For once this season, the Giants got to experience the best-case scenario.
An ominous Thursday – one that included starting guard Will Hernandez testing positive for COVID-19, and seven other “close contact” players and two assistant coaches being told to remain home from practice – ceded to good news Friday.
All the non-confirmed cases, including starters Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates and Cam Fleming, tested negative, along with both coaches.
Hernandez, meanwhile, is asymptomatic, according to multiple reports. He could technically return as soon as Monday night’s game against Tampa Bay if he gets two negative tests in a 24-hour span, though that seems unlikely. Hernandez, who’s started every game since being drafted in 2018, is in self-isolation and will be out for at least 10 days if he develops symptoms, according to the league’s policy.
“I think it was a great opportunity for the team to see how everyone has to step up and be ready at all times,” coach Joe Judge said. “Obviously, we’re relieved that there were no more positive tests at this moment and that our guys are back in the building working, but we have to put the emphasis on, we have to continue to be very cautious and be proactive in the steps we take.”
Gates said those who were deemed “close contact” by contact tracing took three tests – on Thursday and two more on Friday before being cleared. He’s been in touch with Hernandez, he said, and believes him to be doing well. Gates also said he has confidence in Shane Lemieux, the 2020 fifth-round pick who probably will get the start in Hernandez’s place. Lemieux, who has played two snaps this season but none at his guard position, was also told to stay home Thursday and returned Friday.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Shane,” Gates said. “He’s a smart player, a tough player. He’s proven to me and the whole line…he can play football and he’s going to be a good player.”
Other players told to stay home Thursday were reserve offensive lineman Spencer Pulley, along with Chad Slade and Binjimen Victor, off the practice squad. Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema were also gone, making for a challenging, but still beneficial practice day Thursday, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said.
The ad hoc offensive line Thursday included tight end Eric Tomlinson playing at right guard, four lineman, and Kevin Zeitler as the only starter practicing. They focused mostly on what they could do: 7-on-7 drills and early-down passing, Garrett said. The day went forward without a scout team offensive line for the first-string defense, he said. Thursday’s review of the video, along with Friday morning’s install meetings were all virtual.
“We’ve been talking about being mentally tough enough to be your best regardless of circumstance and thriving under adversity from day one,” Garrett said. It was “a good example yesterday of our guys stepping up and getting that done, but, again, certainly excited to have our guys back in practice today.”
Garrett didn’t believe the Giants suffered from the one-day personnel setback and said the entire season has been a game of adaptation. The Giants had contingencies in place if players didn’t return and will continue to have emergency action plans in a year shrouded by the specter of COVID-19.
“You try to make sure you dot all the Is and cross all the Ts and more so now,” he said. “We’ve talked about different situations. You throw out different hypotheticals…The thing you don’t want to do is chase ghosts all over the place and spend all your time on stuff that, the likelihood of it happening isn’t very high. Having said that, yesterday, we had a number of offensive lineman who weren’t in our building, so that’s a real-life situation that we have to contend with, that we have to be ready for.”
Laura Albanese is a general assignment sports reporter; she began at Newsday in 2007 as an intern.