FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Following a pattern they established last week in joint practices with the Cleveland Browns, the New York Giants were much better during Thursday’s second day of practice against the New England Patriots.
Let’s get to the takeaways, which include the incredibly welcome sight of star running back Saquon Barkley taking live team reps for the first time as he ramps up in his return from a torn ACL.
Saquon’s back to practice!
Coach Joe Judge had promised that Barkley, wearing a red non-contact jersey, would see action Thursday. Barkley ended up taking eight reps, four during an early 7-on-7 portion of practice and — perhaps surprisingly — four during 11-on-11 drills late in the two-hour practice.
During 7-on-7, Barkley had one catch on a swing pass to the outside.
Barkley took a pair of reps in two separate 11-on-11 sessions. During the first, he was the intended target on a wheel route Daniel Jones threw well out of bounds with his receiver covered.
During the second session is when things got interesting.
On his first play, Barkley caught a short stop route with the whistle blown as soon as the catch was made.
On his second play, Barkley was sent across the middle, caught a pass from Jones 10 or so yards down field and had to avoid an oncoming New England defender.
“Feels good to get a couple of team reps,” Barkley said after practice. “It’s fun to be able to play football again.”
Barkley admitted that on his final rep, the catch over the middle, that “I mighta got a lot more than we accounted for.” He added that he considered successfully doing something instinctive to avoid contact “a positive thing.”
Much of Thursday’s practice was structured in game-like conditions. For a while in 11-on-11 there were changes of possession with punts when drives stalled. There were two- and four-minute drills. There were penalties called, including a few that Joe Judge admitted before practice would be “manufactured” to create situations.
The Giants went three-and-out on their first possession and punted. Cam Newton then drove the Patriots roughly 80 yards in seven plays for a score. The Giants responded with a long touchdown drive of their own for a touchdown.
“Today is going to be very situational,” Judge said before practice. “We’re going to manufacture some things to make sure we get in the situational part of the game, so you may see a manufactured penalty or a manufactured first down or whatever it may be, or an ignored sack for both sides at some point to make sure we manage to get the emphasis of the drill, to build in more of the two-minute mode, the end of game situations, the substitutions and everything that comes with it.”
This is also part of why training camp or preseason practices are hard to judge. The situations, and sometimes the outcomes, can be scripted. The Giants’ touchdown drive included a “manufactured” first down via phantom penalty. A Dexter Lawrence “sack” of Cam Newton was ignored on the first play of the Patriots’ first series, ending up as a completion.
Better day for the offense
On Wednesday, we noted that the Giants were unable to get anything done down the field. Not so on Thursday.
The non-Barkley play of the day was a long strike of roughly 40 yards down the left sideline from Jones to Dante Pettis, who had gotten behind the cornerback. There was another deep shot to Pettis that fell incomplete. Tight end Jake Hausmann had a nice contested grab of 15-20 yards down the middle.
Pettis, for what it’s worth, had a good couple of days. With John Ross, Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay all sidelined, he is getting lots of opportunities. He might be putting himself in position to make the 53-man roster.
Jones took every 11-on-11 rep Thursday, and threw the ball well. Including a 3 of 4 performance in a 7-on-7 period, I had Jones as 20 of 27 for the day.
Here, according to what I can decipher in my notebook, is how the Giants’ various 11-on-11 offensive possessions went.
- Possession 1: A three-and-out, with the drive stalled by a third-down drop. I believe the culprit was the usually reliable Sterling Shepard.
- Possession 2: This drive went for a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion, but the beginning of it was manufactured. A slant to Darius Slayton was followed by a pair of sacks with pressure coming off the left side. Don’t ask me who was responsible. I was probably 200 yards away and I would be guessing.
The Giants were “gifted” a first down via penalty, then followed that with a holding penalty and a false start. Culprits unknown. Jones then completed passes to C.J. Board and Slayton before hitting the deep shot to Pettis, who was pushed out of bounds just short of the goal line. Jones hit Elijhaa Penny for the touchdown. Jones was 5 for 5 here.
- Possession 3: This was a lengthy possession during which the Giants drove the length of the field. It was probably a four-minute type deal. Jones went 7 of 12. This drive featured Barkley for two plays.
Perhaps the best thing Jones did in this drive was throw two passes far out of the back of the end zone when, with no one open, he was flushed from the pocket. Live to fight on another down rather than make a mistake, and Jones did that. This drive ended in a rushing touchdown, but I couldn’t tell you the ball carrier.
- Possession 4: This was a two-minute drill, and Barkley was in for the first two plays of this series. He had the ball thrown to him on both plays. Going 4 of 4 in this sequence, Jones drove the Giants from roughly the 20-yard line into position for a Graham Gano field goal of approximately 50 yards. Continuing the situational them of the day, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called a timeout just as Gano was kicking and made him do it a second time. Gano made both.
I will get to the full defense in a minute. Right now, I think we need to first detail how it looks like the Giants intend to replace injured cornerback Adoree’ Jackson in the short term.
