Giants announce dates, times for 2021 preseason games

The Giants announced the dates and kickoff times for their three 2021 preseason games, the team announced on Tuesday.

The NFL this year increased each team’s regular-season schedule to 17 games and reduced the traditional four-game preseason to three.

The Giants will play their first game on Saturday, Aug. 14, when they host the Jets at 7:30 p.m. The teams met in 51 consecutive summers (1969-2019) before last year’s game – and the NFL’s entire preseason schedule – was canceled due to the pandemic. This will be just the fourth time the teams that share MetLife Stadium will meet in the preseason opener. They also faced each other to open the preseason in 1983, 2010 and 2019 and were scheduled to do so again in 2020. The Giants have won the four previous preseason meetings to tie the annual series – which began in 1969 – at 25-25-1. The tie was in 1972.

On Sunday, Aug. 22, the Giants will play a rare early-afternoon preseason game when they visit the Cleveland Browns at 1 p.m. The teams’ preseason series is also tied, at 9-9. They last met in the preseason on Aug. 9, 2018, a 20-10 Browns victory in New Jersey. The Giants’ most recent preseason visit to Cleveland was on Aug. 21, 2017, when they lost, 10-6.

Coach Joe Judge will face his former team for the first time when the Giants and New England Patriots meet in MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. The Giants and Patriots will continue a tradition of ending the preseason by playing each other, as they did for 15 consecutive summers from 2005-19. The Giants lead the preseason series, 20-10. The two teams first met in the preseason in 1971.

In their most recent preseason in 2019, the Giants were 4-0, defeating the Jets, Bears, Bengals and Patriots.

The Giants open their regular season on Sunday, Sept. 12, at home against the Denver Broncos. They do not play any of their preseason opponents in the regular season.

Former Giants head coach Jim Fassel dies of heart attack

Jim Fassel, who led the Giants to three playoff berths and a Super Bowl and mentored some of the franchise’s greatest players in his seven seasons as the team’s coach, has passed away.

He was 71.

According to numerous reports, Fassel, who lived outside of Las Vegas, was taken to a hospital with chest pains and died of a heart attack while under sedation.

Fassel coached the Giants from 1997-2003. His 58 career regular-season victories are the fourth-highest total among the 19 coaches in the 96-year history of the franchise. He was named NFL Coach of the Year after his first season.

After those two seasons with the Giants, rumors surfaced for the first time that Fassel was on the hot seat and that he had to reach postseason play in 2000 to keep his job.

He did better than that, leading the Giants to the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a 12-4 record, a 41-0 demolition of Minnesota in the conference championship game and a berth in Super Bowl XXXV. The journey to get there was unlikely and unforgettable.

On November 12 and 19, the Giants lost home games to St. Louis and Detroit to fall to 7-4. With three of their final five games on the road, the Giants looked to be in trouble and the pressure on Fassel ratcheted up. No one could have predicted how Fassel would respond.

Three days after the loss to the Lions, Fassel delivered a startling performance at what was normally a pro forma news conference.

“This team is going to the playoffs,” he declared to a room full of stunned reporters. “I believe in my players, I believe in my coaches and I believe in myself.  I have a lot of confidence in myself. I have a lot of confidence in my coaches and I have a lot of confidence in the players and I have no fear. I came into this season with a lots of people wondering if I was worried about my job. I’m not worried about it, I’m not worried about the pressure. I’ve got no worries. I’ve got no fear. None. Zero. Count on it.”

The Giants responded in their next game by routing the Cardinals in Arizona, 31-7. The following week they edged Washington, 9-7, to take control of the NFC East race. After Fassel’s declaration, the Giants won their final five regular-season games to finish a game ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East race. After defeating the Eagles in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game, the Giants annihilated the Vikings in the conference championship game.

“Without a doubt, in a big game, that was by far the best one of my teams ever played,” Fassel said.

The dream run ended with a thud. Facing the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants fell into a 17-0 hole and did not score an offensive touchdown in a crushing 34-7 loss, their only defeat in five Super Bowl appearances.

Fassel coached at the collegiate and professional levels for 30 years. He was the head coach at the University of Utah from 1985-89 and he coached in four different professional leagues (the World Football League, United States Football League, NFL and UFL). Fassel coached Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway as an offensive coordinator at Stanford and with the Denver Broncos and he also had NFL stints with the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals.

