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Giants rookies continue their unusual path to NFL at training camp

Andrew Thomas will have an abnormal training camp.

Andrew Thomas will have an abnormal training camp. Credit: AP/Butch Dill

There is no such thing as a straight path to the NFL, but for this year’s group of Giants rookies, the final steps on that journey have been particularly meandering. It began with the cancellation of many pro days and team visits, a draft that was held in the commissioner’s basement, an edict to stay away from their new home facility, enrollment in the oddest of online classes, and finally, in the past week, a series of COVID-19 tests paired with strict hotel room isolation.

Ah, the glamorous life of a professional athlete.

Beginning on Wednesday, they’ll at least be able to get on a football field and start working with their new teammates. Well, some of them anyway. In another dogleg on the journey, the Giants will start training camp divided into two groups. They could have trimmed their roster to 80, where it needs to be by Aug. 16 anyway, and had the whole team working together as many NFL teams have chosen to do. Instead, the Giants decided to keep up to 90 players, which means separate workouts and locker room access for each of the two squads to maintain proper social distancing. So while the veterans who reported on Tuesday for training camp (or, more accurately, their first round of testing and a brief quarantine before they are allowed in the facility) will make up one group, the other will consist of the rookies, some of the quarterbacks, and a select group of players returning from injury, all of whom checked in last Thursday.

A process this convoluted and atypical to the normal indoctrinations of a rookie might be disruptive to the development of young players, but coach Joe Judge — himself a rookie in a way — said he does not think there will be any scars left by the ordeal.

“Part of the luxury with those guys,” he told Newsday, “is that they don’t know any different.”

That’s not to say they are prepared to jump in and contribute. Probably not even those who are going to be counted on as early projected starters like first- and second-round picks Andrew Thomas and Xavier McKinney.

Even though Judge said he and the coaching staff “put them through a wringer” this spring with extra virtual meetings on everything from special teams to player development, some of them in one-on-one Zoom sessions (“We tried to give them a good solid base, not only on our schemes but just on the league in general,” he said), they’re still rookies. Despite best efforts, they’re probably the rookiest of rookies the league has seen at this point in a season in a long time.

“Our priority, like every spring with rookies, was to try to get them caught up to a place where when you get to training camp they can compete,” Judge said. “None of them compete in the spring, whether you are on the grass or not. They just can’t. So you want to give them enough of a base so when they get to training camp they can line up and play and you can actually evaluate them next to the vets who have a better base of what is going on. You want to bridge that gap as much as you can.”

This year, the gap is a gulf. And the bridging that normally would have occurred on the field in OTAs and minicamps was scrubbed from the schedule, cramming a typical five-month process into about a month.

“There’s a learning curve for these guys not only in the football part but also in how to walk into the building and conduct yourself as a professional,” Judge said. “Through this virtual world [during the offseason program in the spring] those guys understood that, they demonstrated that they are going to work, and they’ll have every chance, as every vet will, to compete when they get here.”

It’s not usually like this, that’s for sure. But welcome to the NFL in 2020, kids.

Notes & quotes: WR David Sills became the first Giants player with a reserve/COVID-19 designation, meaning he either tested positive or had been in close contact with someone who has. He’ll be separated from the team and can be activated from that list after a quarantine or a series of negative tests…The Giants also designated QB Alex Tanney with a non-football illness and rookie LB Tae Crowder with a non-football injury. They will count against the 90-man roster and can be activated at any point this preseason, similar to a physically unable-to-perform designation…The NFLPA filed an appeal on behalf of CB DeAndre Baker, objecting to his being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while his legal matters are unresolved. Baker faces eight felony charges in Florida…The Giants were awarded DB Shakial Taylor off waivers from the Broncos.

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