68.1.

Cockrell isn’t a guy you want matched up against opposing team’s No. 1 receivers, but with the Giants that job clearly belongs to Bradberry. He is a good player with extensive experience outside and in the slot. Recalling the few times I spoke with him during the 2017 season, he is also a solid pro and a guy who young cornerbacks like Corey Ballentine and Darnay Holmes should benefit from being around.

Training camp thoughts

The Giants are, technically, in training camp. Really, though, they have been going through what could be considered glorified OTAs. In a normal year we would be a couple of weeks into giving you practice reports and player interviews, and the Giants would be just days away from their preseason opener vs. the New York Jets.

This year, though, is vastly different due to the pandemic. Here are a few things I miss, and don’t miss, about a normal training camp.

Things I miss

  • Talking to players and coaches in person. Videoconferences are OK, but there are no personal interactions. No relationships built. No real impressions to be drawn. Oh, and after all these months we still have not talked to coordinators Jason Garrett or Patrick Graham.
  • Chatting in person with media members like Tom Canavan of the AP, Pat Traina, Emory Hunt and others.
  • Seeing practices. We may not always have the best vantage point or be able to see everything, but being able to watch full practices is incredibly beneficial. You get a sense of who is performing well and who isn’t, how players might be used, how a coaching staff runs a practice and more. To be honest, it vastly improves the work I do here.
  • Watching Brandon London exhort fans attending practices, leading them in a variety of chants.
  • Watching players hang with their families or girlfriends for a few minutes after practices on days when families are in attendance. You see a different side of guys when they are chasing their kids around the field.

Things I don’t miss

  • The 145-mile trip down the New York State Thruway from my home in upstate New York’s Capital Region to East Rutherford, N.J. That’s 290 miles and five hours in the car on days I go down and back.
  • The Carlstadt Econo Lodge. When I stay in New Jersey a few days at a time, that is often my spot. It’s a half-mile from MetLife Stadium, which you can see from the hotel’s perimeter. It’s cheap and clean. And that’s about it.
  • Fighting for space in the media room. I’m not one of the fortunate media members who has a designated work space. Hey, Pat Hanlon, why is that, by the way? The room is a madhouse during training camp, with writers fighting for places to work, TV people sometimes getting hair and makeup done in the middle of the room and NOISE! Way too much noise.
  • Jostling for a good spot in head coach press conferences and fighting to get questions in. Part of the job, but annoying nonetheless.
  • Standing ... and standing ... and standing some more while waiting and hoping the player or players you asked to interview on any given day will consent to come out and talk.