Meyer on Robinson: ‘I can’t name a harder worker right now on our team’

Last season, after the Jaguars released RB Leonard Fournette, then undrafted rookie free agent James Robinson took advantage of the opportunity. He started 14 games in 2020 and finished with 1,414 scrimmage yards (1,070 rushing, 344 receiving), the most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie in the common draft era. He was the only rookie in the NFL to average more than 100 scrimmage yards per game last season. His 1,070 rushing yards ranked second among rookies and fifth overall. 

Robinson scored 10 total TDs (seven rushing, three receiving), which were tied for the fourth-most among rookies in the NFL in 2020. 

This season, Robinson will have some competition. First-round pick RB Travis Etienne Jr. will be the mix as well as veteran RB Carlos Hyde.

“When they brought those guys in, I knew of them,” Robinson said on Thursday during OTAs in Jacksonville. “It’s really just I have to go out there and control what I can control, and once I get my opportunity, just make the most of it.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many things were virtual last season, and according to Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, having players in person will benefit Robinson and the team.

“We’re keeping our distance from each other, but a team meeting is so much better than the Zoom,” Meyer said. “And I heard—I wasn’t coaching last year—but the horror stories about videos not being able to show videos, the technology wasn’t great. So, having them here in person has been fantastic. James Robinson is one of my favorite guys. I can’t name a harder worker right now on our team, and that started in January all the way through June now. So, I love that guy.”

Robinson added: “It gives all of us a lot of opportunities to learn the offense more instead of just being virtual and having to do it yourself. Getting to work with the quarterbacks and the new guys coming in, it helps all of us because if you’re just doing it on your own, you’re not really getting the work that you need. There’s certain coaching points that we need to know, and just having OTAs and being here helps out a lot.”

It should be interesting to see the role Robinson will have this season, but regardless of the role, it appears he will work hard to put himself in a position to succeed.

Johnson: ‘I’d be a fool to say I’m not nervous going into something where I’m out of my element’

Fighters competing on the Mayweather-Paul SHOWTIME PPV undercard previewed their respective showdowns during a final press conference Friday before entering the ring this Sunday, June 6, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. 

Also participating in the press conference was former NFL star Chad Johnson, who will battle Bare Knuckle Boxing’s Brian Maxwell in an exhibition bout. 

Throughout his 11-year NFL career, Johnson used boxing to prepare for football, and as he prepares to step in the ring with Maxwell, Johnson expects to be a little nervous on fight night. 

“I’ve been using boxing to prepare for football throughout the years, but I’ve never done it to this magnitude,” Johnson said. “To prepare for an actual fight is something new. I’m facing a guy who does this for a living, so I’m not taking this lightly at all.

“I was always nervous before every kickoff. So I’d be a fool to say I’m not nervous going into something where I’m out of my element.”

Johnson has entertained on and off the field, and he expects to put on a show for the fans.

“One thing I’m extremely good at is when there’s lights, cameras, and a crowd is going in there and entertaining,” Johnson said.

To get ready for the Maxwell, the six-time Pro Bowler has been working with some of the top guys in combat sports, including the Charlo Brothers and Jorge Masvidal, and he hopes that will help him on Sunday night.

“I’ve been working with Jorge Masvidal a little bit, but the last few weeks have been in Houston with Jermall and Jermell Charlo,” he said. “That’s where most of my work has been. I’ve been doing everything possible to make sure I look the part Sunday night.

 “I’m out of my element, so of course, I’m approaching this fight humbly. He’s coming to knock my head off. Football is something I did all my life; that’s why I walked the way I did. I can’t be arrogant and take this fight lightly.”

You can’t play boxing. However, this is an exhibition, so no one will get seriously hurt, but it should be interesting to see how Johnson looks in the ring against Maxwell.
  
 

 

Photo: Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Jaguars’ sign WR Pharoh Cooper

The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed former Pro Bowl and All-Pro WR Pharoh Cooper, the team announced on Thursday.

Cooper, 26, spent the 2020 season with the Carolina Panthers. Entering his sixth season, Cooper made his mark on special teams. He has 82 punt returns for 729 yards and 104 kickoff returns for 2,523 yards and one TD. Cooper was a Pro-Bowler with the Rams in 2017.

The Los Angeles Rams originally drafted Cooper in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.

In another move, Jacksonville placed WR Terry Godwin on the injured reserve list.

