After a tumultuous season, new New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made a few things clear about his intentions with his new team. Clashing personalities, confused responsibilities, and unnecessary egotism are all issues that need to be fixed off the field in order to adjust the athletic executions of the team. The poor performance that the Giants put on last season may be blamed on confused coaching by Ben McAdoo, or bad on-field production from injury-riddled players—but it is impossible to ignore how behind-the-scenes drama has had its effect on the uninspired squad. So far in the off-season, we’ve seen Gettleman and his staff in action, working with the G-men to improve morale and redefine the meaning in the word “team,” applying it to Big Blue in its new structure.
A Giant Attitude: How the “New” New York Giants Morale Has Received a Boost During the Off-Season
Gettleman was consistent in free agency and the draft, prioritizing players with strong character, work ethic, and morale. In the selection of Saquon Barkley as the second overall draft pick, the Giants have not only gained a wunderkind playmaker, but also a mature leader who has been well-reviewed by all of his past teammates and coaches. Will Hernandez, similarly, was selected because of his contagious love for the game. N.C. State’s B.J. Hill was described by a scout to Bob McGinn Football as the “absolute leader of his team.” Jonathan Stewart is the most noteworthy addition to the roster from free agency, after his release from the Carolina Panthers. Despite debate over the amount of production he can bring to the Giants in his new two-year contract with the team, he brings a long career built on leadership and professionalism. That’s important to an organization undergoing a rebuild of sorts.
Few concerns still remain in the locker room surrounding retained players. The organization has made clear that they do not have any intentions of shopping star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has performed consistently well, barring the early end to his recent season. Consistent, also, has been his dramatic and outspoken personality, which has contributed to the lack of morale, despite the inarguable leadership qualities that the player brings to the table.
Also famous has been the controversy surrounding 22-year-old Eli Apple, who was described as a “cancer” by teammate Landon Collins—a comment that Collins later apologized for in recognition of the unnecessary drama it brought to their already-poisoned locker room. His passion for the game has been argued as well after he was suspended for an argument with defensive backs coach Tim Walton for refusing to do scout team work during practice. At such a young age, Apple is still navigating the NFL and will benefit from alliances with his new teammates as he chooses the legacy that he hopes to leave in his career. Maturity is still very much a concern, and he would be wise to take to heart words from Gettleman’s introductory press conference: “This is a big boy league. You got to put your big boy pants on now.”
Despite the exclusion of players like Beckham Jr. who have not yet been medically cleared, the first few weeks of Organized Team Activities have brought the team together in friendly competition, as they work to find the best fits for each position to bring themselves back to championship contention. The depth chart, for instance, is wide open at the moment, and it seems that the players tend to be more collaboratively than competitively as they learn each other and new head coach Pat Shurmur’s new scheme. Nate Solder, who has essentially claimed Ereck Flowers’ job, was seen chatting it up with the former starting left tackle. Flowers has been playing right tackle to test the fit, and Shurmur has praised his performance thus far, as he continues to get to know the player. “I said it with Eli [Apple], clean slate. He’s out here competing and I think that’s what’s most important.” So far, he seems to be holding his own, and right tackle seems to be Flowers’ job to lose.
Jon Halapio and Brett Jones are directly competing to be the starting center, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of their friendship. Halapio credits Jones for teaching him how to play center, and addresses the competition with the utmost humility: “We’re just both competing right now, man, and I think competition brings out the best in both of us.” The two began OTA practices by splitting first-team snaps.
Apple has been impressive on the field, shaking off bad plays and learning from them, and crediting his teammates with good ones. He is the best example of a change in the culture of the locker room and a new team camaraderie, as they practice passionately and playfully on their cheerful and joke-filled field. He is clearly taking advantage of his clean slate blessing, and contributing to a camp-like atmosphere that will be highly beneficial to the morale boost that the crew needs.
And then, of course, there’s Eli Manning, who still has plenty of gas in his tank, despite the missing presence of tackles in these early practices. It can be assumed that he will make full use of his pass-catching squad and that his touchdowns will be a group effort, rather than accounted for by a select few players (Sterling Shepard, Barkley, Evan Engram, and Rhett Ellison will all share the weight).
Community Involvement and Charitable Action
With so many new faces in the organization, it’s important to fans to see their leaders binding together in the sports community. Coach Shurmur threw out the first pitch at the Mets-Diamondbacks game the day before OTAs, in the company of his family. His ball may not have impressed, but he was excited to be in the company of the New York fans, and they were just as thrilled to see him involved. A little over a week later at the other ball field, Saquon threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium prior to the Pinstripes’ victory against the Houston Astros. It is definitely positive look on the Giants organization to see these new figures of our culture active in the glories of New York’s Teams.
In the community service context, the NYPD Finest was greeted with a surprise in late March in the presence of Davis Webb, Dalvin Tomlinson and Avery Moss, who, on behalf of the Giants organization, donated new XTECH pads to the football team. The team, who is one of 22 in National Public Safety Football League, has a record nine championships and will be well-equipped for their five-game 2018 season. The approximately 75-player team of servicemen come from all over the city, boasting all different rankings, and have a passion for football that is only rivaled by their commitment to their city.
But beyond the local community, there is service to be done in other territories, and one of those areas has caught the eye of several G-Men, as they took advantage of their time off to reach out beyond the state of New York. Collins, who lived in New Orleans through Hurricane Katrina, led teammates on a service expedition in Puerto Rico. The interior of the island still has many states that lack electricity, water, and supplies. Collins was joined on his mission by Solder, Michael Thomas, Teddy Williams and Apple immediately prior to the start of OTAs. Collins has expressed his intentions of launching his own disaster relief foundation, inspired by his experiences recovering from Katrina, and the work he and his teammates did over their weekend rebuilding homes and clinics post-Maria. Apple describes his involvement as a part of his efforts to put the past year behind him, fixing his relationship with Collins. In addition to their assistance with the rebuild, the Giants also joined forces with the Juncos American Football Club, replacing the equipment that the team lost in the disaster, and giving the community the opportunity to escape the situation and bind together through football.
The Last Word
As the countdown continues to the start of the season, it seems that the Giants have prioritized morale and team building in preparing to prove their commitment to winning to their disheartened fans. Last season brought a loss of respect, positivity, and game-winning attitude organization-wide. Nips and tucks have jostled the energy of the squad, in an attempt to put the team back on the championship track, but one thing is for sure: The “New” New York Giants do not just refer to the additions to the organization, but comprise it in its entirety, as they have joined forces to amend the “giant” attitude from problematic to progressive.