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Joe Judge wanted, and got, players who understand his culture and what he's trying to build with Giants

Giants head coach Joe Judge speaks during a

Giants head coach Joe Judge speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 25. Credit: AP/Michael Conroy

Joe Judge certainly has a type.

He had said in the past that the “mold” for players he wanted was guys who are “smart, tough and fundamentally sound.” For three days during his first draft as coach of the Giants, those are exactly the ones he and general manager Dave Gettleman tended to select.

They made sure of that by doing Pinkerton-level background checks on many of their prospects and conducting in-depth virtual conversations with the players that often had little to do with football.

“We spent a lot of time with these guys on the front end, we spent a lot of time on the character,” Judge said on Saturday evening after the selection process concluded. “We're not collecting talent, we are building a team. There are a lot of good players out there. There are not a lot of right fits. You want to find the right fits.

“I don’t want 53 independent contractors. I want one team.”

That’s why most of the picks, especially in the later rounds, featured players who may not have been stars on their teams in college but were respected and, more often than not, were captains.

For some of them, that’s nothing new. Second-round pick Xavier McKinney, who played for three seasons under Nick Saban at Alabama, said he’s familiar with the approach that Judge will be taking with his new team. That’s not surprising. It was Saban who first taught it to Judge when he was a young special teams assistant at Alabama.

“There’s a lot of things that are going to be similar to how it was at school, and that’s how I like it,” McKinney said. “I’m good with structure. It’s never been a problem for me. It wasn’t a problem when I went into school as a freshman. Those are the things that I like a lot. I actually love having that structure and having that strict almost tight ship being run by the coaches.

"For me, I always do what I’m asked to do, and I try to do it at a high level. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to win. I’ll do whatever it takes to be able to win games and anything I can to help.”

Not everyone reacts well to that environment. The coming years will be an interesting process of weeding out those who buckle or glower at Judge’s expectations and rules.

That phase  probably is one of the bigger reasons many of Bill Belichick’s coaching disciples fail when they become head coaches for other teams. They do not have enough players who thrive in that rigid atmosphere, and it results in frustration and even anger.

The Giants actually went through a similar situation in 2004 when Tom Coughlin took over a veteran-laden team and tried to instill his regulations. There very nearly was a mutiny those first few years.

This time, it seems, the Giants are trying to cut off any discontent or dysfunction by adding players who are accustomed to such a dynamic before the team even gets on the field for its first practice.

But just in case any of the draft picks needed a reminder of how things are going to be run, Judge said he often mentioned his expectations for dealing with the media at some point during his welcome calls with the players during the draft. There would be plenty of fun and positive talk about the future, but eventually Judge would lay down the law.

“One thing that drives me nuts is sometimes when guys get drafted and emotion gets caught up and they stand on the stage a lot of times and what do they say? They start talking about how they are going to take over the league,” Judge said. “Look, this is a guy who hasn’t been in the league for five seconds. What do they know about taking over the league? What they have to worry about is improving. Put your head down and just work hard.

“Hey, here’s the reality for every one of these rookies we just took,” he continued. “They don’t know how to be a pro yet. As much as they may think they do, they don’t . . . They have no idea what they are doing yet. They watch it on TV and they think they have an understanding of what is going on in the league, but the reality is they don’t. The faster they understand that, the better off they’ll be.”

Judge, for his part, tried to bring in players who would understand.

And if they didn’t at first, they certainly did shortly after they hung up with him.

“Sometimes you wish you had someone to give you a little bit of guidance, you know?” Judge said. “Sometimes it’s good just to be reminded: ‘Hey, listen, this is your focus, this is what we’re building, this is what our culture here is going to be.’ ”

The players the Giants drafted this year? They’re the reminders of all of that for the rest of us.

Notes & quotes: According to various sources that include announcements from agents, colleges and the players themselves, the Giants will be adding the following undrafted rookies as free agents: QB Case Cookus (Northern Arizona); WRs Austin Mack (Ohio State), Binjimen Victor (Ohio State), Derrick Dillon (LSU) and Rysen John (Simon Fraser in Canada); RB Javon Leake (Maryland); OL Tyler Haycraft (Louisville), Kyle Murphy (Rhode Island); DB Christian Angulo (Hampton); TE Kyle Markway (South Carolina); and LBs Dane Levine (Temple) and Niko Lalos (Dartmouth). They will have to waive two players from their predraft 90-man roster to make room for the signings when they become official.

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