NFL coaches almost always take everything they can get, use all that is allotted to them. How much practice time is enough? Answer this one first: How much is allowed?
Not so with Joe Judge. He channeled Dick Van Patten in assessing the needs of the Giants and came away with this: Eight is enough.
Judge has cut back this spring. Entering his second season as the head coach, the NFL mandated he (and every other NFL team) is entitled to 10 organized team activity practices — all voluntary — and three days of a mandatory minicamp. Usually, every available day of work is taken. Judge, though, is not doing that. He did the math and has the Giants scheduled for eight OTAs, cutting two off the list, believing — at least in this case — less can be more beneficial.
Judge is not alone in this. There are reports that as many as 22 of the 32 NFL teams have either reduced their OTA sessions this year, or modified the tempo and pace of the actual practices to ease the physical load on players.
“Eight plus the three gives you 11 total days,” Judge said. “That was just a good schedule for us to work on in terms of getting what we want accomplished through the install and the players to get jumping on their summers.
“A lot of guys will be training elsewhere with different players and locations, and others go on family vacation and build back into training. We thought it was a good time frame for us to wrap up camp.”
Surely, the veterans appreciate the cutback in the workload. The entire roster is required to be at the team facility June 8-10 for the minicamp, and after that, there are no additional OTAs. The veterans go their separate ways, and the rookies are asked to stay an additional week or two of meetings and strength and conditioning. Training camp opens July 27.
“I think right now the big philosophy is just kind of like working on our fundamentals, our footwork, just little things, whether it’s position or things like that,” inside linebacker Blake Martinez said. “Also during this time, you’re able to go out there and make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, get that rust off so when you get into training camp you don’t have to remake those 10 mistakes you were going to make if you didn’t have this time.”
This was a trickier offseason than most. After seeing the effectiveness of last year’s all-remote work, the NFL Players Association this year called for players to stay away from the team facilities for all voluntary drills and training, citing COVID-19 concerns. The Giants players put out a statement supporting this stance. They had about 45 players off their 90-man roster at the start of the OTAs and additional players joined in for the ensuing practices.
“I think our players understand that any time we put them on the field we are always going to do so first off with their safety in mind,” Judge said, “and then also what we think is best for the team to progress each individual’s technique and conditioning as well as the team collectively going forward.
“I’m always very clear, very transparent with the team in terms of how we’re going to practice, what we are going to do and what our intentions are going on the field and the reason behind that.”
Several veterans are participating in the workouts, while others have opted to stay away and get their work in on their own, or in small groups away from the facility.
“Us as players, we came together, had a statement that we came out with,” Martinez said. “All the leadership talked to the whole team, came back to Judge. Done a really good job as a collective unit, coaches, players, making sure when we’re out there getting our work in, doing things the right way.
“Right now it’s about getting better with fundamentals, football movements, things like that. It’s been really awesome. As things keep changing with COVID and stuff like that, we’ll be able to keep adjusting, get more freedom.”