New York Giants
Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel |
The six weeks before the start of training camp is supposed to be a time for everyone associated with an NFL club to kick back and relax a bit before the grind begins.
While that's certainly on the agenda for New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo and the rest of the organization, excuse them for being just little nervous about the next six weeks.
The Giants, who are looking to build on last year's 11-5 record and plunge deeper into the postseason this year, can ill-afford to have any of their players do something ill-advised that might jeopardize a roster spot or create any kind of distraction for the team.
McAdoo always treated his player like grown men as far as giving them the benefit of the doubt, and this year is no different. Still before he dismissed them for the next six weeks, he and others delivered inspirational speeches and friendly reminders about the importance of staying out of any kind of trouble.
"You just don't want any phone calls late at night, that's all," McAdoo said when asked for the gist of what he told the players.
He also invited Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, a double amputee and regular fixture on the Giants sideline since 2007, and strength coach Aaron Wellman to address the team.
Their message to the players? Be sure to put yourself in the best position to succeed when they return for training camp.
For the most part, generations of Giants players have listened. But then there have been some instances, such as the 2015 fireworks accident that claimed 2 1/2 fingers from defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's right hand, that found themselves on the wrong side of fate.
Pierre-Paul, who has become a leader and a champion for overcoming adversity in the locker room, expressed optimism that the messages delivered before the players were dismissed were received.
"I'm pretty sure they get the picture," Pierre-Paul said. "We had guys come in here, vet guys, that have been talking and they understand the message. We had team meetings that the less distractions (you have) is the better opportunity you're going to get. Trust me, I'm living proof of it. Two years ago, I probably wouldn't even be here. But I understand the distractions."
McAdoo hopes the players, who report back for the start of training camp on July 27, understand as well.
"I trust the players in the locker room, I trust the staff. We'll put ourselves in good situations," he said. "We understand that 'NYG' never comes off. It's always with us. It's always a part of us. The name on the back of the jersey, the letters on the front - they always stick with us."
Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made his first appearance in front of a sizeable press corps to clear up a few things on Tuesday.
Beckham did his best to address perceived misconceptions about some of his offseason decisions and to reassure everyone that he is not disgruntled because of his contract.
Beckham also wanted to convey that he is serious about his behavior after being issued a challenge by team management at the end of last season.
As for his contract, Beckham had a different approach.
"I'll leave that in the hands of the man above," Beckham said about his contract, which in its fourth season will pay him $1,839,027 base salary this year. "When that time comes, it comes. Right now is really not the time to discuss it. When that time comes, it comes."
Until then, Beckham said a training camp holdout isn't on his agenda when the team reports back to East Rutherford, N.J., late next month.
"I've seen the whole holdout and I've never really (seen it work), so it was never really in my mind to hold out of OTAs to get a new contract," he said. "I don't think that really proves a point in my opinion so I was really out there taking that time for myself, reflect on life and values and what's important."
Beckham said the opportunity to train in Los Angeles, where he worked with Jamal Liggin, gave him a chance to clear his mind and focus on what he needs to do to mature as both a person and as a player.
"You just have time to reflect on life and learn new things," he said. "It was a great process for me and I definitely enjoyed it."
One of the things he reflected on was the abrupt and rather ugly ending to the Giants' 2016 season, their first venture into the postseason since 2011. That entire week commenced with Beckham and the receivers being photographed on board a yacht in Miami after partying with pop star Justin Bieber at a night club, just hours after the team wrapped up the regular-season in Washington.
The week of ugliness continued with Beckham dropping two catchable balls in the playoff game against Green Bay in what was arguably his worst performance of the season. Then he allegedly punched a hole in the wall outside the visiting locker room at Lambeau Field, an action that 24 hours later contributed to the normally tight-lipped general manager Jerry Reese telling reporters that Beckham needs to "grow up."
"I reflected on it a lot," Beckham said of the ugly last impression he left on people. "I feel like LeBron (James) losing the (NBA) Finals. You're going to look back and reflect on what you could have done better, how you could have handled the situation better. It's all part of life, a learning process. You have to take it as a learning process and grow from it and that's what I've been trying to do."
In addition to training with Liggin on speed and flexibility, Beckham had an opportunity to work a few times with Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, whom Beckham praised for the depth of his knowledge.
"He's a guy who's been through a lot," Beckham said. "He has a lot of life lessons to share with. He's also a Hall of Famer who's one of the best, so taking some of the little things some of the little nuances and sight techniques of the game I feel like he's been a guy who's been in my corner and just to be able to learn from him was great."