Jaguars hire Nick Sorensen as special teams coordinator

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Nick Sorensen as team’s special teams coordinator, the team announced Tuesday.

The 42-year-old Sorensen replaces Brian Schneider, who reportedly stepped away due to personal reason. Sorenson most recently served as the secondary coach/nickel specialist with the Seahawks after initially joining the team as a special teams assistant in 2013 before transitioning to secondary coach in 2017.

Sorensen began his coaching career as a defensive quality control coach at Youngstown State.

He played as a safety for 10 years in the NFL including four seasons in Jacksonville (2003-06), where he served as the team’s special teams captain. He also played with the Rams from 2001-02 and the Browns from 2007-10. He originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2001 before joining the Rams later that season. Sorensen played in Super Bowl XXXVI as a member of the Rams. During his professional playing career, he tallied 133 special teams tackles.

Giants’ Judge on fans: ‘Personally, I can’t wait to walk in a stadium and hear it at a deafening level’

The nature and form of offseason workouts across the NFL has been a hot topic of discussion throughout the spring. Players on several teams have negotiated directly with their coaches to change practice schedules and regimens.

The Philadelphia Eagles did away with 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills and canceled their mandatory three-day minicamp. In Green Bay, the coaches agreed to two weeks of virtual workouts and to move the minicamp up one week. And Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores consented to a modified schedule in which the team won’t have virtual meetings on the two days per week that they hold walkthrough practices. And to ensure they’re strictly walkthroughs, the Dolphins players negotiated for mandatory flip-flops at those workouts.

Giants coach Joe Judge said today he’s had no such discussions with his players, and he is sticking to his offseason plan.

“I think our players understand that any time we put them on the field we are always going to do so first off with their safety in mind,” Judge said in a Zoom news conference before the team took the field for an organized team activity. “Then also what we think is best for the team to progress each individual’s technique and conditioning as well as the team collectively going forward. No, look, I’m always very clear, very transparent with the team in terms of how we’re going to practice, what we are going to do and what our intents are going on the field and the reason behind that. We haven’t had any discussions like that. If at some point some player wants to talk, I’m always very open and I’ll give them a very direct answer.”

The Giants will be on the field 11 times this spring – eight OTAs (two under the allowed maximum), plus a three-day mandatory minicamp next month.

“That was just a good schedule for us to work on in terms of getting what we want accomplished through the install and the players to get a chance to jump on their summers,” Judge said. “A lot of guys will be training elsewhere with different players and locations and others go to family vacation and build back into training. We thought it was a good time frame for us to wrap up camp. The rookies have time on the back end when the vets leave to stay and get some extra meeting time and with the strength and conditioning staff and to really help their development leaving training camp.”

What does Judge hope to accomplish before the players depart for their pre-training camp break?

“The first part is see where our players are at physically,” he said. “Until I know these guys can go out and operate at 100 percent and stay healthy and protect themselves on the field, soft tissues, and we want to avoid collisions at this part of the camp. Until we know that, we are not really going to go ahead and keep this as a competitive drill. You will see team on team, 11-on-11 activities out there, but we will control the tempo in practice. But there are other times in individual and group work where we will ramp that up and make sure the guys work on skill development, timing, offense, defense, and place a large emphasis on communication this time of year.

“You have to take the mental steps forward in terms of the understanding of the scheme and you have to develop chemistry with the communication on offense and defense. This is a great time of year to have it. You’re not preparing for an opponent and you can take it day-by-day and challenge the players in different ways and see the interaction grow with young and old guys.”

*Because of the pandemic, the Giants did not have a single fan attend any of their eight home games in Judge’s first season as coach. But the state of New Jersey this week gave the Giants the green light to host capacity crowds this year in MetLife Stadium.

“I couldn’t be more excited to know there’s going to be 100 percent capacity,” Judge said. “I’m not going to speak for the entire team, but I know there’s a lot of energy, upon hearing that announcement. Personally, I can’t wait to walk in a stadium and hear it at a deafening level. That’s something I’m really looking forward to and feeling the energy of the fans. It’s something we’ve missed, and I’ve expressed before how much we value and thrive on as a team, going out playing in front of your home crowd and the animosity playing on the road against a visiting crowd.”

Sixth-year wide receiver Sterling Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player, looks forward to the return of large and loud home crowds.

