The first day of training camp is one of the very best days on the NFL calendar. Players are physically refreshed after a few weeks of down time following the offseason conditioning program. Coaches are mentally re-charged after escaping the film room for a bit, and fans look ahead with hope at what comes next.
It is therefore no surprise to hear optimistic pronouncements about the impending season, and even talk of a championship run with a few fortunate breaks here and there.
But you heard nothing of the kind coming from the Giants as they gathered for Day One of camp practice on Wednesday. Even with fans in attendance to provide some added energy and semblance of normalcy after two years’ worth of COVID restrictions, this was a very muted group of players and coaches who took the field at the team’s training facility in the shadow of MetLife Stadium.
Optimism, yes. But realism was the more prevalent mentality as Brian Daboll walked onto the field for the first Day One practice of his fledgling career as head coach.
So, forgive Daboll for not pulling a Rex Ryan and talking about not being here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings or talking about winning a Super Bowl this season. Or even of making the playoffs.
In fact, when asked directly about the expectations for this year’s team, Daboll replied, “I learned a long time ago, you have to take care of today.”
Of course he wants to win a Super Bowl. Of course he will spend every waking moment trying to figure out ways of getting the Giants that far. But Daboll smartly avoided making any sweeping public pronouncements about adding a fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy to sit alongside the other four at 1925 Giants Drive.
“Being in the league for 20 plus years, there’s teams that people thought were going to go all the way and didn’t make the playoffs,” he said. “And there’s teams that people thought they weren’t going to. And what we try to focus on is getting better each day. Focusing on the things that we can do and we control, which is going out there, having good meetings, having a good practice, trying to string good days together. And that’s really where our focus is going to be.”
Not exactly Knute Rockne telling his boys to win one for the Gipper.
And with good reason. The Giants as currently constituted don’t remotely resemble a championship roster, and first-year general manager Joe Schoen will need a lot more time to reconstruct the mess left behind by Dave Gettleman. It was one of the poorest team-building attempts in decades, as a series of lousy personnel decisions and bloated contracts for overrated players left coach Joe Judge with no realistic means of getting the Giants into the playoffs.
The Schoen-Daboll alliance seems to be a much more competent partnership, but success will come slowly. This is very much a transition year with a new coach and a new GM, and the fact that Daniel Jones faces a make-of-break year leaves little margin for error for Gettleman’s first-round pick from 2019. The fact that Jones was not given a fifth-year option next year speaks volumes about how the team views his future, and it would be a shock if Jones delivers the kind of season that prompts a long-term investment in 2023.
The more likely scenario is that Schoen and Daboll will find their quarterback of the future in next year’s draft. With few game-breaking players on either side of the ball, this does not look anything close to a playoff team, meaning that there will likely be a high pick next year to choose from what is expected to be a deep quarterback class.
Schoen suggested Wednesday that the team didn’t have the luxury of time with seeing Jones on the field during the offseason, but Schoen and Daboll will have four years’ worth of game tape to make that decision.
There will be another decision centering on Saquon Barkley, who returns for his fifth season. But the devaluation of running backs in today’s game doesn’t augur well for the former Penn State star, who has battled injuries since his spectacular rookie year.
So, as we turn the page from Day One, we do so knowing that many more days – and perhaps years – will be required to coax more bravado from a team that seems to know they are taking baby steps now in hopes of building something better (a long way) down the road.