On the days he picks his son up from high school football practices, Joe Judge knows what he’ll hear about as soon as the 15-year-old jumps in the car.
"The first thing he wants to talk about is what they did for conditioning," Judge said on Tuesday. "I have to explain to him, ‘I really don’t care.'"
It’s a conversation football players and coaches have been having for over a century, whether they are in the NFL, the peewee division, or someplace in between. Nobody likes to be told to run and run and run again, especially in the heat of summer. Grown men who make millions of dollars probably enjoy it even less than high schoolers.
But coaches like Judge have always seen the benefit in it. It’s why last year’s inaugural training camp under Judge was one of the most taxing, demanding and grueling seen by the organization in recent memory. Not only were the players constantly on the move in a choreographed rotation between drills, there were exercises in live blocking and tackling that seemed like throwbacks to the time of two-a-days. One could almost hear the chiding, aggravated barks of Bill Parcells echoing across the field.
The fact that it worked to help the Giants lower their injury rate during the 2020 season is a big reason why this year’s camp, which opens with its first practice on Wednesday, figures to be just as punishing.
"The most dangerous thing you can do for a player is skimp on how you practice," Judge said, "whether that’s conditioning to get their bodies in the right position and build up that callous within their muscles so they don’t have soft tissue injuries on the field, or that’s practicing things like live hitting and live tackling to make sure that when they go out there and the pace of the game is actually faster they are in a position to do it safely and effectively."
Judge said the data the team compiled in the offseason showed a marked decrease in player injuries on the Giants not only against the past but against the rest of the NFL. "We were one of the healthiest teams in the league last year and the healthiest this team has been in a long time," Judge said. That information was shared with the players this spring to explain to them why they will be put through such rigors once again this summer.
"I think the guys see on the field how they played," Judge said. "To us it’s about keeping yourself on the field and healthy and I think that’s the best example you can give to a player. Were you able to go out there and play last year or were you limited due to something you maybe weren’t in shape to do?"
That won’t make it any easier, though. Judge knows that.
"Look, I was a player," he said of the inevitable grousing that goes along with such demands, some of which he may or may not have voiced himself at some point in his on-field career. "Conditioning is part of football. Conditioning is part of the fundamentals."
It’s certainly part of Giants football these days.