It's still early to gauge just how far Beckham has come during time away spent reflecting and training under his own program. He was limited on the Giants' first day of minicamp, but he was definitely a welcome sight for sore eyes within the organization.
"It's good to have him back," head coach Ben McAdoo said. "He seems like he's in good condition. He didn't miss a beat when he came in."
"I'm just trying to get back in the playbook," Beckham said of his objective during this camp, who called having the opportunity to work with Brandon Marshall a great one. "It's been great to be back out here and be back with your team. It's a special bond."
It's also a bond that Beckham said he'd love to have for the rest of his career, echoing a sentiment made by team co-owner John Mara at last month's league meetings.
"I think we're on the same page," Beckham said. "Obviously this is one of the best organizations in the league and I would love to be here for the rest of my life."
Beckham Jr.'s Tuesday press conference, in which he was at times grilled worse than a public servant accused of wrongdoing, was at times a mass of chaos.
Yet while the receiver remained calm and didn't cave to the occasional antagonistic nature of the questions, he still sent a passive-aggressive message to major media outlets including TMZ, the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and ESPN via his custom-designed cleats.
Beckham's white cleats featured the letter-styled logos of the aforementioned media outlets printed in black. The names were either crossed out by a thicker, black X or covered by the word "Shhhhh!" in red ink.
The cleats were designed by Troy Cole, who goes by the handle "Kickasso" on social media. Cole has designed other custom cleats for Beckham, who usually breaks them out during pregame warmups. Cole also posted a close-up picture of the cleats with the caption "Silence the critics" in a tweet that has since been deleted.
Beckham came under heavy scrutiny for missing the team's 10 OTAs. He or those close to him posted videos and pictures of him working out in California with trainer Jamal Liggin or catching passes from ex-NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Media speculation regarding Beckham reached a feverish pitch following an ESPN report by Adam Schefter in which he tweeted, "No one in Odell Beckham Jr. camp has admitted it, but his absence from OTAs is directly related to his desire for a new deal, per sources."
Beckham, in his meeting with reporters, denied that his absence from OTAs was contract-related.
"It's life," Beckham said. "It comes with it."
Teammate Brandon Marshall, who met with the media the day after Beckham, seemed to approve of his teammate's poke at the media.
"I asked him about them because we were stretching," Marshall said. "I looked over, he stretched right next to me and I was like, 'Hold on, what does that say?' So that was pretty cool. It was fun. You should have fun with the media in this whole process. Obviously, we're here to win ballgames and you've got to stay focused, but I loved it. I'm that type of guy. I thought the shoes were cool."
In terms of the bigger picture, Beckham said he used the time away from the club to not only train, but to reflect on how his pro career has unfolded and to determine how to correct those issue that have brought him under fire.
"I have got some grey hairs now, so I am starting to get up there," he said when asked about what revelations he's had. "I have been trying to read a couple books.
"The Four Agreements is one book that I picked up. There are just four basic principles that are in there and one of them that you really had to learn was to use your words wisely and don't take anything personal ever, and as you kind of get this guideline of this book it starts to help you grow and really mature into who you are as a person. Like I said, I have gotten a couple grey hairs and I feel as if I am a little bit wiser."
Whether that wisdom shows up on the field this season remains to be seen.
For the second year in a row, a young defensive player might have done just enough in convincing the coaching staff that he's ready for a starting role on defense.
Last year, it was free safety Darian Thompson, who unofficially locked up that job by the end of the team's three-day mandatory minicamp. This year, second-year linebacker B.J. Goodson, who played in all of 13 defensive snaps last year, looks to be on his way toward locking up the starting middle linebacker job.
"Man, he's been great," said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo following the team's Wednesday practice. "He's really taken this thing on. It's important to him; he takes it seriously."
Coming into the spring, Goodson was set to square off against veteran Keenan Robison for the starting middle linebacker job, a position that became vacant after the team declined to re-sign veteran Kelvin Sheppard, who held it last year.
But so far this spring, it's been all Goodson, whose main contributions last year were on special teams. Besides working in the middle in the base defense, Goodson has also received some snaps in certain sub-packages
Besides receiving praise from Spagnuolo, Goodson has received kudos from his veteran teammates.
"He is very vocal," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "I almost had to get on him the other day because he kind of yelled at me a little bit, and I had to realize that is my linebacker and he doesn't know me like that, so I let him have that. But he is definitely a guy that can voice his opinion, be loud, make the calls, so he is definitely good."
"He takes control. He is a great communicator," added fellow linebacker Jonathan Casillas, the team's defensive captain last year. "It is hard to tell playing in the interior in the run, playing in our underwear, as they call it, so we will see come training camp and definitely in the preseason against other opponents how well he does because at the end of the day that is what you're judged on."
