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‘Things I think’ after Week 1 of Giants training camp

Views on Kelvin Benjamin, conditioning, roster moves, and more

Syndication: The Record Kevin R. Wexler-NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The New York Giants have their first off day of training camp on Sunday. It is a perfect day to assess what has gone on thus far, so let’s do that. It’s time for a ‘Things I think’ about Giants training camp.

Kelvin Benjamin

If you listened to Friday’s ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast (and if you didn’t, please explain yourself!) you already know how I feel about Kelvin Benjamin and his harsh criticisms of Giants head coach Judge.

I have ZERO sympathy for Benjamin.

Benjamin, speaking with Zack Rosenblatt of NJ Advance Media, called his time with the Giants “a hoax,” said that the team was trying to “sabotage” his comeback attempt and blasted Judge by saying “he’s one-sided about everything. He’s a know-it-all.”

The only “hoax” that was perpetrated was the idea that Benjamin actually wanted to resume his NFL career after two years away from the game. His actions certainly didn’t indicate he was fully committed to that idea.

“Sabotage?” The only real way to look at this is that Benjamin sabotaged himself. What else can you think when the Giants asked him to lose weight, from 265 at the end of minicamp to 251 at the start of training camp, and he instead showed up at 268, three pounds heavier? Because he felt like that was a better idea.

Reality is, Dave Gettleman — who drafted Benjamin in Carolina — is probably the only GM in the league who would have given Benjamin a chance to make a comeback. To have any shot at making that happen, Benjamin’s responsibility was to do what he was asked.

He couldn’t do that. That’s on him.

Defending Joe Judge

Following Benjamin’s shredding of Judge, Giants players asked about the head coach jumped to his defense:

Xavier McKinney: “He’s a tough coach, he puts the heat. He asks a lot of us, but we accept the challenge day-in and day-out. We love him. You know, sometimes it could be pretty brutal, but it is what it is. It’s nothing that I’m not used to already, a lot of the guys are used to already. So, it’s good work for us. I think it helps our mindset out and it helps us get better.”

Evan Engram; “The biggest thing I appreciate about Joe is how he always kept the picture going forward. We started off really rough last year, and each week you couldn’t tell it from him and his expectations and his energy towards that. He could see it in our eyes as well. Just his energy, his standard and the way he holds his standard up for himself and the way he holds us to the standard that he’s created for this program, I respect it a lot. You know, you can strap up your helmet and go to war for a coach like that.”

Jabrill Peppers called a Judge training camp “challenging.”

“He sets the tone through minicamp, OTAs. You already know how you got to come in here, the standard has been set. You know what’s expected of you and you’re expected to do it at a high level.”

Leonard Williams: “He doesn’t really care if you’re a star player or anyone else, he treats everyone the same. I think that’s what makes this team grow, I think it keeps everyone on an equal playing field. He’s not going to let one player get away with something that he might not let the next person get away with. It creates a good competition. I love the way Coach Judge coaches us and how hard he is on everyone to get better.”

Danny Shelton [who was with Judge in New England]: “I think Joe’s just a great guy. I mean, he’s the same person, really. He always has energy. He always has that fieriness about him. He’s like one of the guys that you just want to play for, you don’t want to let him down. I was on a field goal for him and I messed up a couple of times. I hated that I did that and tried to get back on field goal and tried to prove myself. But now seeing him as the head coach is awesome and he’s a hard-working coach and really cares about football and winning and just the guys. Getting everybody on one page.”

Valentine’s View: No one should ever expect players who know they are going to be around to publicly criticize a head coach. Still, it is apparent that players respect and believe in Judge. They buy what he is selling. Judge isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. What he’s asking them to do isn’t easy — he recognizes that, and the players do, too. Some players might not like being pushed that hard.

Isn’t it a coach’s job to push players to be the best versions of themselves? To be as good as they can be? Judge always acknowledges he doesn’t make life easy for players, but adds that he makes sure they understand the ‘why’ of what he is demanding.

If the Kelvin Benjamins of the world can’t handle it, so be it.

Conditioning? What’s the fuss?

This is a little bit of an extension of the last topic. This is the conditioning test Giants players had to pass on Tuesday:

There is nothing easy about that. At age 60, I couldn’t run it. At age 25, I probably couldn’t have run it, either. Still, a well-conditioned professional football player should be able to do that.

Which brings me to this. Judge and Giants players have been asked again and again during the first few days of training camp about the amount of conditioning work the Giants do. Maybe I’m old-school, but I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? Why shouldn’t an NFL head coach expect his players to be in shape? Why shouldn’t he make them prove it? Why shouldn’t he make them run some sprints at the end of practice? Doesn’t their job involve running? Being in shape? Having endurance?

Judge put it this way:

“We’re getting our players’ bodies to stay healthy. One thing we do is a lot of research and self-scout. We went back after last year and we showed it to the players themselves and then came back in spring to explain why we practice the way we do. It was reflected in a decrease in injuries across the board within this organization as well as relative to the league. We were one of the healthiest teams last year in the league and the healthiest this team has been in a long time. Look, you can’t put a player on the field and tell them to play 100 percent for 60 minutes if you haven’t trained them that way.”

