FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New York Giants had two joint practices with the New England Patriots last week, and after each one the Giants went to condition by running on the hill behind the Gillette Stadium practice field.
This is a move usually reserved for coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots, but on Wednesday and Thursday it was as if someone had subbed out the Patriots and replaced them with coach Joe Judge’s players in blue.
This can be traced to Judge having worked under Belichick for eight seasons. They seem to run similar, though hardly identical, programs.
Judge admittedly has taken coaching tips and ideas from Belichick — the same way he has done from every coach he has ever worked for, including Belichick’s close friend Nick Saban at Alabama.
The similarities were evident throughout the week, especially when the teams competed against each other in drills.
“Will the layout and format of practice look familiar?” Judge said before the joint sessions. “There are some familiar drills that we do, we’ll actually do competitively against them, that you’ve seen us do in early parts of practice. … Is this going to look identical or a carbon copy? Absolutely not. Are there similarities from any coach who comes from a different program? Yeah, there’s always something you can trace back and say that looks very familiar.”
This is the blessing — and curse — that comes with being a Belichick disciple. Judge had the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest football coaches of all time, and that helped him get his shot at being a head coach. It also leads to the inevitable comparisons with former Belichick assistants — such as Josh McDaniels when he was with the Denver Broncos, Eric Mangini with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, Matt Patricia with the Detroit Lions, and Romeo Crennel with the Browns and Kansas City Chiefs — who didn’t meet expectations as head coaches.
Judge’s hard training camp, which included running laps for errors and daily conditioning sprints, combined with the sudden retirements of offensive linemen Zach Fulton and Joe Looney and linebacker Todd Davis, have made him an easy target for criticism.
Former Giants offensive lineman and current NFL analyst Geoff Schwartz is among several former players who have scrutinized Judge’s approach. Last year, Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe was also critical of the coach, saying of Judge making the team run laps for mistakes: “This isn’t going to end well.” Retired offensive lineman Jeff Allen chimed in this year with: “The New England way outside of New England is toxic.”
It’s as if this is going to be an annual summer ritual, even though former Giants greats such as Phil Simms have strongly shot back against the narrative.
Not that Judge seems to care.
“I can’t control what people say,” Judge said. “I do what I think is best to get our team ready for the season and make them safe individually to play.”
It’s clear he’s doing things his way.
Judge is unabashedly confident and willing to conform the program to his personal taste. For instance, the Giants haven’t played their starters much, if at all in the case of quarterback Daniel Jones, in preseason action, something Belichick often does. Judge also has gone out of his way to rest players (including receiver Kenny Golladay, who is dealing with a hamstring injury) and use extra caution with those who have been banged up this summer.
“Joe is himself. I’ve known Joe for a lot of years, and Joe is himself — how he talks, what he believes in, his lifestyle, how he grew up,” said former Patriots and current Giants defensive back Logan Ryan. “He’s really hard-nosed and blue-collar, and he shows that.
“I don’t think he’s faking that. I don’t think he’s taking that from another man. I think that’s really who he is.”
For Judge, it’s all about getting this Giants organization on the right track. He believes last season’s 6-10 campaign was a success because he was able to instill the culture and program he desires.
Now the hope is that having that culture and program will help the Giants replicate what the Patriots have done in terms of championship results.
“I followed this program for a long time. And you see the culture he’s trying to instill here,” said Giants tight end Kyle Rudolph, who played under Belichick disciple Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. “We have a really young team. It’s a team that needs to learn how to win. He says it all the time, ‘You can’t start winning until you stop losing.’ You see that day in and day out. The way he pushes us on our fundamentals, on our technique and, to me, it’s the first time I’ve had a head coach that is not a defensive coordinator. It’s a head coach that is in charge of the entire team.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Judge’s program is a facsimile of Belichick’s as long as it produces victories.