In a make-or-break year, Giants QB Daniel Jones could use preseason snaps
Joe Judge is as meticulous and purposeful a coach as there is in the NFL, so there is no guesswork to his plans for quarterback Daniel Jones as he gets ready for what could be a make-or-break season.
But for all of Judge’s preparation, he has left himself open to some second-guessing about his approach.
Jones hasn’t taken a preseason snap since his rookie season in 2019, when he entered the season as a backup to Eli Manning and played with the backups that summer. There was no preseason last year because of the COVID-19 epidemic, but his absence from this year’s preseason games is purely by design.
It makes you wonder if keeping Jones under wraps — likely until next week’s third and final preseason game against the Patriots — is the right way to go for a player facing such an important year.
While it’s foolish to suggest that Jones’ lack of game action this summer will be a predictor of how he performs during the regular season, it is fair to question whether Judge is wise to keep him on the sideline this long and give him only one dress rehearsal before the regular season begins.
It’s an even more pressing question when you remember that Jones, without the benefit of a preseason snap in 2020, got off to an 0-5 record before the Giants got their first win. He started to get his feet under him after that, showing modest improvement as the season went on and briefly flirting with a playoff berth before a late-season collapse.
Look, we get it. Avoiding injury is every coach’s goal for the preseason, and the only guaranteed way to accomplish that is to keep your key starters on the sideline.
It’s something Rams coach Sean McVay has subscribed to in recent years, and it’s not unusual to see coaches enforce strict limits on starters’ playing time in games that are meaningless in the standings. Especially as coaches and players adjust to the new reality of a 17-game season.
But there also is meaning to playing in the preseason. It’s the way you get your mind and your body right for when games count. You get a pregame sweat going. You get some jitters playing before a crowd, especially after a season in which most games were played without fans.
And you get a better sense of the in-game operations. Coming out of the huddle. Calling out protections. Making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Correcting players’ positioning if they’re not in the right formation. Sensing pressure on blitzes.
All players need this, to one degree or another. Even the game’s best. In fact, the greatest player of all time, Tom Brady, was in the lineup — albeit briefly — when the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers opened the preseason last week. Future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger took 16 snaps in Saturday’s game against the Lions.
After a second day of practicing with the Browns in advance of Sunday’s preseason game, Judge told reporters Friday in Cleveland that he will use the New England matchup to get his starters — including Jones — some work. "We’re going to truly treat [the game] as more of that regular-season dress rehearsal," Judge said of next Sunday’s preseason finale at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants will hold joint practices with the Patriots this week, and Judge no doubt will visit with his mentor and former boss, Bill Belichick. The Patriots’ coach is taking a more conventional approach to playing his starters in the preseason, with Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones seeing action the first two games.
Belichick has a record six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots and another two as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. Under Bill Parcells, the Giants would use their starters in every game during the preseason, with Parcells convinced that the best way to get ready for the regular season was to "bake the preseason" into the players.
It’s a different NFL today, and no one is saying the players need that kind of preseason preparation. But keeping them on the sideline isn’t the way to go, either. Especially for Jones, who needed a meaningful ramp-up before a season that likely will determine his future with the Giants.