The first week or so of training camp around the NFL usually produces some kind of a breakout. Someone or something catches everyone’s eye and is impossible to ignore.
Maybe it’s a surprise rookie already going stride for stride with the vets, or a thought-to-be-washed-up player who seems to have recaptured his youthful gait.
These opening days of Giants camp have been no different in terms of creating such buzz.
Their standout isn’t a particular player, though. It has to do more with how the players are being used.
New coach Brian Daboll has turned the Giants’ offense into a pre-snap perpetual motion machine. Before each hike of the ball in team drills, there is so much shifting, realigning and deception that it can be difficult for observers to follow along with who goes where.
Saquon Barkley may line up in the backfield, then suddenly sprint out to line up at wide receiver while rookie receiver Wan’Dale Robinson surreptitiously takes his place beside the quarterback.
Receiver Kadarius Toney may line up to take the snap, only to have Daniel Jones step back in and swap places with Toney.
Even in individual drills, the players will mingle among positions, Barkley working with the receivers, Toney and Robinson called over to take some reps with the running backs.
The idea of using motion as an offensive tool has been in the NFL for a while, and although past Giants staffs have insisted that they employed it, their philosophies were used mostly to identify defenses as man or zone rather than create the kind of defensive headaches this new system is intended to produce.
“What we’re trying to do is whatever we need to do to help our guys and cause conflicts, issues with the defense,” Daboll said.
It’s chaos. Organized chaos, ideally, but designed to be as difficult to decipher as it is to choreograph.
There have been plenty of times this summer when miscommunication has led to busted plays and receivers being in the wrong spots. The plays themselves haven’t always worked. But the moments before the ball is put in play sure are exciting.
“Is it more to learn? Sure, because there’s added calls to it,” Daboll said. “You start on one side and have to be on the other side. You’ve got to start in the backfield and be out here. You know, there’s a little bit of thinking that goes along with it.”
If that sounds like the kinds of offenses teams such as Buffalo and Kansas City have employed in recent seasons — they went touchdown for touchdown against each other in a thrilling 42-36 overtime playoff game in January — well, it was. Daboll was the offensive coordinator for the Bills and new Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka arrived from Kansas City. They have brought their concepts here with them.
For a Giants offense that has been dreadful and looked out of date for most of the past decade, cribbing even a few pages from those dynamic playbooks may be enough to overhaul their moribund output. Motion may be the magic potion.
“I don’t think of what it’s going to do, I kind of know what it’s going to do,” Barkley said.
And not just because of what he witnessed in that Buffalo-Kansas City postseason game.
“You see it out in practice,” he said. “It forces the defense to think and it puts the advantage in our hands. We’ve got to execute on pre-snap, post-snap, and knowing what we’ve got to do because it can be a weapon for us.”
Added Jones: “I think it gives the quarterback a lot of freedom to take advantage of certain looks to make checks and get the ball to certain guys. I think it keeps the quarterback moving in the run game and the passing game. I think it’s just a very versatile offense that puts guys in a lot of different spots, disguises things, reveals defense. That’s all helpful for the quarterback.”
This is all brand-new for the Giants players, but it’s second nature for many of the offensive coaches who followed Daboll and Kafka. That can be an issue. Daboll said there are times when he has to be slowed down in his instructions.
“There are times where I am going through my mind and doing things and motioning and shifting and doing all these different things, and I told [the coaches] they better remind me that we are in Year 1 of this and not Year 5 of this in terms of designing plays and tempos and different things like that,” he said.
Eventually — ideally, at least — the players will catch up.
That’s the thing with those early breakouts in training camp. Sometimes they flash and then fizzle. Sometimes they don’t live up to the promise they display. The streets are deep with former players who looked like Hall of Famers in July and August but couldn’t translate their success into September, November and January.
Whether or not the standout star at the start of the Giants’ 2022 training camp will become a mainstay or a momentary distraction is up to the players who will be asked to learn it, master it and pilot it. “We are starting to crawl here,” Daboll said. “We are making progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Notes & quotes: The first fight of camp broke out about midway through Saturday’s practice when LG Shane Lemieux and DT Dexter Lawrence wrestled on the ground. Lawrence was yanked away by teammates but DL Leonard Williams took his place with a body slam on top of Lemieux. Eventually they were all separated and practice resumed . . . Darnay Holmes had his third takeaway of camp, this time punching the ball out of Barkley’s hands. Julian Love recovered it and returned it for a touchdown.