Casillas said the veterans have rallied around Goodson to ensure his confidence grows as a signal-caller and as a play-maker on the defense.
Acknowledging that the middle linebacker position has so much on his plate, Casillas shared the advice he's given Goodson during this journey.
"Just take your time. Don't try to do too much. You have a lot of guys who have played a lot in this defense and have played a lot of ball in general. You don't have to be the saving hero of the defense, the golden knight. You don't have to do that," Casillas said.
"Take it in stride because this defense is not a simple defense. It is a little complicated and the MIKE has a lot of responsibilities to do. So just take your time, get through your checks and get the defense lined up first. Then we will help you out (in practices) and he will catch on. As the season progresses, he will be a lot better."
So far, the advice and encouragement seems to be working for Goodson, the team's fourth-round pick last year out of Clemson.
"I've gotten very comfortable with calling the defense," he said earlier this month. "My teammates do a great job of rallying around me and just getting everyone lined up; I'm kind of having fun taking charge of it."
Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wants people to know that if they liked what they saw from the defense last year, they're probably going to be even more pleased this year.
"I think that we can be special," he said. "I think that we started something last year. The main thing is that we are coming back and everybody is together and we are in the same system. So once you know your system and you know your guys, it makes it that much easier to play," he said.
That sounds like a tall order for a defensive unit that finished 10th overall (339.7 yards/game), second in lowest average points allowed (17.8/game), third in third-down conversions allowed (35 percent), and tied for third (88.6 yards/game) against the run.
But a major advantage that both Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive end Olivier Vernon believe the unit has going into this season is continuity, right down to the coaching.
"It gives you a lot of confidence because these are your guys," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You already have went to battle with them and like that last game you know how it feels, you know the feeling, so use that and you come back and you know what you have because you have been there before, so this time you can go right away."
"When you're trying to build something, you want to keep everybody together for the most part," added Vernon.
Although the core of last year's defense is back in place only defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is missing from the group after his signing with the Colts during free agency there are also some promising new faces such as second-year linebacker B.J. Goodson, rookie defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and defensive end Avery Moss all look to contribute in some capacity.
"The main thing is that guys have been flying around, talking and communicating and it is just on point," Rodgers-Cromartie said of the process. "The offense has their days and we have our days, but for the most part it has been good."
The goal for the defense is not to merely be the best in the league when the final stats are calculated.
Rodgers-Cromartie said they have a much bigger goal in mind.
"Man, to be honest it is all about that trophy," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "We have to go out there and try to get some shutouts. I think that we have that capability to go out there and shut guys out. When everyone is on one accord and we are banging, we are pretty good."
The Giants are counting on seeing big things from their offensive line, a unit that last year struggled in both run-blocking and pass protection.
While the unit has shown some signs of improvement this spring, particularly at the tackle spots held by Ereck Flowers (left) and Bobby Hart (right), with the offseason program winding down, there are suddenly some injury concerns popping up.
Flowers (soreness) did not participate in the team's Wednesday practice, its longest of the spring.
Starting left guard Justin Pugh has also been sidelined for the mandatory minicamp due to what he classified as a "tweak" in his back. And reserve guard D.J. Fluker looked to injure either his right arm or shoulder during the team's Wednesday practice.
Head coach Ben McAdoo wasn't available to speak with the media Wednesday, though when he has, he's been as generic as he can about the nature of the injuries suffered by his players.
Pugh, however, did speak to the media, saying his inactivity was more of a precautionary thing than anything.
"I just got a little tweak in my back, so they're just holding me out as a precaution," he said. "It's not something where you want to press too hard right now in minicamp. I've got some things to look forward to."
Neither Flowers or Fluker spoke to the media. Flowers, who worked in Tuesday's practice wearing a hooded sweatshirt under his practice jersey despite the 91-degree day, was "sore" according to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, who also added that he didn't have an update on Fluker, injured during Wednesday's practice.
With two starters missing on the offensive line, that has opened the door for younger hopefuls to get a jump on solidifying their chances for a roster spot.
Adam Gettis, who filled in for Pugh during the two OTAs open to the media in which Pugh was absent, stepped in again for him at left guard. And undrafted rookie free agent Chad Wheeler, who had been working with the second-team offense, had his opportunity to step in for Flowers at left tackle.
"I think they stepped up nicely, both guys," Sullivan said. "From an assignment standpoint, they didn't miss a beat.
"There's always some technique things and there's a reason why certain guys are playing with the first group and some guys are playing with the second group, but from a willingness and an effort standpoint, they both did a good job."