Faster than the time it takes for players and coaches to complete their penalty laps after mistakes at Giants practices these days, the never-blinking world of NFL observers had already determined it to be a bad idea. These are professional athletes, not children who need to be motivated or embarrassed by gimmicky shows of authority, the thinking went. That Saquon Barkley couldn’t even recall the last time he played on a team that ran laps as punishment like that, and Sterling Shepard said he hadn’t seen it since middle school, only added to the outcry against Joe Judge.
Perhaps the loudest criticism came from Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, the Fox Sports analyst who, upon learning of Judge’s new policy, tweeted: “This isn’t going to end well.”
Sometimes it doesn’t. Judge is hardly the first NFL coach to use the running of laps as a deterrent to miscues. It was something that Eric Mangini — also a first-time head coach in New York who came from the Bill Belichick School of Seemingly Insignificant and Overbearing Rules — instituted when he was with the Jets. One of his most infamous lap-runners wound up being Brett Favre after he fumbled a snap on an exchange with the center in 2008. That, of course, would be an exhibit in the case Sharpe was trying to make.
It did not end well.
But the Giants are in a very different place than those Jets were. There are no Favres here. It’s a mostly young team full of mostly unproven players. There isn’t even anyone who has ever won a playoff game for the franchise on the roster, and only a handful who have ever appeared in one as a Giant. This is a franchise that, since it last won a Super Bowl in 2011, has been known more for its lapses than its laps.
The Giants also hand-picked most of this roster to thrive under the rigid rule of someone like Judge, adding veterans who have first-hand experience seeing that devotion to the pursuit of perfection pay off.
It’s why the new way of doing things might have a chance at turning the team around.
“The way I see it, it just goes with Coach Judge’s philosophy,” guard Kevin Zeitler said on Tuesday. “He said we’re going to be detail oriented and there will be consequences for our actions that aren’t good for the team. It’s just a way of playing it through, for players and coaches. We all need to get better every day and there are no exceptions.”
If Zeitler, a curmudgeonly 30-year-old vet in his ninth NFL season, can accept the crime-and-punishment equilibrium that Judge is instituting, that will go a long way toward having it survive in the locker room. As will the voice of Shepard, who is the longest-tenured player on the team.
“I think we have to buy into what Coach Judge has in store for us,” Shepard said. “I’m embracing the change and I’m all for it.”
Second-year defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence appears to have similar thoughts on the new rule book and associated sentences. While the Giants’ record was 4-12 last season, he said he does not consider those 12 Ls to stand for losses. Instead, he claims, they were lessons. And when asked what the biggest lessons from last year were, he answered quickly.
“Just buying into what the coaches want,” he said. “Everybody being the best version of themselves. Being a team and having good camaraderie and understanding the way things should be done. Not repeating the same mistakes.”
Judge was confident that his player understand the reasoning behind the running.
“Everything we do has a purpose and we’re very intent in explaining to our team why we are doing the things we are doing,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re not just blindly out there winging it trying to enforce punishment . . . There are consequences for mistakes. This isn’t a punishment, it’s a reminder that we have to draw attention and be more detailed in how we approach things.”
So the Giants will do things Judge’s way. For now, at least. They’ll run their laps and do their sprints and practice without nameplates on their backs if for no other reason than that the previous tactics and philosophies clearly didn’t work. There’s no disputing that they did not end well.
Those who have been around the organization long enough to remember the last time a head coach came here instituting draconian regulations are the very ones who also remember him hoisting a Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. It took some painful moments to get there, including a number of near mutinies and some career-saving softening from the headmaster, but it worked.
And if the Giants players do get sick and tired of trotting around the field after every little jump offsides or fumbled ball or missed assignment in practice?
“Just don’t make mistakes,” Shepard shrugged. “That’s a simple way to get out of doing that.”