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Kicking & screaming: How Joe Judge has prepared Ryan Santoso for this moment

Ryan Santoso warms up before a game between

Ryan Santoso warms up before a game between the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders at RingCentral Coliseum on Dec. 8, 2019 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Getty Images/Lachlan Cunningham

Joe Judge is known for hardly ever saying anything disparaging about his players in public.

Behind the scenes, though, there is at least one Giant who knows just how verbally demoralizing he can be.

That’s backup kicker Ryan Santoso, who has spent most of this season on the practice squad enduring Judge’s wrath. Just about every field goal he has attempted in practices has been accompanied by up-close trash-talking from the head coach.

Real nasty stuff, too.

Santoso would not divulge just how ugly Judge’s insults can get in those moments, but he said there are times when he walks away from those attempts thinking: "Wow, he really said that?"

He also walks away glad it happened.

"I love it," Santoso told Newsday. "It’s always a lot of fun when the period is over and we can just laugh it off. Him doing that has really helped me build my mental toughness to stay locked in on my task at hand."

That’s a skill Santoso might need this week. The Giants’ regular kicker, Graham Gano, is on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive early last week. Santoso was signed to the active roster shortly after that. There is a chance that Gano will be cleared from the list in time to kick in Sunday’s game against the Bengals. If he can’t, though, it will be Santoso’s job.

"We have a lot of confidence in Ryan," Judge said. "If he’s got to go, we have a lot of confidence he will be able to go out there and do the job effectively."

Santoso, 25, has NFL experience, having played for the Lions, but he handled only kickoffs during that brief stint. He’s never attempted an NFL field goal. He’s certainly never done so with a regular-season game on the line.

At least not in real life.

"I have played moments like that in my head thousands of times," he said. "I’m going to trust my swing, trust my preparation. I know I’ll go out there and do it to the best of my ability, which is going to be enough."

Naturally, kicking in a game will be very different from kicking in practices. For one thing, he’ll be doing it alone, without a maniac barking next to him.

"I think he’s a little bit better in terms of roping that thing through the uprights when I’m talking a little smack behind him," Judge said.

No worries. Judge’s epithets undoubtedly have been seared into Santoso’s eardrums to the point that he can recall them on command.

Santoso is far from average for kickers in the NFL, standing 6-5 and weighing 258 pounds, a size more typical of a linebacker. Growing up in Florida, he said, he had aspirations of playing soccer in college. In high school, he helped the football team with its kicking one day and was so impressive that the coaches told him he might be able to wrangle a scholarship for that skill.

He switched over to football full-time after his sophomore year, attended the University of Minnesota and on Sunday might kick in another NFL game.

Then again, he might not.

Gano has been feeling better and even posted a video online earlier this week of himself kicking into a net — in what appeared to be the hotel room where he is quarantining.

"He better open the window. Cincinnati doesn’t have a dome," Judge said. "I don’t know what the hell he thinks he’s accomplishing there. Obviously, this is a guy who is probably going stir crazy. He’s chomping at the bit to get back with us.

"Our biggest priority right now with him is just his health. When the doctors say he’s good to go, we’ll put him out there and let him start swinging away."

Santoso said he wants to play but that he’ll be fine if Gano returns. He appreciates this opportunity for an opportunity.

At the start of the season, when Santoso first signed with the Giants, he said Gano told him he had to prepare for every game as if he would be the kicker because with the pandemic, there was no telling when he might be needed.

That time could be now.

Notes & quotes: The only Giant who did not practice on Thursday was cornerback James Bradberry, who was excused from the team by Judge to address a family matter. Bradberry is expected to be back on the field Friday . . . Logan Ryan was tops among NFC free safeties in voting for the Pro Bowl, with the first round of voting announced this week. Ryan, who played cornerback most of his career, has never made a Pro Bowl.

New York Sports