EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Each morning in his pre-practice press conference, New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll lets media know what the primary situations will be that the team will work on during that day’s practice.
When he let us know that today was a third-and-long day, I had one thought: Uh-oh, this might not be a fun day for the Giants’ offense. Third-and-long, of course, meant that defensive coordinator Wink Martindale could showcase his “pressure breaks” philosophy and turn up the heat on Giants quarterbacks.
Daboll said he expected that the situation “would put the guys in some stressful situations, particularly the offense.”
That is precisely what happened. Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor and Davis Webb were constantly under pressure, constantly uncomfortable throughout what ended up being a pretty ragged day for the Giants’ offense.
I couldn’t tell you exactly how many sacks there might have been throughout the day, but there was consistent pressure. Quarterbacks, wearing red non-contact jerseys, were constantly being moved off their spot or flushed out of the pocket entirely as they searched desperately for a place to throw the ball.
The Giants’ defense used a lot of six-defensive back packages on Friday. For the first team, that meant Tae Crowder was the only linebacker and rookie fourth-round pick Dane Belton was on the field as a third safety.
Daniel Jones had what I would describe as an uneven day. He threw a terrible Pick 6 to Darnay Holmes, his third interception of Jones in as many days. Holmes, who appeared to know what was coming, undercut a quick flat route that looked to be intended for Wan’Dale Robinson and was gone. The only offensive player near him as he scored was third-team quarterback Davis Webb, who started 20 yards behind the play and decided to give chase.
Two plays later, Jones was flushed to right and threw a high pass that was well off target. We couldn’t see who the intended receiver was. What we could see was that Xavier McKinney was the only one with a chance to catch it, which he nearly did.
One of the things about this Brian Daboll-Mike Kafka passing attack is that it includes option routes, much like Kevin Gilbride used to employ. Receivers have choices, sometimes of where to go and sometimes of simply how to get to the spot they are expected to be in. We’ve seen some miscommunications the first couple of days, but with the stress of a heavy pass rush those were more pronounced on Friday.
Jones’ unofficial tally on Friday, agreed upon in the media room, was 15 of 22. Those numbers are better on paper than it felt while watching. Jones, in truth, hasn’t had a great week. He’s played too much pepper with Holmes. He’s thrown some off target balls. He’s looked a little jumpy or hesitant in the pocket at times. He’s had those miscommunications mentioned previously.
Much of what I saw this week I might attribute to getting comfortable in a new offense. There’s no denying, though, that the first few days have not been crisp for Jones.
Let’s go through more of the takeaways from Friday’s practice.
Kadarius Toney, the Giants’ 2021 first-round pick, seems to be getting more enjoyment from this training camp than anything that happened during his rookie season.
Toney, a rapper who publishes music under the name Yung Joka, said “that’s pretty great” that the Giants played some of his music during Thursday’s practice.
“It kinda surprised me, kinda had me juiced up, it kinda had me juiced up. I was like OK, O, OK. I appreciate him for doing it. It just showed me the willingness to build a relationship with me.”
Three days into training camp it is clear that the Giants have an issue at the backup center sport. The issue? They really don’t have a dependable one.
Starting center Jon Feliciano was given Friday off after dealing with some dehydration issues at the end of Thursday’s practice. The center play was, let’s say, adventurous, in his absence..
Jamil Douglas worked as the first-team center. He had at least two errant shotgun snaps, one a ground ball. Ben Bredeson, working with the second team, had at least two of his own. One of those came when he fired a snap over Jones’ head during a walk-through period. Bredeson also had trouble with the shotgun snaps during the spring. Working with the third team, Max Garcia snapped one that Davis Webb had to pick off his ankles.
Get well soon, Nick Gates!
About those sprints
Joe Judge used to make players run punishment laps. He made the team run an exhausting number of full-field sprints after a training camp fight last year, all while listening to an epithet-filled tired.
So on Thursday a few eyebrows were raised when players were asked to run short sprints during the middle of a team period returning for one or two final goal-line plays. Daboll explained that there was no punishment aspect, simply a strategic one.