I just don’t understand why it’s a big deal.

Ed Valentine

Evan Engram looks comfortable, confident

NFL: NY Giants Training Camp
Evan Engram
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Like a lot of other people, I have been disappointed by the up-and-down nature of Evan Engram’s first four seasons with the Giants. Injuries and inconsistent hands have led to Engram not consistently playing up to the talent level that led the Giants to select him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

When you talk to Engram, though, and you watch him work he is a pretty easy guy to root for.

Engram had a good first week of practice, albeit mostly in shorts and t-shirts without contact. I did not see him drop a ball all week. Speaking to him during the week, he seemed relaxed and confident heading into the 2021 season.

“Every day, I have a job to do, every day I have something to attack, something to get better at. I’m not worried about yesterday, I’m not worried about last year, I’m focused on going ahead,” Engram said. “I’m definitely not listening to all that stuff [outside opinions]. All the opinions I care about are in this building and my family, and I’m working really hard each and every day to attack each day and attack the 24 hours I have.”

I don’t know if Engram’s opportunities will be reduced this season by the presence guys like Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Rudolph. That could easily be the case. I do, though, have the feeling that Engram is going to perform well. If, of course, he stays healthy.

Oh, no, the offense is terrible!

Kenny Golladay
Ed Valentine

There have been some folks trying to make a mountain out of the fact that the Giants’ defense has thus far gotten the better of the offense, and that expensive free agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay has not been dominant. It’s a molehill. If that.

Yes, the heat is on Daniel Jones and the offense. The Giants have to be far better than 31st in the league in points scored. Yes, it is true the Giants’ offense did not look like it was in sync on Friday. Too many off-target throws, even during the individual portion of practice. Not enough quality plays during 11-on-11.

Still, let’s chill. Friday’s 11-on-11 was the first truly competitive action in camp. The Giants’ secondary happens to be really good. Even with newcomer Adoree’ Jackson, it is already a group that knows each and plays cohesively.

As for Golladay, let’s remember that he is largely going to make his money on 50-50 balls and difficult catches in traffic. Front-line players are not going to go all-out for those kinds of balls in camp. Especially without pads on.

“I’m new here. It’s day three,” Golladay said on Friday. “We’ve got a lot of training camp left, a lot of ball left. I’m out there just trying to get better each and every day.”

Judge isn’t ready to panic over one day dominated by the defense.

“I think we all have plenty to work on right now, so in terms of the who’s ahead of someone one way or another, I’m watching tape every day and just looking at what corrections we have to make, what we have to improve on, what fundamentals need to be honed in and how our conditioning is as a team,” Judge said. “In terms of who’s ahead, offense or defense, that’s going to go back forth at different times day-to-day.”

Obviously, the Giants want and need progress on offense. In my view, it will only be time to worry if we don’t see signs of it over the next couple of weeks. If the Giants go to Ohio and Massachusetts and struggle offensive in joint practices vs. the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots then maybe it will be time to be alarmed.

Not now. After one competitive practice period.

Quotes of the week

— Julian Love on the team’s secondary depth

— Dexter Lawrence on his conditioning

— Rodarius Williams after picking off a Clayton Thorson pass on Friday.

Roster shuffling

I think I really like the addition of offensive lineman Joe Looney and the pending addition of running back Alfred Morris.

Looney is a guy the Giants went after in free agency a year ago. The Dallas Cowboys used the veteran salary benefit to push Looney’s contract beyond an amount the Giants wanted to pay. Looney has played more than 3,000 NFL offensive snaps, can play center and guard and is a nice pickup at this point in the year.

Morris did a nice job for the Giants a season ago. He doesn’t offer anything on special teams, having only played 13 special teams snaps in nine seasons. He showed last season, though, that he can still be a productive back in a limited role. He might be a good player to have around.

Time to get serious

The first few days of training camp are an acclimation period. Wednesday and Thursday, in particular, were glorified OTA workouts in shorts and t-shirts. Business picks up on Tuesday when the Giants will hold their first fully-padded practice.

From that point on, we will see Giants players in pads as often as possible.

“We’ll be in pads as much as we can be, even when it’s not a live contact day,” Judge said at the beginning of training camp. “Just get used to wearing the equipment, moving around, getting our players used to being out there.”

Thus, the intensity and competitive aspect of the daily practices is about to pick up.

So, too, should the amount of information and detail contained in the practice reports whenever yours truly is able to get to East Rutherford. Admittedly, there has not been a ton of depth to the practice reports from the first three days of camp. Perhaps not even as much as there could have, or should have, been.

After a year away from covering these kinds of practices, it seems like yours truly has been shaking out the cobwebs and going through an acclimation period of my own.

It is, though, time to stop messing around. For the Giants, and for me.