Leonard Williams said he was glad to have things back to normal.
While wearing a mask. And standing about 15 feet away from reporters who were leaning in to try to hear him. After having practiced with a contraption on his helmet that works as a mask. And before eating lunch at a table for one set up outdoors.
Normal? Well, yes and no.
It was the first time since before the pandemic that players and coach Joe Judge were interviewed in-person. And for the fully vaccinated players their return to normalcy was much more pronounced: no required masks or distancing or exclusions from facilities like the cafeteria and weight room.
But COVID-19 definitely remained an issue for the Giants at the first practice of training camp, and not just because two players — linebacker Blake Martinez and safety Joshua Kalu — were on the COVID-19/reserve list and away from the building while rookie first-round pick Kadarius Toney, fresh off that same designation, was still unable to practice as the team eases him back from the sedentary lifestyle of a quarantine.
Even with all of that, though, Wednesday was much better than it was a year ago.
Judge addressed it right off the bat, stepping to the microphone, peering into the cameras and at the media, and asking: "Where the hell have you been?"
"It’s good to be on the grass, it’s good to see you guys in person again, it’s nice to have a sense of normalcy," Judge said. "Obviously, everything is not 100% normal. There’s still a lot of things we have to do protocol-wise and handle a lot of situations off the field. But in terms of the football itself, we’re looking forward to going full speed as much as we can in helmets and T-shirts."
Judge said it is "more natural" to do his interviews in person . . . even though at this point in his head coaching career he has done more of them virtually than in real life.
"I like personal relationships," he said. "I’d rather sit out here and look you guys in the eye and talk to you just directly one-on-one than sit there [in front of a screen] . . . I like to look back at who asked the question and just give them a direct answer."
Williams seemed to like that, too, not only with the media but with the football. He said he found he is much better at learning from in-person instruction than over the internet.
"I think it’s a little bit better in person," Williams said. "I’m glad that things are starting to come back like that. It was always weird doing stuff over Zoom calls."
Williams is taking even more steps toward normalcy. He received his first COVID-19 vaccine injection upon reporting to training camp. Once he gets his second dose and waits another two weeks, he’ll be allowed to rejoin his teammates in the cafeteria, shed that shield that dangles from his facemask, and cross over from the strict protocols that confine the unvaccinated to the looser ones for those fully covered.
Williams said it was those restrictions and the possibility of costing the Giants a game either by forfeit or by not being able to play that convinced him to get the vaccine.
"It’s easier going forward with the team, making sure everyone is all on the same page and making sure everyone is safe," he said.
And trying to inch everyone that much closer to actual normal.