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

Pads are coming, a core is being built, and more

New York Giants Training Camp Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The New York Giants have completed their first ‘mini-week’ of 2023 training camp, getting through three practices. Here are some ‘things I think’ as we settle into the grind of the season.

Business is about to pick up

The CBA-mandated five-day acclimation period for players ends after Monday’s practice. That means pads come on for the first time on Tuesday evening, when the Giants will practice at 5 p.m.

All eyes will be on two players — second-year right tackle Evan Neal and rookie center John Michael Schmitz.

Neal has talked about his weight loss, his new stance, his comfort, and his improved health after a rocky rookie season. I watched him the first couple of days, but there wasn’t much to see as the Giants were in shorts and t-shirts. He reportedly had a good practice on Friday as the Giants were in ‘uppers,’ meaning smaller shoulder pads and helmets.

We will learn a lot more beginning Tuesday. Neal struggled in 1-on-1 drills as a rookie last year, so if and when the Giants do those in full pads it will be time to pay close attention.

In the spring, offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said the real question about Schmitz, the rookie center drafted in the second round, would be what happens when the pads come on and things get physical in the trenches.

“It’s gonna be an eye-opener,” Johnson said. “First day he has to block Dex [Dexter Lawrence]. It’s an eye-opener for a [Garrett] Bradbury in Minnesota that had to block Dex. He never had to block him before. It’s gonna be the first time he has to block up all pro defensive tackle.”

Day 3 rookie stepping up

Lots of mention from media in attendance on Friday evening about the good practice rookie cornerback Tre Hawkins III, a sixth-round pick, had. That reminded me of a spectacular interception Hawkins made during 1-on-1 drills on Thursday, when I was at practice.

The drill was held in the red zone, so catches were touchdowns. Matched up with undrafted free agent Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Hawkins cut Ford-Wheaton off when he tried an in-cut along the back of the end zone from the numbers on the right. Hawkins ran the end line in front of BFW and easily picked off a pass from Tyrod Taylor.

Hawkins is a player out of Old Dominion with good size at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and man-coverage skills that make him an intriguing developmental prospect. He will be interesting to watch throughout the preseason.

Speaking of Hawkins, this rep from Friday night is fantastic for both Hawkins and fellow rookie Jalin Hyatt:

— Original video from the Giants.

By the way, please read my Sunday feature on Hyatt if you haven’t done so already. He seems like a terrific young man worth rooting for.

For years, co-owner John Mara has been bemoaning the team’s inability to draft and develop a group of players worthy of second contracts who could become the core around which the franchise was built.

I don’t think Mara can say that anymore.

The long-term deals given to Daniel Jones, Andrew Thomas, and Dexter Lawrence are the beginning of that core. Maybe players like Xavier McKinney, Evan Neal, Kayvon Thibodeaux, will join them. A big year and perhaps Darius Slayton joins that core.

Saquon Barkley? We’ll see. Point is, though, it is apparent that the Giants are putting in place a foundational group — something that has been missing since their last championship run.

Robinson revival?

During the first two years of his NFL career, running back James Robinson was a prime example of why players like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs are having a hard time getting paid.

As an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, Robinson posted 1,070 and 767 rushing yards in his first two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Things changed quickly for Robinson after he suffered a torn Achilles late in the 2021 season. In 2022, his third season, he was supplanted by former Jacksonville first-round pick Travis Etienne, played miserably after being traded to the New York Jets at midseason, was signed by the New England Patriots as a free agent in the offseason and got cut before even making it to training camp.

Now, he is trying to get his career back on track with the Giants.

“Ever since I got in the league it was a prove-it kind of thing with me,” Robinson told Big Blue View. “Every year I have to prove something.”

Robinson knows there has been chatter about how healthy he is, but he believes that “for sure” he is the same player he was in 2020 and 2021 with the Jaguars.

“There’s a lot of talk of am I fully healed or this and that, but I’m out here running, cutting, catching, doing everything I was doing,” Robinson said. “I think I could be the same player.”

If he shows the Giants he can be that guy, it creates a pleasant problem for them in terms of backfield depth.

The new practice schedule

During the first couple of weeks, the Giants are practicing in three-day blocks with a day off in-between. That is a change from the schedule that the team followed last year under Brian Daboll.

The other thing the Giants are doing is holding the first two practices of those blocks in the morning, and the final one in the evening.

I like it, from the perspective of player health. It is another small, data-based tweak in the ongoing effort to combat soft tissue injuries.

We have already seen that the third practice of those blocks, which comes with a few hours of extra rest prior to it and a day off after it, will be the most grueling of the three. It is no coincidence that Tuesday’s first padded practice will be Day 3 of the second block and will come in the evening followed by a Wednesday day off.

Let’s see if it helps the Giants avoid some preseason injuries.

Friendly fire

Even in practices that are supposed to be non-contact, players are competing and collisions will occasionally occur. One happened Wednesday when rookie defensive backs Tre Hawkins and Gervarrious Owens slammed together defending a pass. Owens hasn’t practiced the last two days. Another happened Thursday when David Sills limped off after a collision with cornerback Rodarius Williams on the final play of practice. Wide receiver Cole Beasley took a knee to the quad on Thursday and did not practice on Friday.

Daboll knows not every incident can be avoided.

“You try like heck not to have those. You’re going to have some of them. I just had a meeting today where I showed a couple clips where I think we can do a little better job with taking care of one another,” Daboll said on Thursday. “But, again, we are in a competitive situation. Everybody is trying to compete for a role. Some role, whatever it may be. But understand we only have a certain amount of guys and we certainly try to do our best to maintain their safety.”

This is what respect looks like?

Saquon Barkley told me the other day that in the end he does feel like he got respect from the Giants in his contract negotiations.

This hilarious moment captured by License Plate Guy after Friday’s practice doesn’t look like respect.