Not at every position and certainly not where new head coach Joe Judge has little choice but to rely on those who were here last season. When it comes time for the Giants to put the finishing touches on their roster, though, the unexpected figures to be front and center and the norm will likely be shown the door.
If this flies in the face of the expectation for what team-building amid a pandemic is supposed to look like, so be it. With no on-field work in the spring, and not a single preseason game in the summer, sticking with what is known makes some sense, making it more difficult than ever for undrafted rookies and fringe players to hang around. It is unlikely, however, this is the way it will play out once Judge puts his stamp on the first iteration of his inaugural Giants roster.
Despite his hard-boiled persona, Judge is quick to dissect and praise a youngster who seems to be clinging to the lower rung of the 80-man training camp squad. Often, Judge is more effusive about receivers David Sills, Alex Bachman and Austin Mack than his presumptive top three targets.
Judge does not give the standard, “He’s working to get better’’ lip service when asked about Javon Leake, an undrafted rookie running back and kick returner and Devante Downs, a 24-year-old former seventh-round pick of the Vikings who got in nine games of special teams work last season for the Giants.
Little gets past the 38-year-old rookie head coach. Judge noticed “you can see his eyes in meetings, he’s very engaged and focused on you when you’re talking’’ when commenting about Downs. Judge called Leake “a guy who is really coming on right now.’’ Cornerback Jarren Williams, who played for the Albany Great Danes in 2019 after graduating from St. Francis (Pa.), has size to perhaps help on kick coverage units.
“Very receptive, he plays with a good demeanor,’’ Judge said.
Judge does not seem to be a guy who offers niceties just to, well, be nice.
There are no allegiances formed yet. Although Judge knows where everyone came from and how they got here, what he sees and feels will be the determinants in who gets a uniform, a locker and a direct deposit from the Giants.
“I don’t care where you’re drafted, undrafted, where you came from, rookie, vet. That really doesn’t matter to me,’’ Judge said. “It truly doesn’t. At the end of the day, we’re going to put the best 11 on the field. While on the outside that seems tough to believe at times, I have to look 53 guys in the eye and I have to tell them that I gave them all the best chance to be successful.
“You can’t lie to those guys in the locker room. Those players know who the best players are. They line up and compete against them. If you force somebody in just because of maybe where they were drafted or how much you signed them for, you have 52 other guys staring at you knowing you’re lying to them because you’re not giving them the best chance right there. You can say a lot of fluff around here and there, but you have to be honest with your team.’’
This is why Bachman, a 6-foot dynamo from Wake Forest who usually is ahead of the pack in any conditioning running, has a chance. He made an over-the-shoulder catch past rookie Christian Angulo in Monday’s practice, which does not hurt.
“He’s productive in drills, he’s productive in team periods,’’ Judge said. “It’s no surprise to see him making plays.’’
C.J. Board, a speedy 26-year-old receiver with four games of NFL experience (with the Jaguars last season), created a stir when he leaped in the end zone for a Daniel Jones lob and came down with the ball, beating Corey Ballentine. That doesn’t hurt, either.
Tyke Tolbert, the returning wide receivers coach, calls the 6-3 Sills “a rep stealer’’ in that if Sills sees any hesitation in one of his teammates he will jump in and take his place on the ensuing play. Tolbert called Mack, an undrafted rookie from Ohio State, “a super smart guy’’ and said Board “really has speed off the ball.’’
Again, what is said now does not have to be gospel later. But rest assured, Joe Judge will go with his eyes and his instincts and that will lead to surprises galore.