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How the Giants used the pandemic to catch up on data and analytics

Kevin Abrams, left, with Giants GM Dave Gettleman.

Kevin Abrams, left, with Giants GM Dave Gettleman. Credit: Giants.com/Giants.com

The on-field setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic have been obvious for the Giants. A virtual offseason program, truncated training camp and no preseason games all are impacting the level of play from the team this season.

Behind the scenes, however, the past six months have forced the organization to grow with astonishing speed and agility, especially when it came to integrating data innovation and analytics into the coaching staff and personnel department.

The Giants had been focusing on those relationships for the past few years, but the pandemic gave them an unexpected boost.

"We’re now where we thought we would have been a year or two from now," assistant general manager and vice president of football operations Kevin Abrams said on an episode of the podcast "At Home with Leaders" that aired last month.

That was mainly because the two sides of the franchise – the one that handles the football and the one that handles the technology – had to come together to allow the team itself to function in a world where online communication and video streaming was the only efficient way to get things done.

"This was already going to be a unique year because it was Year One with the coaching staff," Abrams said. "Beyond that within our football operations there has been a tremendous amount of change. Because we had all this change and newness happening at one time and we were forced into a pandemic, it had everyone sort of focused on: How are we going to turn this into an opportunity to close the gap instead of falling further behind."

For a team such as the Giants that has been around for 96 years and has a lot of traditions in the way they operate, such a lane shift was unexpected.

"I’ve come to realize that we are much more agile and adaptable than I ever gave us credit for being," Abrams said. "We’ve been around for a long time and we’ve done business a certain way for a long period time and we’ve had a lot of conversations over the past 5-10 years especially about being a little more forward-thinking and getting out of our comfort zone and adopting some new methodologies. Like a lot of places, change resistance is human nature I think, and that’s certainly been something that was easily identifiable in our building. Then all of a sudden, now, there is no resisting change. Change is just happening. It is no longer something you can risk, it’s just happening."

While many teams struggle to bring their football people up to date on the latest technology, the Giants have been focusing on the opposite flow of information and bringing their computer folks up to speed on the game.

"We’re constantly trying to teach our support staff more about the game, whether it’s our video or data or IT," Abrams said. "We want them to understand. They don’t have to call the game on Sunday, but having a bare minimum of understanding about the game allows them to have and enter conversations with end users about what the support they are providing and we get solutions that are long-lasting and better than they would be otherwise. We’ve seen it operate the other way. If the expertise is so limited to just that area of expertise, those conversations require interpreters, projects and efforts and initiatives tend to die on the vine a little bit… Just because of familiarity and because they worked on projects together and have seen successes together they now have faith in each other and can speak a common language."

That should help some during this season, but it may really come into play after the season when the Giants turn their attention to the 2021 draft… which may or may not have a full college football season to analyze.

"Right now we’re operating largely in the dark," Abrams said, regarding how much access the team will have to prospects both on their campuses and at events such as the Senior Bowl, the Combine, private workouts and Pro Days. "We don’t know what information we’ll have… Certainly now there is an emphasis [on analytics]. We’re throwing more into it because we know we might need it more than ever. It’s a big priority and a big point of emphasis right now."

The changes have impacted every member of the organization.

"The youth of our roster, the newness of our program, we’re not having to break habits," Abrams said. "Forget about whether they are good habits or bad habits, habits were going to have to change this year just because the circumstances under which we are operating. Changing habits are tough for anybody… So for us to ask players to make adjustments and coaches to make adjustments, we don’t have a long history of what the normal is for this group of Giants. Making changes and doing things the best way for 2020 given the environment wasn’t that hard of an adjustment for us to make. In some ways it wasn’t an adjustment at all, it was just the way this program has been working."

All of which represents a big shift in the Giants’ longstanding philosophies.

"I didn’t know how we were going to react but I’ve been so from top to bottom and across departments," Abrams said. "We’re very capable of change. That’s good to know that we can do it and it's also a good thing to be able to remind everyone that we can do this on the regular. We can look for new ways to do things and we can take what has worked out of this that might be something we want to incorporate into how we operate when we do get back to life as usual, which hopefully is not too far off in the distance. Our capacity for adjusting and being able to thrive in uncertain and uncomfortable and unfamiliar environments, we’re pretty good at it."

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