‘Bizarre’ rookie practice caught Giants’ Joe Judge off guard

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Joe Judge was walking off the field with Patrick Graham, the Giants’ defensive coordinator, during one of the rookie minicamp practices last weekend when the head coach made a few startling observations.

“That guy is bigger than we thought he was going to be; that guy has thicker legs than we thought they were going to be,’’ Judge said, recalling his conversation with Graham.

This is unheard of. Check that. This WAS unheard of before the NFL went about an entire draft process amid global pandemic restrictions.

“The first time seeing a guy in practice is bizarre,’’ Judge said, “because even our meetings are virtual.’’

Bizarre is a good word for a head coach having never been in the same room with many of his draft picks before actually taking the field.

The Giants welcomed in 22 players for their rookie camp, and on Monday approximately 45 players, rookies and veterans intermingled, arrived for the start of Phase 2 of the offseason program. Coaches are allowed to take players on the field for 90 minutes of instruction per day, but all off-the-field meetings must be virtual.

Of the 45 players on the scene, there were about 25 veterans at the Giants facility, down significantly from previous years, as the NFL Players Association has expressed concern about COVID-19 protocols and recommended players stay away from these voluntary workouts.

Giants players are finding their own ways to bond and stay in shape together. Logan Ryan this week brought together several defensive backs in Tampa. Daniel Jones in early April orchestrated throwing sessions with his wide receiver, running back and tight end targets in Phoenix.

The veterans have been through this before and Judge and his staff know what they are all about. Not so with the rookie players Judge finally got to meet, in person.

“Yeah. I was one of them,’’ linebacker Azeez Ojulari, the second-round pick from Georgia, said. “I never met him before, face-to-face. It was great. You know, just got to finally meet the head coach, the one that runs the show. It was a great opportunity for me to meet him. I’m happy to be here with him and I’m ready to work with him.’’

Cornerback Rodarius Williams, a sixth-round pick from Oklahoma State, had only spoken with Judge over the phone, never in person, before this past weekend.

“I was nervous at first but at the end of the day you settle in and get to know where he is and what he can tolerate around the facility,’’ Williams said.

Before Judge can get the most out of his players, he needs to know as much as he can about them. He was not allowed to sit down in the same room with the draft-eligible players at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was not allowed to do it at any of the Pro Day workouts and he was not allowed to bring any players to the Giants facility for pre-draft meet-and-greets. Judge is behind the curve with this rookie class, and he knows it.

And so, he adjusted the bar to a lower height of expectation.

“You know what, really, that’s honestly the most important thing we can do right now is trying to establish relationships,’’ Judge said. “Establish what the boundaries are within our organization, let them know what to expect on a daily basis, but ultimately we have to start forming relationships with these players beyond just evaluating from the draft.

“It’s not like you’re sitting in a meeting room across from the guy. Your first experience is on the grass and they are wearing a helmet looking at you. It’s different. But look, it’s great to have life in the building and it’s great to have players back and it was a fun weekend working with these guys.’’

The work, and the relationship-building, continues.

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