“I feel great about it,” Shepard said. “I missed the fans a lot. Last season was a little weird playing without them. Happy to get them back in the stands, cheering us on.”

*With the NFL loosening restrictions on jersey numbers, Shepard has switched from No. 87 to No. 3, which both his late father and he wore at the University of Oklahoma.

“(It’s) something that means a lot to me,” Shepard said. “It’s been a number that I’ve been since I was a little kid, after my father passed. He wore No. 3 in college. That’s something that meant a lot to me, a lot to his teammates. I wanted to carry that on.

“When I came into the league, you couldn’t get single digits. Whenever the rule changed, I was happy to grab that.”

Via: Michael Eisen/NY Giants

Jags’ Jones on Tebow: ‘It’s been good to have him here’

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed former Bengals and Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. to a two-year, $12.5 million deal in the offseason. With the signing of Jones, the Jaguars bring more experience to their wide receiver room and somebody who can play.

Last season, the 31-year-old Jones had 76 receptions for 978 yards with nine receiving touchdowns.

Jacksonville continued Phase three of voluntary OTAs on Thursday in Jacksonville, and according to Jones, the Jaguars have a versatile group of wide receivers. 

“There’s a lot of people, a lot of receivers in our group that can have different abilities and can put them in different places,” Jones said. “You put Laviska [Shenault Jr.] in the backfield and watch him work and stuff like that. Everybody’s been great, and everybody’s been taking the coaching and just having a good time. So, we’re just going to continue to do that.”

In 2021, Jones will probably be catching passes from the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, QB Trevor Lawrence. At this point, Jones likes what he sees out of the former Clemson quarterback.

“Obviously, it’s been a short time, but obviously, the guy’s gifted,” Jones said about Lawrence. “You can see it when he throws the ball. We’ve gotten some good work. There’s a lot of people here, so everybody’s kind of been rotating and getting a feel of the offense and stuff like that. So far, so good.”

Jones Jr. is also happy to have TE Tim Tebow around, who is hoping to resurrect his career after not playing an NFL regular season game since 2012. 

“I’m kind of mad because I was the oldest guy on the team,” Jones said. “Now, he has me by two years, so I have to talk to him about that, but it’s been great. Obviously, everybody knows the type of worker that he is, and it’s no different. He came in here and fit right in, just working and learning and stuff like that. In the back, when he’s not in, he’s looking at the plays and running extra and doing what he needs to do to get this new position going. So, it’s been good; it’s been good to have him here most definitely.”

With D.J. Chark, Shenault, and Jones in the mix, Jacksonville’s wide receivers should be better, which will help Lawrence in 2021.

Watch highlights of Jacksonville’s practice from Thursday:

 

Antonio Brown re-signs with Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have re-signed wide receiver Antonio Brown, the team announced on Tuesday. The deal was reportedly agreed upon for weeks, but Brown recently underwent a procedure on his right knee, and on Tuesday, he was able to pass his physical. 

According to Tom Pelissero, it’s a one-year deal worth up to $6.25 million with $3.1 million fully guaranteed, including a $2 million signing bonus.

The 32-year-old Brown was suspended eight games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in 2020. After missing most of the 2019 season following his release from the Raiders and Patriots, the Buccaneers gave Brown a second chance when they signed him last October. 

In eight regular-season games with the Buccaneers, the 11-year veteran had 45 receptions for 483 yards and four touchdowns. Throughout Tampa Bay’s 2020 postseason run to a 31-9 win in Super Bowl LV, Brown hauled in eight receptions for 81 and two touchdowns over three games played.

Brown’s return is huge for Tampa Bay, and with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay has one of the best group of wide receivers in the NFL.

Giants, Jets to be at full capacity in 2021

Fans of the New York Giants and Jets will be able to see their teams in person this season. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced today that the Jets and Giants can be at full capacity in 2021 at MetLife Stadium.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Giants and Jets could not play in front of fans in 2020. 

Here is a joint statement from the Giants and Jets on the return of fans in 2021:

“We are thrilled by Governor Murphy’s announcement today to have MetLife Stadium operate at full capacity for the 2021 season. We can’t wait to welcome our fans back, creating the gameday atmosphere we have all been missing. We will continue to work to ensure the return of fans is accomplished in a safe and responsible way.”

The Giants host the Broncos in Week 1, while the Jets have their home-opener in Week 2 against the Patriots.