It looks like that job is falling, at least primarily, to rookie sixth-round pick Rodarius Williams. He worked with the first team on Thursday. Williams gave up some completions, but by my count had two pass breakups on Thursday.
During a couple of longer possessions by the New England offense, the Giants rotated Sam Beal and Madre Harper in at cornerback.
Beal gave up a touchdown on an excellent toe-tapping catch by Kendrick Bourne, but had a couple of pass breakups and performed pretty well.
We still have not seen new Giants Keion Crossen or Josh Jackson on defense. It looks like the Giants see Crossen as a core special teamer, but maybe not a player they really want to use in the secondary.
Better day for the defense
On Wednesday, rookie quarterback Mac Jones was all the rage. He put on a show, with some reports having him completing 35 of 37 throws. His performance, with Cam Newton sidelined due to a COVID-19 protocol issue, had NFL media everywhere buzzing.
Thursday, the Giants made the rookie quarterback look like, well, a rookie quarterback.
Cam Newton took New England’s first offensive series. When Jones came on for the Patriots second 11-on-11 possession, the Giants greeted him rudely.
Xavier McKinney flashed across the middle on Jones’ first throw to thump Kendrick Bourne and knock a pass away. Jones’ second throw, again, across the middle, was picked off by a hard-charging Logan Ryan.
“It was just good to set the tone for the day,” Ryan said of his interception.
Under heavy pressure on his third throw, Jones was bumped and his pass fell harmlessly to the turf.
That’s how it went all day. Beal and Williams had multiple pass breakups. McKinney and James Bradberry had breakups.
The Giants had pressure on Jones and Newton at times throughout the day. Ifeadi Odenigbo was in the backfield a few times, making that two straight good days for him.
Ryan called Wednesday’s practice “really frustrating.”
“Yesterday, I wasn’t really happy how I played, I probably played my worst day I’ve played (of) football in a long time. Personally, I just felt like I didn’t lead our guys either. I just felt like I was out of it and I didn’t lead our guys the right way, whatever the reason may have been. No excuses. That’s football though,” Ryan said. “This ain’t best of seven. You strap it up, you play the next game. Fortunately, we got a second chance at it and I think we responded better today.”
Ryan added that he and linebacker Blake Martinez, who also didn’t have a great practice Wednesday, took it as their responsibility to make sure Thursday was better.
“Yesterday, we both had bad days,” Ryan said. “Like I said, it doesn’t happen a lot, but it was just one of those days. A lot of people looked at us. I felt like as a leader, how am I going to respond? Am I going to drop my head? Am I going to call it a day? Am I going to get all these pats on the back and ‘attaboys’ because I played here before? I’ve got to come out and respond. I feel like Blake and I responded better today and our team responded better today as a whole.”
Martinez, in far fewer words, agreed with Ryan.
“I feel like the first day, we made a lot of mistakes and weren’t good enough. We didn’t come ready to play and didn’t start fast,” Martinez said. “I think we went back and looked at the film, made the corrections, came out today and played our style of ball. There will still be things to correct, but we felt good today.”
Judge said that three players who weren’t noticed on Wednesday had been left behind in East Rutherford to rehab. Those are left guard Shane Lemieux, linebacker Tae Crowder and defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
Otherwise, the list of players who did not practice looked familiar.
Wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, John Ross and Austin Mack didn’t practice. Edge Elerson Smith didn’t practice. Edge Azeez Ojulari only worked in individual drills.
Toney, for what it’s worth, was in uniform and warmed up with the team. He did not, though, even participate in individual drills.
Kyle Rudolph took first-team reps during an early 7-on-7 drill. I did not notice him on the field during any of the 11-on-11 work.
Nate Solder, coming back from a shoulder injury, took some of the reps at left tackle late in the practice.
Two players, Rodarius Williams and Gary Brightwell, left the field briefly. Considering that it was a second straight day of 90 degree temperatures, both could have been dehydration-related.
Judge was asked if he is concerned about his team’s preparation for Week 1 of the regular season, which is less than three weeks away, with so many key players sidelined.
“It’s our job to make sure that we be productive with whoever’s on the field,” Judge said. “When we play teams in the regular season, we’re not going to be able to go ahead and have an asterisk next to it saying, ‘But we didn’t have so-and-so.’ We’ve got to get ready to play and we have to be ready.”
This was a first for me. Twice during practice a helicopter swooped in and landed on the back field of the Patriots’ practice facility, where injured/rehabbing players spend their time with trainers.
Between that and the music blaring through the practice facility speakers at maximum volume, it turned into a great day for teams to work on their communication at the line of scrimmage.
Happy birthday, and goodbye
Thursday is Ryan Santoso’s 26th birthday. The Giants’ gift to the talented placekicker was to reportedly trade him to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional seventh-round pick. Happy birthday and good luck in Carolina to Santoso. Go earn the Giants that seventh-round pick!
The Giants will practice Friday at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. That 11:15 a.m. workout is scheduled to last slightly longer than an hour and is likely to be a walk-through. They will be off Saturday before Sunday’s preseason finale at MetLife Stadium against the Patriots.