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Giants staying prepared by holding open tryout for special teams depth

Giants kicker Graham Gano approaches the ball during

Giants kicker Graham Gano approaches the ball during a special teams drill at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Aug. 23. Credit: Brad Penner

One of the first things the Giants did when they took the field for training camp about a month ago was hold an open tryout. The wide receivers and linebackers and quarterbacks and linemen gathered ‘round and the call went out.

Anyone here who can kick? Anyone ever long-snapped?

It may have sounded funny, but this is 2020 and if the past few months have taught us anything it is to be prepared for the unthinkable. Joe Judge and his staff have heeded that lesson.

“These guys have all been really good athletes their entire life, so it’s amazing how many guys have been the punter, the kicker for their high school team,” Judge said. “Someone that may be able to get you out of a game if needed … We’re making sure that we have answers on the roster for whatever comes up.”

That’s because this season, replacing an injured kicker or punter won’t be as simple as picking up a phone and bringing one in for a few days of work. Because of the COVID-19 screening process and inability to hold immediate tryouts, teams may find that it can take up to a week to integrate a new player onto the team. If it’s a short week, or if an injury occurs during the week, all of a sudden a team might be without one of its specialists. There is an expanded practice squad this season to allow for more rapid roster moves throughout this season, but no team carries depth at kicker or punter.

At least not technically.

The Giants are confident they have contingencies hidden throughout the rest of the team.

“You are always looking for back-ups in emergency situations,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. “This year more than ever you want to do a better job of identifying guys and just trying to turn over every rock. See what kind of skills everyone has so we can maximize the roster from the top down and the bottom up.”

McGaughey would not talk about most of those top secret plans, but he did address one possibility. He reminded everyone that kicker Graham Gano was a punter in college.

“Not only was he a punter, he was an outstanding punter in college,” McGaughey said.

Of course, special teams has always been about figuring out how to work with the parts you are given. Judge knows that having been a special teams coach most of his career. McGaughey certainly knows it.

And if he didn’t, he does already this season because two key special teamers have already been lost to injury in Cody Core and David Mayo. They weren’t specialists like Gano, punter Riley Dixon, or long-snapper Casey Kreiter who play the only three positions on the roster that show zero depth on the depth chart. But they were expected to be strong contributors and now they have to be replaced.

Throughout the season, that will happen many times. Sometimes many times a week.

“That’s the essence of my job, to make the gumbo every week,” McGaughey said. “Sometimes it might be chicken gumbo, sometimes it might be shrimp gumbo. Whatever I have, that’s what you have to work with. You have to work it out, that’s the process of being the special teams coach in the NFL.”

The biggest missing ingredient, though, would be one of the specialists. It’s why there was that call to service at the start of the preseason to see who could do what.

McGaughey said he’s certain the Giants have enough to get through 2020.

“It’s amazing what you will find when you start to look,” he said. “These guys have been stud athletes their whole lives. We have a plethora of guys who can snap, we have a ton of guys that can kick, we have bunch of guys that can punt. If we ever get caught in a pinch, I don’t think it will be an issue.”

New York Sports