“It wasn’t anything like they made a mistake or did anything like that,” Daboll said. “You need to be at your best when you’re tired. A lot of games come down to the fourth quarter in this league. When you’re tired maybe you’re not concentrating or focusing as much as you need to
“It was kinda short sprints there and then put ‘em right back on the line of scrimmage, call a play quick, get lined up, make sure they know who’s in the game and everybody’s operating when they’re tired. It’s not like it was 40 sprints or anything like that, but still a short, quick sprint to get their wind up a little bit and get them out there to play and operate and execute a play.”
Daboll said that’s a trick he learned while consulting during the offseason.
Xavier McKinney’s defense now?
Linebacker Blake Martinez called the defensive signals in 2020, then again before he was injured last season. Tae Crowder took that responsibility when Martinez was injured last year.
Now, that job might be falling to third-year safety Xavier McKinney. It might even be fair to say this could be McKinney’s defense now.
When the Giants ran a couple of plays on Thursday where Daboll allowed the offense and defense to call their own plays, Jones called the offense and McKinney the defense. McKinney was also the play-caller in the spring.
With McKinney a rising star and Martinez seeing limited reps as he works back from his knee injury, as well as being in the final year of his contract, that makes sense.
“It’s a little different, but I did it in in OTAs, so I’m pretty much used to it now,” McKinney said after practice. “I talked to Wink and it’s not something that’s new to me. I’ve done it before – I did it at ‘Bama. It’s not something that’s surprising or it’s not something that’s too hard. It’s different when you’ve got grown men in the huddle and you’re trying to get the call to everybody.”
It has seemed for a while that McKinney would ascend to the throne of defensive leader. That time might be upon us.
Davis Webb’s time to shine
Daboll said Friday morning that at times he will allow players to call their offensive and defensive sets to prepare them for situations in live action where they may lose communication with the sideline.
At the end of Friday’s practice, Davis Webb ran the longest series of plays I ever recall a third-teamer running during a training camp, a 14-play drive that finished with an incompletion in the end zone. Neither Daboll nor offensive coordinator Mike Kafka were wearing headsets, making it look like Webb — a future coach — called his own drive.
It has been an and down start to camp for wide receiver Darius Slayton, who is fighting to maintain his spot on the 52-man roster. Slayton has had a few good plays, a few drops, and has watched from the sideline as C.J. Board and Richie James have received more first-team practice reps than he has.
“I have confidence in Slay. We all saw he had a couple of drops out there, but hat’s that practice is for. But again, we’re in the second day. A lot of mistakes that will be made – some physical, some mental,” Daboll said. “And that’s why you have coaches. You have so many coaches on a football team. Coaching is technique and fundamentals and figuring out reasons why. It’s easy to come back – a player comes back – and you say, ‘You need to block this guy, or you need to catch the ball,” but find out the details, coach it up. He’s worked real hard, and he’ll continue to work. And he’ll get reps throughout camp.
“Darius is in a good spot. Again, there’s, dropping a ball and throwing a bad pass, that’s so easy for everybody to see and it’s right there in the open. But how you respond, and I believe right there at the end, we had a call it period when he came down and ran a little shallow, and Daniel scrambled out and he made a big play. So being able to respond to that is important.”
- Dexter Lawrence batted down a Jones pass early in practice.
- Davis Webb actually ran two plays from under center, handing the ball off to Gary Brightwell both times. Those are the first traditional, under center handoffs I recall from this camp.
- Undrafted free agent safety Trenton Thompson came up hobbling after the last play of practice, when he dove out of the back of the end zone to try and intercept a pass a backpedaling Webb was attempting to throw away.
- Graham Gano went 6 of 8 on field-goal attempts from 33 to 46 yards. He missed back-to-back kicks from 42 yards.
- Early in practice, punter Jamie Gillan looked sharp. He sent several punts soaring high into the New Jersey sky.
- In-between team periods, the Giants did a brief walk-through session without helmets. They did that during the final practice of OTAs, as well.