The NFL schedule has the Giants opening their season against the Steelers on Sept. 14.
Their first opponent, though, is getting through the next month and a half healthy in order to play that game. That battle, trying to have a productive training camp in the midst of a pandemic, already has begun as head coach Joe Judge and his staff have been hammering away at the importance of discipline and personal responsibility as the most effective tools in keeping the coronavirus away from the team.
“Listen, there are some sacrifices we have to make,” Judge said on Friday in his opening news conference of training camp. “[But] everybody has made sacrifices to get to this level. If the biggest thing we have to do is for half the year wear masks around each other, distance a little bit, and when we go home be home, I think that’s a pretty fair trade-off to be able to be a part of the National Football League.”
It is the key ingredient in the NFL’s overall plan. Unlike hockey and basketball, which seem to be thriving inside thick bubble walls, the NFL is not functioning in complete isolation. But unlike baseball, which is having trouble keeping players and coaches healthy, the NFL will not be traveling around the country for the time being (and when they do, it will be for short road trips, some of which will have them in and out of cities within 24 hours). Football is operating in a bit of a middle ground; while players will spend most of their time at the relatively locked-down facilities preparing for the upcoming season, they also will have some limited free time away from that protection.
It’s that part of their lives where Judge wants the players to be the most vigilant.
“We have to make the right decisions,” he said. “The biggest thing everybody has to understand is all of our decisions directly impact each other. It’s not fair for me to go out and do something and put myself at risk and come in here and get the players sick. It’s not my right. I’m not entitled to do that. We’ve got to all make the right decisions both in the building following the protocols and away from the building. I think ultimately as a league we have to trust the plan the league has put in place, make sure we adhere to the protocols, make sure we wear the PPEs. Let’s be careful, let’s be cautious, OK? We can operate aggressively if we just follow the plan in place.”
Judge was certain to make clear that such protocols apply to everyone in contact with the team, including the coaching staff, front office and himself.
“What I have to think personally about is it’s not just where I go,” he said. “I know where I’m at when I’m at the stadium or driving to my house. But I’ve got to be conscious of where my wife and children are, who are they around on a daily basis. What am I bringing back to the team?”
So far, it’s been an effective system. The Giants have had one player, wide receiver David Sills, placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He’s been isolated from the team since that designation. While rookies, quarterbacks and returning injured players already have been able to get on the field for conditioning workouts, the veterans on the roster are expected to clear their entry testing and physicals on Monday.
Having players report to training camp with positive tests was expected. The key will be preventing the disease from permeating the team now that they are all together.
The new safeguards do take some getting used to. Already some players have had to be admonished for walking around the facility without masks (they quickly rectified the absent-minded oversight), and they are getting used to the strange dynamic of avoiding handshakes, high-fives and bro hugs with teammates.
Ultimately, it will be up to the players to buy in to the protocols. Judge said he thinks they will.
“Our players are very committed to doing what it takes to make this work,” he said. “Part of our culture is doing what is necessary to be successful, and at this time to be successful we have to stay healthy. The healthiest team has an advantage and we’re going to do our part to stay healthy.”
If they can, it will be Judge’s first win as head coach of the Giants. And come September, they’ll at least have a fighting chance against their other foes. The ones on the field.
“We can’t make this the biggest obstacle,” Judge said of adhering to the guidelines. “We’re going to have 16 games against opponents who are going to be a lot tougher than just following protocols.”