Two days prior to his debut as an NFL head coach – his first game as a head coach at any level – Joe Judge wasn’t focused on himself, but rather how he can have the Giants best prepared for their Week 1 opener against the Steelers on Monday night.
And the focus was clear, it’s going to come down to the fundamentals.
“Not having a preseason this year, you're going to see a combination of regular season and preseason football early on” Judge said. “We've got to make sure that we play smart football and not make mistakes that cost us. We've got a tough enough opponent with Pittsburgh coming in here, we can't go ahead and do something to set ourselves back. To me, it's about being fundamentally sound in how you approach things and being smart in decision-making on the field.”
Not only did the lack of preseason football not allow for players to get comfortable with a game plan, but it will also be the first time they’ll be going at 100 percent. Judge explained that he tried to adjust for that in practice, as well.
“There's going to be more adrenaline and excitement, especially in the first regular season game,” Judge said. “We have to prepare by putting these guys in stressful situations, and keeping the pace of practice such that they have to think while they're tired. That's the best thing to help them when they get on the field Monday night.”
Judge also announced that Nick Gates will be his starting center on Monday, edging out Spencer Pulley to win the job. He’ll be a part of an offensive line that has a tough task in front of them, facing a Steelers defense that led the league in sacks last season with 54.
“This is a great challenge for our entire team,” Judge said. “Our offensive line has a big challenge ahead of them with Pittsburgh. They're very talented, they're capable of making a lot of disruptive plays, which brings the potential for turnovers on the back end, as well. All of our guys need to come in and play 60 minutes of good football. We need to play disciplined, and we need to be committed to the process of playing and making adjustments throughout the game.”
As he prepares to embark on his first season leading the charge, Judge’s message to Giants fans was simple, once again bringing it back to fundamentals.
“We're working to build a tough, smart, fundamentally sound football team,” he said. “That's where our emphasis is going to lie and that's what we have to work towards getting to. These guys are working hard, there's a lot energy and a lot of urgency. We're going to go out there and work to make the area proud.”