Giants' Joe Judge on the qualities he looks for in special teams players

·3 min read
Joe Judge vs Bucs
Joe Judge vs Bucs

Giants head coach Joe Judge spoke to the media on Saturday as the team wrapped up their second day of rookie minicamp.

Judge served as the special teams coordinator for the New England Patriots from 2015-2019, while working as an assistant on special teams for two seasons prior. With all of that experience, he understands the certain type of player that can have a successful career on special teams.

"Yeah, I think a lot of things we talk about when you talk about special teams players are more intangibles, sense of urgency, physicality, guys that really play with a heightened sense of intensity on field at the end of the day," Judge said. "The intangibles we look for in common for every player on special teams is speed, you know, and really speed is the biggest difference. It's a space gain, so it really starts with the coverage units.

"You talk about special teams, return game is nice. It's very important but ultimately it comes down to, you know, punt and kickoff coverage. You really build your special teams and your coverage unit, and it's got to start with speed. Some guys are fast players, some guys are speed players, some guys are smaller more athletic speed players. But you want to make sure they have an advantage in space in single blocks and being able to beat double teams."

Special teamer Nate Ebner played all 16 games for the Giants in 2020, making eight total tackles. The defensive back is quite versatile, and is currently training for a spot on the United States national rugby team for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Judge expects Ebner to be a member of the Giants this season, as his unique combination of speed and strength make a great special teams player.

"A lot of things you get with special teams players is you get a mix of body types and a lot of times there's a measurement of stiffness that correlates to being on special teams," Judge said. "It's not a desirable trait, but just something a lot of those guys end up having and the thing that allows players to control their stiffness in space. We do a lot with guys working on drills, working on football position and body positions and hopefully it carries over and gives them a chance to control their stiffness and play in space."

Jan 3, 2021; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants head coach Joe Judge talks with an official against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2021; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants head coach Joe Judge talks with an official against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants selected RB Gary Brightwell in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, as Judge sees the 6-foot-1, 218 pounder as someone who could thrive on special teams. Brightwell averaged 17.2 yards on five kickoff returns and recorded eight tackles (seven solo) on special teams while at Arizona.

"Yeah, I do, I think Gary has enough traits to work with and build with," Judge said. "He's a long way from some of the top players in the last few decades and there's a reason those guys have made a living out of it and won a lot of games and been successful.

"There's things you see from Gary as a running back and you saw on his tape in college covering kicks that we are giving him the opportunity to come and compete. But he definitely has the speed and the size to factor in and go out there and give himself an opportunity. Now at this point it's just an opportunity. We'll see what he does with it and it's up to him and go ahead and carry the coaching to the field, and it's up to us as coaches to put him in the right position to be successful."

Rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari also spoke to media on Saturday, and discussed meeting his head coach face-to-face for the first time at Rookie Camp.

"Oh, yeah, it was great," Ojulari said. "You know, just got to finally meet the head coach, the one that runs the show. It was a great opportunity for me to meet him. I'm happy to be here with him and I'm ready to work with him."