Under head coach Pat Shurmur, the New York Giants have become students again.
The 53-year-old career coach sees himself and his staff as educators, not just play-callers and disciplinarians.
But even teachers don’t know everything.
“I feel like we (coaches) don’t know it all and I look forward to learning something new everyday,” Shurmur said at his introductory press conference back in January.
You only learn something new every day if you make an effort to do so, and it appears as if the players are following the example set by their head coach.
Rookie running back Saquon Barkley suspended his formal education at Penn State to enter the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he’s no longer a pupil.
“He’ll have questions based on different concepts. He’s looking at the playbook and maybe has questions to make sure everything is correct and why he has this on this one or that one. He is just trying to understand so he can play fast, and understand exactly what he is doing,” said quarterback Eli Manning.
Barkley was sidelined with a hamstring injury for the better part of camp, so he has had to rely on mental reps to get himself ready for the regular season.
“Obviously I would love to be out there and to play as quickly as I can. But that’s part of the game. Injuries are part of the game. Even if I wasn’t in the role or position I am now, there’s some guys that don’t take as many reps as they would like and still have to go out there every single week and produce. So I have to take that mindset and when my time is called and when I’m able to play I have to be 100% ready,” he said.
Some players have more or less experience than others, but nobody keeps their nuggets of knowledge (big or small) to themselves.
According to Barkley, sharing is caring.
“When you have the chemistry, the willingness to go up to your teammates and say hey, what do you see on this play? For instance, if Landon (Collins) beats me on a blitz, and say he knocks my hand down, he would tell me, ‘Come here, you would lean and you were doing this or doing that.’
"Or say if I beat (Alec) Ogletree on a route, I would tell him what he was doing wrong there. It’s about helping each other, because at the end of the day, we’re competing against each other right now, but the main goal as a team is to win every game that we can possibly win.”
Players learning from each other isn’t new, but Shurmur has made a concerted effort to make reciprocal dialogue a part of the Giants’ new culture.
It started with meeting receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on his grounds this offseason so the pair could establish communication ahead of training camp.
Shurmur made a good impression on his star receiver and was undoubtedly one of the reasons Beckham reported for training camp on time and ready to work, which led to a record-breaking contract extension with the team.
When asked why this year’s Giant team can be really good, Beckham immediately pointed to Shurmur’s leadership.
“I think it’s everything starting from coach. Starting with what he’s done since we’ve been here, bringing all of these guys together.”
Shurmur can often be found eating lunch with his players in the cafeteria. It’s unclear if the coach is willing to trade his Lunch-able for a snack-pack, but he is definitely willing to trade dialogue.
“He eats in there a lot with us," said cornerback Janoris Jenkins. "He’ll come by, sit with us, talk it up ask us what we think about what’s going within the defense or on the team and I like that.”
“It’s rare but it’s cool because you earn the respect of some guys on the team," he added. "It lets you know that your head coach is not scared to come and talk to you as a person or as a man and communication is key, as we all know.”
When a head coach has the respect of his best players, a strong culture starts to develop.
Tight end Rhett Ellison played under Shurmur in Minnesota and isn’t surprised by the open lines of communication his new skipper has brought to the Giants’ locker room.
“That’s Shurmur, that’s what he’s good at doing. He’s really good at bringing guys together and getting the right people in the building.”
Time will tell if it all translates to success on the football field, but the Shurmur-led Giants and their new classroom-like culture certainly look promising.