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Takeaways as Giants begin their voluntary offseason program

No draft hints from Brian Daboll, Xavier McKinney on leadership, much more

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The New York Giants began Phase 1 of their offseason workouts on Monday with conditioning work and meetings. Oh, yeah, and also some obligatory media availability. Here are some takeaways from head coach Brian Daboll and several players who spoke to media via Zoom.

So, Dabes, Ikem Ekwonu or Charles Cross?

Head coach Brian Daboll was asked on Monday if he valued run-blocking or pass-blocking more from an offensive tackle. That, friends, is a sneaky way of asking would you prefer Ikem Ekwonu (mauling run blocker) or Charles Cross (smooth pass protector) in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Daboll might be a newbie at this head-coaching gig, but he’s been coaching for 25 years and his answer certainly proved he knew how to deflect a question.

“That’s a good question,” Daboll said. “Look, the job of an offensive lineman, particularly for our tackles, is going to be to be able to keep the width of the pocket, protect them inside out and get movement at the line of scrimmage. Those are the two main things we look for in our offensive linemen and that’s what we’re going to continue to look for. I don’t think there’s…some guys are better at one than the other thing, but at the end of the day, they have to be able to do both to be an effective player for us.”

So, that means Evan Neal. Right, Dabes?

Attendance check

Daboll wouldn’t say if James Bradberry, the subject of trade rumors, was in the building on Monday. He would only say it was “a packed house.”

“I‘m not going to get into who was, who wasn’t, I’d just say we’ve had good attendance and I told the guys how much I appreciate that, knowing that it’s all voluntary,” Daboll said.

Dress code? For meetings? What is this?

Daboll mentioned that one of the things he told players Monday in his first remarks to a team as an NFL head coach is that there would be a dress code around the building. Huh? Daboll is about as relaxed as it gets, and that didn’t make sense. Until he explained it.

Daboll called it “casual.”

“They wear Giants gear when we get in here,” Daboll said. “ It’s not like you’re going to a private high school and having to wear a tie and stuff like that ... wear Giants gear, come in ready to go.”

Combating injuries

For roughly the past decade, injuries have been a huge story for the Giants. That is through multiple head coaches and strength and conditioning staffs. Daboll said the Giants have spent time over the past few months trying to get a handle on the injury issue.

“We’ve had plenty of meetings on that,” Daboll said. “Look, we’re going to do whatever we can do as a coaching staff and as an organization to help that – whether that be soft tissue injuries, whatever that is, that’s what our job is to help the players in that regard. But we’ve had plenty of meetings in that regard. Went back the last few years and took a look at it. You look at how you schedule practice, how you ramp guys up when they get here for phase one, to phase two, the hydration portion of it, the teaching aspect of it, we’ve looked at really all the areas that encompass injuries.

“You’re never guaranteed, but we’re certainly going to try our best to make sure that our players are as healthy as they can be for us on Sundays.”

Already a leader

Logan Ryan is a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bradberry is likely to be traded in the next few weeks. That means that entering his third season, safety Xavier McKinney could be the best player, elder statesman and leader of the Giants’ secondary.

McKinney, though, pushed back Monday on the idea that he would have to become a leader.

“From Day 1 I’ve been a leader, so nothing changes. It don’t matter who’s here. It don’t matter who’s gone. I’ve been the same. I’ll just continue to improve and get better. I pride myself on consistency and being able to improve myself, my game and how I lead each and every day,” McKinney said. “I’ve been a leader for a very long time, so this is nothing new to me. I don’t see it as something that’s bigger than what it was before because this is who I am. There’s no, like, added pressure or anything like that. It’s who I am and it’s what I do.”

Returning veterans

Linebacker Blake Martinez and wide receiver Sterling Shepard are both veteran players rehabbing serious injuries who accepted steep pay cuts to remain with the Giants.

Blake Martinez said taking the pay cut was “definitely a difficult decision.”

“But I think for me, it all came down to my family, I think be able to have the structure and the ability to have my daughter’s in the schools they’re in and have that situation handled,” Martinez said. “I just love playing football and I knew what the coaches brought here from my time being rehabbing here and those type of things and that interaction, and I just felt confident knowing that I can go out there and prove the type of player I am coming back from my injury.

“They wanted me to stay here. I think it was mutual on both sides. And I think for them, they just basically told me hey, everyone’s gonna earn their spot. Obviously you’re coming back from a knee injury Coming out here and showing us that you could be the Blake that you were before, is obviously what we’re looking for.”

Sterling Shepard is the only player remaining from the Giants’ 2016 playoff team. He is rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon, the final blow in an injury-filled 2021 season for the veteran wide receiver.

“I mean, they wanted me here I wanted to be here. We were able to work something out that made sense for both sides. And you know, moved on from it,” Shepard said. “You know, just just looking forward to getting to know these guys and getting to know this playbook and trying to do my part and win games.”

Shepard did admit it was “tough” to accept the steep pay cut.

“I did the pros and cons and the pros outweigh the cons by a landslide,” Shepard said. “So you know, I did a lot of talking to my family. And ultimately it was the best situation for me and my family. And I was super happy that we were able to come to an agreement and you know, if everything goes the way that I hope that it goes you know, we’ll be here for a little bit longer.”

Shepard admitted he wondered if the new regime of head coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen would want to keep him around.

“I mean, you never know what’s gonna happen in this business, man. So that thought actually did run across my head, but everything works out for a reason,” Shepard said. “And I felt like this is the best place for my family and I and I’m happy we worked it out.”

Blaming the cleats

Martinez was asked if the often-criticized MetLife Stadium Field Turf contributed to his non-contact torn ACL last season. Martinez blamed himself.

I think for me, I think it was more my cleats,” he said. “I wore those I think a little bit too long and my foot with was sliding in it. So I just planted awkwardly with the kind of worn out cleats and caused it to kind of happen.”

Whether you buy that or not is up to you, but that’s Martinez’s story.

Martinez didn’t offer a timeline for his return. He said he is “just trying to get each checkpoint.”