Giants head coach Brian Daboll, offensive line coach Bobby Johnson and director of coaching operations Laura Young sprinted downfield with the first-string offense and defense during Sunday’s grind of a practice to emphasize conditioning between plays.
Not long ago, players and coaches running laps here were frowned upon. But the reality is that conditioning is important. And this team clearly did not convince Daboll at Friday night’s scrimmage that it was physically ready to play a football game, even though their preseason schedule opens Thursday night at New England.
So Daboll was right to come out of Friday night’s scrimmage intent on ramping up his team’s workload from a dialed-down spring and early camp. Sunday was run-heavy and humid.
“Soft tissue injuries, keeping them healthy. It was really the plan,” Daboll said of why the Giants have ramped up steadily all along. “Pressed them a little bit [Friday] night with long drives. The sports science people say that we had 34 plays in 45 minutes, and that was kind of the plan of going into it for the ones to press them a little bit so we could get going this week.”
“The intensity, the effort, the energy has been good,” Daboll added. “We’re just going to increase it a little bit relative to reps or extra conditioning, if you will, in between.”
Conditioning is a touchy word around here. The Giants have had injury issues as an organization for a long time.
They were the NFL’s most injured team for three straight seasons (ranked 32nd) under Tom Coughlin from 2013-15, according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric.
And since, they have alternated between improved (eighth healthiest in 2016 and 2018), average (16th in 2019, 23rd in 2020) and bad (25th in 2017, 27th in 2021) under Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge, respectively.
In other words: it hasn’t mattered who the head coach was or what his methods were. The Giants have struggled to stay healthy.
It’s a tricky balance, of course, to get an NFL team physically prepared to play while also trying to keep the players off the injured list.
Daboll said that he learned from the Buffalo Bills’ “historically fast starts” that they entered seasons with a “very healthy roster” and “good players that … execute well under pressure.”
So it’s easy to understand why GM Joe Schoen, Daboll and the Giants’ medical staff are managing skill players like Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay so carefully, especially coming off offseason procedures or injuries:
The staff’s priority is to get these players to Week 1 healthy so they can contribute.
Daboll is even starting the players’ days later. Their first daily meeting isn’t until 9 am
“He lets us sleep in, which is great,” center Jon Feliciano said Sunday. “Our first thing starts at 9. Usually [in the NFL], the first thing starts at 7:30, 8 at the latest. But with that extra time you get to sleep in if you need some extra sleep or you get to come in early and get some treatment before practice. It’s been great.”
The risk in a reduced workload for any player or any team, though, is that it reduces preparation time of real 11-on-11 football on the field.
That’s the balance.
Feliciano agreed on Sunday that the Giants aren’t in football shape yet, but he said it’ll come.
“I think we can be better,” Feliciano said. “And we will be.”
Feliciano did make an interesting comment about Sunday’s ramped-up workload that could be instructive for how the Giants proceed. He said the longer practice went, the more manageable it became — in part because the O-line did so little pass blocking.
“Probably after the first period we started realizing what kind of day it was gonna be, at least for me, practice got easier the longer we went,” Feliciano said with a smile. “Just because it’s run plays. As linemen, we like putting our bodies on other people.”
These players can handle it.
Injuries happen in this sport no matter how a team practices. But Daboll knows, especially days away from facing his mentor Bill Belichick, what a football-ready team looks like.
And he’s working to get the Giants there.
“All part of the plan in terms of the offseason and talking with the sports science and the trainers,” Daboll said. “And you tweak things here and there.”