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Freddie Kitchens jogged down the practice field in a backwards black hat and a sleeveless white Dri-Fit T-shirt on Tuesday, arriving at offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, quarterback coach Jerry Schuplinski and the QBs.
Kitchens, reassigned this season from tight ends coach to a senior offensive assistant position, appeared to have a message for Garrett about something they were coaching.
He sidled up to Garrett and spoke, gesturing at one point with both hands downwards, referring to one of 100 different elements of that practice’s plan, pace or process.
And Garrett nodded, head bowed, as he listened in, with one eye on his quarterbacks and the other straight ahead as he took in Kitchens’ words.
The next day, Garrett was asked about his collaboration with Kitchens and the many other coaches in the offensive line room, including Pat Flaherty, and about the impact of so many changes and voices on their players.
Garrett responded by naming every coach but one.
“I think the guys have done a really good job responding to it, and obviously Pat Flaherty has coached in this league for a long time,” Garrett said. “He’s a great coach and he’s been a great addition to our staff. But Ben Wilkerson is still here as the assistant offensive line coach, and exciting to have Rob Sale here, as well.
“Seems like the guys have done a good job picking up some of the new techniques that we are trying to teach or some of the different things we are trying to do with our scheme, and the guys have handled it well,” Garrett added. “Excited to be out on the field with our guys every day, and you see them making progress really every time we go out there.”
Kitchens’ name was conspicuously omitted.
Whether Garrett chooses to publicly discuss it or not, however, Kitchens is clearly heavily involved on the offensive side of the ball for the Giants in Joe Judge’s second season.
In May, when Kitchens was reassigned, Judge said Kitchens would be “helping bring together the game planning, like all of our coaches will, but working directly with Jason with some of the things that are going to happen up front.”
That was an amorphous job description, but it seemed to inch towards helping Garrett do his.
Kitchens and Judge go back to 2004, when Judge was a senior at Mississippi State and Kitchens was coaching the Bulldogs’ tight ends. And Kitchens of course was the Cleveland Browns’ head coach and play-caller prior to his firing and New York hiring.
Garrett’s Giants offense ranked 31st in the 32-team NFL last season. His former Cowboys O-line coach Marc Colombo was fired by Judge at midseason in favor of former Patriots O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.
Kitchens also served as interim offensive coordinator in Week 15 when Garrett was out due to a positive COVID-19 test. And while the Giants lost, 20-6, to the Cleveland Browns, Kitchens actually did a good job of pushing the ball downfield.
A couple slight Colt McCoy underthrows and an ill-advised early fake field goal play call kept the offense out of the end zone.
Garrett’s Giants future appeared unclear in January, when he interviewed for the L.A. Chargers’ head coaching vacancy. Only five questions were allowed to Garrett on Wednesday due to a time constraint, so he hasn’t been asked about the Chargers interview yet.
But now that he’s back with the Giants, there is a lot of pressure to produce more points and help Daniel Jones blossom, which is reflected in Judge’s numerous additions and reassignments on that side of the ball.
Garrett’s self-scout of the offense’s 2020 season was refreshingly insightful Wednesday.
“There’s some good things that we did,” he said. “The biggest issue with this team going into last year was obviously the turnovers: over the last couple years, really just not giving the team enough of a chance to win, when you’re down 31, 32 on turnovers and turnover ratio.
“The early part of the year we didn’t do a very good job of that,” Garrett added. “We continued that trend. If you look at us in the latter part of the year, we did a better job taking care of football and winning the turnover ratio, and that gave us a chance to win games down the stretch. That was a positive thing for our team. We certainly have to build on that and we have to become more explosive on offense, make big plays and score more points. And that’s a process we are going through.”
The question now, obviously, is how much Garrett will be changing and how his collaborative work with Kitchens will alter what the Giants’ offense looks like on Sundays.
Multiple league sources questioned after the NFL Draft, for example, if Garrett would be able to effectively use first-round pick Kadarius Toney in his traditional offensive system.
GM Dave Gettleman and Judge gave Garrett more talent to operate the base concepts of his offense this spring, including big-bodied No. 1 wide receiver Kenny Golladay, a more traditional tight end in Kyle Rudolph and a more well-rounded backup running back in Devontae Booker.
But this offense will have to morph into a much more modern, motion-heavy, QB-friendly, unpredictable attack if this team is going to score in the fall.
The offensive line is a major question mark that will color everything about how Jones can use his new weapons, too. Judge acknowledged that in March by assigning four different assistant coaches to help some part of the line. And Garrett addressed the line’s significance in the new OC’s ability to incorporate the new talent, too.
“To add a couple new pieces to the offense, I think the biggest thing we tried to do as coaches is try to evaluate the strengths of all of our players and try to feature them in that regard,” Garrett said. “The game starts up front as we all know. So controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical for us, just like it is for every team around the league. And then you try to put the pieces in place, you feature what they do best. And hopefully you can … score some points.”
This offense’s evolution won’t just go through Garrett the next few months, though. It seems clear Kitchens’ fingerprints will be on it, too, as the Giants leave nothing to chance when it comes to scoring and winning in 2021.