EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo called them “tweaks.” The New York Giants have safeties coach Dave Merritt helping as a sort of co-defensive coordinator, an altered practice schedule -- Friday is no longer a spa day -- and a new dress code, among other things. These are some of the alterations that come with a new boss taking over at this point in the season.
Spagnuolo is hoping these are the kind of minor changes that will lead to better results than the recently fired Ben McAdoo got from his team this season. The Giants (2-10) host the Dallas Cowboys (6-6) on Sunday.
Spagnuolo’s goal now that he’s in charge of the team: “I’ll give every ounce of energy to help unite, restore and win football games,” he said.
"Unite" looks to be a key word there. It seemed to be at the root of much of what Spagnuolo is trying to accomplish with four games left to play.
His opening address to the team at Wednesday’s meeting harped on that concept.
“Just focus on getting one win. Right now, all we can focus in on is the short term. Going out and getting a win against Dallas,” offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. “We have all three of our divisional opponents back at home. So, go out and get a win against Dallas and go from there because really there’s a lot up in the air when you have an interim coach, interim GM. We know changes are looming. We have to go out there and stick together. There’s so much adversity. Pulls us closer and we got to be our best.”
Step 1 for Spagnuolo was reinstalling Eli Manning as the starting quarterback against Dallas. Spagnuolo’s gut told him Manning gives the Giants the best chance to win games. He’s a team leader and well-respected captain.
That move seemed to be well received, and possibly lightened the mood for an organization that seems to have a black cloud hanging over its head.
“Yeah. We reintroduced ourselves to [Manning],” Pugh said. “Especially me. I’ve been out for a little while, so I wanted to go and tell him who I was, even though we shared the scout team huddle last week. It was good to see [Manning] in there.
“Like I said, he’s been my quarterback ever since I got into the league. He was the first call I got after [former coach Tom] Coughlin. After they drafted me, the first call I got was Eli Manning. So, obviously it’s a tough situation, but I’m happy to see 10 out there.”
Practice didn’t just have a new first-string quarterback. Spagnuolo threw in some Frank Sinatra songs early, his personal requests before it shifted to a more modern selection of hip-hop. Welcome to the Spagnuolo era, even if it will last only a few weeks.
It’s hard to imagine the Giants’ defensive coordinator landing the full-time gig even though co-owner John Mara said he will be a candidate. Spagnuolo is the man who has coordinated the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense. That’s dead last.
The Giants will have to finish the season surprisingly strong for him to have any chance. That is going to be difficult given their current roster. Defensive captain Jonathan Casillas (neck/wrist) was the latest to be placed on season-ending injured reserve, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hamstring) is struggling with another injury.
Spagnuolo is still running the defense. That is where most of his time and energy will be utilized. But when he’s called on for other things, Merritt will fill the void.
Players didn’t notice much of a difference Wednesday in that regard. They did notice the dress code. Gray sleeves. Blue shorts. Gray pants. They all had to wear the same colors at practice, a nod to Coughlin’s stricter ways.
Spagnuolo has already changed the players’ schedule this week for Friday and Saturday. McAdoo ran a practice at 80 percent on Saturdays to get players’ muscles firing the day before a game. Spagnuolo apparently doesn’t think that is necessary.
He also might reinstitute Tuesday as the players’ day off instead of Monday. That’s also how it was under Coughlin, McAdoo’s predecessor.
“We might do that. Not 100 percent sure on it,” Spagnuolo said. “The reasoning on the Friday deal was we just felt at this time of the season, really third down and red zone are really, really important [and the Giants want to be] winning those areas, and you got to win them both offensively and defensively.
“So, what that schedule does is gives us an opportunity to do more third down on Thursday and then extend more red zone on Friday, and it’s a schedule I’m real familiar with and I think it’ll help us in the upcoming games.”
All in an effort to win more games, and give Spagnuolo a better chance to land the full-time head-coaching gig.
“It’s going to be different,” veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.