It’s not for everyone.
If the past year and two days of Joe Judge’s tenure as coach of the Giants have shown us anything, it’s that his methods require a certain type of player personality to be successful. It’s why, while the fans have been excited about the additions to the roster to bolster the playmaking in recent months, the more important process for making the Giants a success may be the weeding out of those not fully invested in the plan.
Whether it is Golden Tate or Marc Colombo or, this week, Kelvin Benjamin, who decided he’d had enough before the first full practice of training camp began in earnest, Judge has made it a point to prune any branch that tries to grow in a direction different from his vision.
It’s why almost everyone on the Giants’ staff has some lineage that traces through either New England or Alabama — more specifically, Bill Belichick or Nick Saban, the two great influences in Judge’s philosophy. It’s why many of the players who have been added to the team since Judge took over in January 2020 have similar roots and similar personalities.
Judge does not hide his methods.
"We don’t try to make this an easy place," Judge said. "We want to make sure to put as much pressure on the players through practice as possible, so that when they get in the games they’ve dealt with a level of adversity and pressure that help them operate better."
It’s a system that works, so long as there are players who buy into it. So far the Giants have been able to keep more of those types around than the ones who can’t — or won’t — carry Judge’s flag for him. He has a locker room of young leaders in Daniel Jones, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard and Leonard Williams who seem to not only tolerate Judge’s rules but thrive under them. It’s one of the reasons he met with Kenny Golladay for nearly three days before the Giants decided to invest in him as a free agent this offseason, to make sure he was that kind of person.
"He’s a tough coach," second-year safety Xavier McKinney (out of Alabama, it should be noted) said on Thursday. "He asks a lot of us, but we accept the challenge day in and day out. Sometimes it can be pretty brutal, but it is what it is. It’s not something I’m not used to or a lot of the guys aren’t used to . . . We love the process of going through it."
But there is a countdown on how long such a culture can remain in place without one very important ingredient. For Judge’s Way to work in the long term, the Giants need to win.
It started to happen a little bit at the end of last year, but the clock is now ticking toward a time when wins must become far more commonplace than they have been with this franchise for the past decade.
There is nothing wrong with taking the hard path, but it has to lead to greater success that the easy one. Something has to change with the team.
It isn’t going to be Judge.
"Look, I’m going to always be me, I’m going to do it with my personality," he said. "I think you have to do that otherwise you’re just lying trying to be something else."
Judge said he spent time this offseason examining how he deals with players. He said he tried to listen to as many smart voices as he could, from sports psychologists to professional lacrosse and women’s basketball coaches to Navy SEALs, to get a better understanding of the best ways to reach this current batch of Giants players.
"I don’t want to miss on a person," he said. "One of the most important things we want to do is evaluate our team and make sure we don’t put somebody on the street who can help us win, who we mis-evaluate because we can’t see through a shade of a personality to see what someone can really do."
Despite Benjamin’s gripes, which he voiced to the media by complaining that Judge confronted him for not coming into camp at the weight the team wanted to see him at, cursed too much, and was a "know-it-all" who never interacted with him, Judge actually has a pretty strong track record of listening to and understanding the players. The coach who makes players run penalty laps in practice is the same one who last year did rookie Derrick Dillon a "favor" by cutting him from the practice squad so he could be at the birth of his child, the same coach who in minicamp last month saw Kadarius Toney weeping in the locker room over news that a close relative was ill and put him on the first flight home to be there with his family.
It’s why several players came to Judge’s defense over Benjamin’s parting shots.
"He’s entitled to his opinion," cornerback James Bradberry said. "I definitely think Coach Judge is tough. There is a lot of pressure being in our shoes, so I don’t expect him to give us our way all the time. A tough coach, that’s how you build structure, that’s how you build discipline. That’s what he’s building here."
As for the salty language, Judge made no excuses — "It’s a little bit different when you’re out there, kind of heat of the moment," he said — but insisted that he and his staff never use those words about players themselves.
"He’s very intense," defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence said of Judge. "He respects us, we respect him . . . I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him."
At least not on the roster.
Notes & quotes: Saquon Barkley remains on PUP, but he may be inching closer to joining his teammates. The running back recovering from a torn ACL looked much more active and explosive on Thursday than on Wednesday, sprinting and cutting and chopping his way through a heavy workout with trainers on the back field while the rest of the Giants practiced nearby. The Giants are taking things slow with Barkley, but Thursday’s display might have provided them with some evidence that he is nearly ready to go . . . First-round pick Kadarious Toney has yet to participate in any drills or reps at training camp despite being cleared from the COVID-19/reserve list earlier this week. "We’re going to keep on ramping him up over there [on the side with the trainers]," Judge said. "We’re going to take him day by day." . . . Second-round pick Azeez Ojulari was the first Giant in this camp to run a penalty lap around the field after making an error on Thursday. He was quickly followed by center Nick Gates, and then a trio of offenders — Daniel Jones, Alex Bachman and Brett Heggie — who took the tour together.