By Art Stapleton


northjersey.com


From the moment he was hired as head coach of the New York Giants, Joe Judge made sure everyone knew what he planned on building.


Three months later, in discussing why the Giants made Andrew Thomas their franchise left tackle, choosing him with the fourth pick of the NFL Draft, Judge again hammered home what he believes is a secret to finding the success that has been lost here.


"You see him compete, you see him play big in big games and that’s important," Judge said. "He was coached very hard at the University of Georgia and that’s a trait we look for. Guys who can play hard and play on big stages and compete."


This is not a finish line, but a starting point for Judge and the Giants, and his voice certainly carried weight in the third NFL Draft for Dave Gettleman as general manager.


Judge promises to be deliberate and demanding with his players, especially those that have become his players in the last 72 hours. ESPN reported Thursday night that Judge laid out his rules for Thomas in a coach-speak primer prior to his Zoom conference call with reporters: talk about working hard and doing your job, not Super Bowls and personal accomplishments.


And yet, even before he gave the missive, Judge knew it was unnecessary.


The Giants have sent a message: there is a new franchise vision, and they'll be calling on the right type of player to carry it out.


Judge wants players who want to be coached, and sometimes that's not always the case. Somewhere between the glory days of Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants got caught up in drafting height, weight and speed guys, favoring Combine freaks over those prospects who produced on the field in college.


Make no mistake: Judge plans on riding his players hard in practice, and he'll expect that from his coaches, too. But one thing stood out from interviews with players who interviewed with the Giants and ended up getting drafted by them is that they came away impressed with the amount of time team personnel put into them personally.


Smart. Tough. Fundamentally sound.


Thomas and second-round safety Xavier McKinney both said the Giants focused on them "as people" in the walk-up to the draft, a clear sign of their reliance on the tape. They talked some football, but much of the conversation focused on finding out what makes the prospects tick.


The best part about the Giants' fifth-round pick of Oregon offensive lineman Shane Lemieux: they clearly are not solely thinking about 2020 with their offensive line, and that's a significant change in philosophy.


They've doubled down at offensive tackles with Thomas and then a developing tackle in UConn's Matt Peart with the 99th overall selection late Friday night. In between, Big Blue nabbed Alabama's McKinney with the 36th overall pick.


Gettleman gets credit for the forward-thinking pick, but he was quick to point out the coaches were pushing for Peart, too.


"He’s a guy that the coaching staff really wanted to work with," Gettleman said.


“Dave’s a lot more into collaboration than people give him credit for,” a team source told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY Network at the Combine. “When it comes to the draft, he respects the opinions of everyone in the room.”


The Giants remain an unfinished product. They still have holes to fill, and this NFL Draft was not going to be enough to take care of all of them.


Overall, these festivities represented a significant step forward for the Giants, both in philosophy and execution. Remember the insight Judge shared during his introductory news conference back in January.


"You have to know every player on your team inside and out because you have to know who you can use with a limited menu," he said. "It’s kind of like when you’re hungry, you go to the fridge, your Dad says figure out a way to make a sandwich. You know it’s in there, but you’ve got to find a way because you’ve got to eat. So, I’ve got to know what everybody does so I can put those ingredients together and get the most out of it."


In building something to last, the Giants have to start somewhere.


And no one should be questioning what the plan is anymore.