Why Joe Judge won't let up on New York Giants' conditioning

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At the conclusion of spring workouts, all the New York Giants players would line up on the goal line. They knew what was coming. That was when the whistles would blow and they were expected to begin their full-field, post-practice sprints.

It was the same on the first day of training camp Wednesday. The Giants players, split by position groups, aligned on the three fields at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. The defensive backs paired with the wide receivers on the inside field closest to their indoor facility. Flanked to their right, directly in front of the media, were the linebackers, running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks. All the way at the back, on a field that runs perpendicular to the other two, were the offensive and defensive linemen.

All three groups might have been running at different speeds, but the distances and frequencies remained the same. They all ran/jogged four 100-yard sprints.

These are coach Joe Judge's Giants. They admittedly run more than most, all done with a purpose.

"In terms of conditioning itself ­-- look, I was a player," Judge said. "I've got a 15-year-old son. The first thing he wants to tell me about every day I pick him up at practice is what they did for conditioning. I have to explain to him, 'I really don't care. What did you do for football?'

"Conditioning is part of football."

Judge's conditioning tests on Tuesday consisted of 20 sprints per player. The skill-position players were expected to run 60 yards in under eight seconds. Tight ends, linebackers and quarterbacks 50 yards in under seven seconds and linemen 40 yards in under six seconds.

It might seem demanding, but Judge has his reasons. His conditioning test is designed to simulate practice reps with recovery and repeated efforts.

The players were ready for this specific challenge.

"I'm pleased with the team's progress over the summer. Everyone passed [the test]," Judge said. "We've got a lot of guys, you can tell, who have worked extremely hard over the summer. All that is just to show that they have the opportunity to get on the field and work."

Every team has a conditioning test. The difficulty varies depending on the coach. Judge's version just reiterates his commitment to conditioning his team as much on Day 1 of training camp as he does during a spring workout. Last summer he had his assistants running with players early in camp to pound his point home.

In Year 2 of his program, the running has become an expectation. Judge was direct with everyone, including newcomers, about this subject right from the start.

"I think they know when they come here you're going to run," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "I think anyone that stems from that [coaching] tree, you know you're going to run and be in condition. I think the guys want that. When you're in condition, you play that much faster. It's injury proof."

Peppers says there is a much stronger emphasis on conditioning now than what he experienced previously with the Cleveland Browns or under coach Pat Shurmur with the Giants. He insists he felt the benefits late in games last season, claiming to be fresher mentally and physically than ever before.

It's a feeling shared by veteran receiver Sterling Shepard, who hasn't seen much bickering and complaining about the increased running from his teammates.

"I think that's on the older guys on the team to get everybody to embrace it and kind of buy into it," Shepard said. "It's something that I know not many teams do around the league, but it's something that a lot of the guys here have bought into and we see the benefits from it. We would get in the fourth quarter and see the other team gasping for air and we were doing fine. Whenever you see the outcome like that, it's reassuring that everything is working."

The numbers did not show the conditioning to be an advantage late in games for the Giants, who were outscored 114-78 in the fourth quarter last season. But Judge says that statistic doesn't tell the full story.

"We're getting our players' bodies to stay healthy," he said of his emphasis on conditioning. "One thing we do is a lot of research and self-scout. We went back after last year and we showed it to the players themselves and then came back in the spring to explain why we practice the way we do. It was reflected in a decrease in injuries across the board within this organization as well as relative to the league. We were one of the healthiest teams last year in the league and the healthiest this team has been in a long time."

If you remove COVID-19 from the equation, the Giants ranked 23rd in the NFL in adjusted games lost because of injury last season according to Football Outsiders. Running back Saquon Barkley's season-ending knee injury in Week 2 impacted that ranking, but Judge is confident the team is making progress when it comes to strains and nagging muscle injuries.

So the running and conditioning isn't going to decrease under this regime.

"Look, you can't put a player on the field and tell them to play 100% for 60 minutes if you haven't trained them that way," he said. "To me, there's a difference in practicing and training. We talk to our players all the time, we say, 'We're going out for practice,' but we're really going out to train. We're trying to get their bodies ready to go ahead and perform how they have to in a game, and the most dangerous thing you can do for a player is skimp on how you practice.

"Whether that's conditioning to get their bodies in the right position and build up that callus within their muscles so that they don't have soft-tissue injuries on the field. Whether that's practicing things like live hitting and live tackling and making sure that when they go out there and the pace of the game is actually faster, that they're in a position to be prepared to do it safely and effectively. So, anything they're going to have to do in a game, we're going to make sure that we practice, correct, repeat, practice again."

That includes running.