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Observations from the New York Giants mandatory mini-camp

Practice notes, and a few other thoughts

Syndication: The Record
Jabrill Peppers
Danielle Parhizkaran/ via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The New York Giants mandatory mini-camp is now over. Here are some observations from a light Thursday practice, and from the three days overall.

Competition? Not this week

Head coach Joe Judge said at the end of May that players knew the team would work through the voluntary spring practices and the mandatory mini-camp “with their safety in mind.” He added that “we want to avoid collisions at this part of the camp” and that practices would be at a controlled tempo with little competition.

At the beginning of the mandatory mini-camp Judge reiterated that, saying that the goal was “the No. 1 focus is building our football movement, get the players in shape.”

Judge was true to his word.

There was virtually no competition during the three-day mini-camp. Practices at this time are without pads and are non-contact.

The Giants did 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, but they did so without any physicality. There was little contact between offensive lineman and defenders. Defensive backs simply shadowed receivers and did not contest catches in any way.

“I understand what OTAs are about,” said cornerback James Bradberry. “It’s about us building those reps, getting that chemistry and also learning the defense. You also don’t want anybody to get hurt. When you have plays where you have guys coming in full speed and breaking up passes there’s potential for injury. We don’t have pads on.”

If you’re looking for things like “standout players” from mini-camp or bubble guys/undrafted free agents who might have improved their chance to make the team I can’t give you any. There just wasn’t enough live action to make any sort of credible judgment about those types of questions.

Man coverage

The Giants played man-to-man coverage only 23 percent of the time last season, per Sports Info Solutions. That is 26th in the league.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham did not want to come right and say it. With Adoree’ Jackson and Aaron Robinson added at cornerback, Xavier McKinney healthy and Logan Ryan with the team from the start this season that ratio, though, is almost certainly going to change.

“I know we didn’t play a ton of man last year but we picked spots to play man. Again, like those guys last year, they did a good job what we asked them to do. Like we mixed up more zone and then we had man in the pass. But again, I don’t know what the recipe is going to be for this year yet,” Graham said. “But I don’t want to be — I’m not saying you were, but I don’t want to be disrespectful of the guys that were here last year that aren’t here. I mean, Adoree’ brings another element, Aaron Robinson, Darnay, they bring another element to it. Will we probably be in more man? Possibly.

“But it’s always good to have that problem, so we are going to try to do what’s best for that game, that game plan. But you need to play man-to-man coverage in this league, period, point-blank and obviously six wins last year, we didn’t do enough on defense, so the hell with that; we are looking at all options, whether it’s the blitz more, blitz less, play less zone, play more man, we need a whole lot of options. Six wins is not going to cut it.”

Graham won’t get complaints from Jackson if he’s tasked with a lot of tough man-to-man assignments.

“The NFL is a passing league, so whether it’s man-to-man, zone, match, whatever it may be you’ve just got to be able to play it and be versatile,” Jackson said via Zoom on Thursday. “Pretty much everything down the field turns into man, anyway ... it really doesn’t matter, you’ve just got to have good eyes and try to make plays.”

Jackson said “the best part of playing defense is the 1-on-1 matchup with a wide receiver.

A Daniel Jones note

Wide receiver Darius Slayton said Jones is “jacked” and “actually has cuts in his arms.”

Those things may be new. One thing that is old, and still seems annoying, is that Jones displayed some hesitation in getting rid of the ball on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I’m not happy with myself for not bringing it up on Wednesday, to be honest. Pat Traina of Giants Country and I were discussing Jones’ indecision when she put a stop watch on a half-dozen of his throws.

Punt return options

Jabrill Peppers did a good job returning punts for the Giants last season, averaging 12.5 yards on 15 returns.

This year, Peppers has company. First-round pick Kadarius Toney was an excellent returner at Florida. Adoree Jackson has also returned punts.

Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said this week that the Giants will not shy away from using Peppers, but they are obviously intrigued by the possibilities with the “electric” Toney.

McGaughey was clear this week, though, that Toney is going to have to earn the punt return job.

“Kadarius, you guys saw him on tape. He is what he is. He’s electric. He can do some things. But right now he just has to get in here with all the rest of the rookies and get acclimated to what we do and how we do it,” McGaughey said. “You saw his tape in college. You know his ability and what he can do with the ball in his hands, but right now he just needs to get in here and gain the trust of his teammates. That job as a punt returner in this league, that’s a huge job and huge responsibility.”

Goodbye for now

When Tom Coughlin was Giants’ head coach he would usually send his players off from spring practices with a reminder to remembers that they represented the Giants even when they were away from the facility. Call that a gentle, or maybe not so gentle, “behave yourselves” speech.

There are a couple more OTA practices and some rookie work to still be done, but the spring work is now basically done for the Giants. So I asked Joe Judge, concluding his first on-field offseason program as Giants head coach, what his message to players would be as they left for their summer vacations.

Judge’s answer was more technical than it was commanding.

“There are going to be a lot of things we talk about today logistically, getting ready for camp. Generally speaking, we are going to talk to the team about training, being in shape, making the right decisions off the field. There are a lot of resources for us in this building and it is important for us to stay connected throughout the summer. When they need something, we are always available. Generally that’s the message,” Judge said. “We will meet individually with our players by position and find out what their plans for the summer are. We will close out with summer goals, training camp goals. This won’t be the last time we see everybody. We’ll still have OTAs next week on Monday and Tuesday and we will be able to meet extensively with some of the guys here as well.”

“Personal decision”

Giants players and coaches have shied away from discussion of the COVID-19 vaccine. Judge, Evan Engram and others have said there has been little discussion of whether or not players should get vaccinated, despite the loosening of protocols.

Cornerback James Bradberry was asked about the vaccine on Thursday. You will recall that Bradberry missed a game last season as a close contact of a COVID-19 positive person.

“I haven’t talked to any of the guys on the team about the vaccination. Of course that’s a personal issue. Those guys can make the decision that’s best for them,” Bradberry said. “I’m still trying to get all the information on the vaccinations and stuff so I can make a decision. Of course I don’t want to miss any games, might miss — as far as injury or other, COVID.”

Bradberry admitted that the vaccine “sure would” have helped him not miss a game last season.

“I have to get all the information. Still got to make a personal decision. This will be a personal decision for me,” Bradberry said. “I haven’t come up with the answers for that yet.”

Thursday practice observations

  • Coming off a full practice on Wednesday, first-round pick Kadarius Toney was excused from Thursday’s workout due to a family emergency.
  • Riley Dixon was hitting some weird-looking punts Thursday, on purpose. Standing with AP Giants reporter Tom Canavan, the only description we could come up with was “helicopter punting.” Dixon was dropping the oblong ball sideways and hitting with a rotation that looked like a helicopter blade. The effect was to make the ball act like a fade shot in golf, which means a shot from a right-handed player that moves to the right while in flight. These looked insanely hard to judge, and to catch. Darnay Holmes would likely agree as he dropped two of them and barely hung onto a third.
  • Placekicker Graham Gano got in his only work of mini-camp at the end of Thursday’s practice. He attempted, and appeared to make, about four or five field goals.