It always means something, but often it does not mean a great deal this time of year when a certain player who is not expected to be with the starters lines up with the first unit on offense or defense.
In the case of John Michael Schmitz, it means more than something.
It means almost everything.
There are portions of training camp when coach Brian Daboll and his staff want to get a look at a player likely groomed for a backup role with the starting group, just to see what it looks like.
This is not done randomly, but it often is more experimental in nature, as there is all sorts of mixing and matching in the summer to get the depth chart organized for when the real season begins.
The second week of camp has come and gone for the Giants, and it appears any experimenting at the center position is over and done with.
After some early alternating, Schmitz, the rookie second-round draft pick from Minnesota, has been repeatedly assigned to work with the starters.
This was the expectation and now it appears it is close to becoming the reality.
“Yeah, I mean, no jobs are won, what day are we on?” Schmitz said recently. “What practice? I mean, we are just a couple of practices into camp.
“Right now, my main focus is just to continue to keep getting better each and every day and gain that trust with that O-line room and that offense to just prove that I can be out there, and I can make the calls and just be urgent with it.”
Of course Schmitz is not going to self-proclaim anything about his status on the team.
It is his job to earn the starting job with his performance each day, and he has, most importantly, stayed healthy and available for each session.
There have been a few mishaps with his shotgun snaps back to Daniel Jones, and that cannot happen once the games count.
There have been a few rough moments going up against defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, but that is a join-the-club deal for Schmitz, as every interior offensive linemen has his hands full with Lawrence.
Mostly, Schmitz has been alert and engaged, befitting an older (24 years old) rookie who spent six years in college and is a natural at the center position.
“John has done a good job so far,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “There’s a lot to learn in our offense. We have a lot of code words, different things that he has to do. The center makes most of the calls up front.
“We’re just encouraging him to be confident. Whatever he calls, that’s how we approach the game. He’s doing a good job for us, and I’m excited to see him play.”
In the first few days of camp, Schmitz and Ben Bredeson were alternating at center with the starters, but that rotation has subsided.
“John Michael’s fitting right in,” Bredeson said. “He’s a great guy — culturally he’s fit right in with us, he hasn’t skipped a beat and he’s coming along really well.”
The next stage of Schmitz’s NFL evolution comes this week, when the Giants engage in two days of joint practices with the Lions in Allen Park, Mich., giving him a different set of defensive linemen to deal with.
“I’d say each and every day, just gain more confidence out there,” Schmitz said. “Keep getting more confident in my calls and putting the offensive line in a position to succeed out there and me and D.J. seeing things the same way as an offense.”
At 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, Schmitz does not look like this is his first year working out in an NFL weight room.
He also sounds as if he is more of an incumbent than a newcomer, unafraid to let his voice be heard as he barks out the line calls to his older teammates.
This is part of a daily reminder to himself to be “loud and be urgent up front.”
The Giants keep the volume turned up in camp, with music blaring from speakers surrounding the practice fields.
It is proper preparation for a road game.
“In a game you have got fans screaming at you,” Schmitz said. “You are going to have to communicate down the line making sure the left tackle and the right tackle know the call. Just to be loud up front.”
It remains to be seen who lines up to the right and left of Schmitz.
Mark Glowinski was the every-snap starter at right guard last season and might be again, with Ben Bredeson and Josh Ezeudu competing for the left guard spot.
Or, all three players are battling for the two starting jobs.
The battle for the starting center spot appears nearing a definitive conclusion.
“I would just say the main goal was to help out the New York Giants in any way possible to succeed at their goal,” Schmitz said. “If it was starting, if it was just having an impact, that’s all I would say.”
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