You are coming off the high of getting taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. You are revved up, more than ready to head to your new destination, slip on the colors of your new team, get out on the grass and start showing your new coaches what they are getting.
Instead, there are these marching orders: Sit tight and log in.
“Of course, every rookie that’s coming in wants to get on the field and show what they can do,’’ said Chris Williamson, a cornerback from the University of Minnesota taken by the Giants in the seventh round. “Football is such a physical game, but it’s also a part of the mental makeup. Guys who are successful at the NFL level, it comes from the mental aspect of the game.’’
The mental aspect of the game is all these novice NFL players have right now, arriving into the league during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The Giants on Friday welcomed their draft picks and their undrafted free agents into a three-day rookie minicamp, with all the participants staying safe at home. The entire program, held remotely, put an extra burden on players accustomed to working together in groups, taking what they learned in the classroom and applying it to their roles on the field.
“Because of everything going on right now, I think this is the best option we have,’’ said TJ Brunson, a linebacker from South Carolina selected by the Giants in the seventh round. “I personally don’t have an issue with it. I’d rather be up there in person. If this is how we have to get our football in, then there’s no problem with that.’’
This unique scenario will benefit those who best adjust to a new way of teaching and learning. There is an online component to almost all current college curriculums, but this is not the normal way the NFL does business. Coaches well-versed in classroom instruction must now give power-point presentations. Players more comfortable with hands-on education must keep up in an isolated environment.
First-round pick Andrew Thomas will see for the first time the techniques offensive line coach Marc Colombo prefers. Second-round pick Xavier McKinney will get a look at the defensive scheme in the secondary.
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The advantage rests with those already primed for this. Cornerback Darnay Holmes, the Giants’ fourth-round pick, achieved his bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from UCLA in three years, becoming the first member of his family to graduate college. Remote learning might not be a daunting challenge to him.
“The school curriculum allowed me to implement a strict routine, a routine that allowed me not to sway away into different distractions,’’ Holmes said. “So, by me having this vivid vision, my energy was aligning to it right away. That’s definitely something that I implemented right when I got to UCLA. It was: I’m going to graduate in three years and then from there I’m going to figure out what I want to do. Right away I was a student, then after I graduated, it was like ‘OK, how can I pursue my athlete endeavor?’ And I’m here now being a New York Giant. I’m very excited.’’
Introduction and eventual mastery of the intricacies of his first NFL playbook is next on Holmes’ list of mental challenges.
“You have different tactics that you use to grasp concepts and grasp schemes and make sure that you understand those things,’’ he said. “I don’t memorize, I want to grasp it and understand so I’ll be able to tap into it no matter what the heat of the moment is. I’ll understand it, so I’ll be able to utilize it.’’
Williamson started two years at Florida before transferring and starting last season at Minnesota. He does not bemoan what he and the other rookies have to deal with at the start of their NFL journeys.
“I don’t think it puts anybody at a disadvantage,’’ Williamson said.
Brunson, a two-time team captain at South Carolina, is not so sure about that, but he is not interested in making any excuses.
“I think it’s a disadvantage for rookies not to see where they are going to be and be there in person,’’ he said. “We’re also expected to come in and pick up what’s going on and play fast. I think this will help us when we get there. Hopefully it’s before August. If we don’t get there until August, we’re supposed to hit the ground and be able to pick up everything that’s going on. I think this gives us a chance to really understand the calls and the defense and get out there and play fast.’’
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