EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - On the first play of practice, Will Hernandez, the Giants' feisty rookie guard, ended up grabbing the facemask of a linebacker, and they looked ready to fight until teammates and coaches rushed in to break it up.
That was Monday. The linebacker was his teammate, B.J. Goodson. And the practice was being run at half speed.
So imagine what could happen when the Giants and Lions begin three days of intense joint-practices in Allen Park, Mich., on Tuesday morning.
"When you have a bunch of guys out there that are competitors," Hernandez said, "it's bound to happen."
He's right. It often does. In fact, the Jets and Redskins proved that point - and the risk of joint practices - with their wild brawls at their joint practice in Richmond, Va., on Sunday. For whatever value NFL coaches seem to find in holding training camp practices against other teams, things do tend to happen when oversized, overheated football players on opposing teams run into each other repeatedly in the middle of summer.
Players get chippy. The hits are a little fiercer. Guys get tired and frustrated. The trash talk gets thick. Then things turn violent.
So why do coaches keep putting their players in these dangerous situations where they run the risk of getting in a stupid fight at a meaningless practice, and end up getting hurt?
Giants coach Pat Shurmur outlined his reasons on Monday - everything from the value of team bonding on an extended road trip, to learning how to compete against other players, to seeing and working against new schemes. He also insisted, "We want to be smart," and seemed confident his team could avoid what happened to the Jets and Redskins.
Of course, coaches always believe that. But, in the heat of battle against a team you want to beat, the real question is: How?
"That's part of being a pro, is being able to practice not only with your team but with other teams," Shurmur said. "I understand competitive spirit. … But I think it's always important to keep your composure."
And that's what he told his team. It's also almost certainly what Todd Bowles told the Jets before they turned the practices against the Redskins into a free-for-fall over the weekend. And like the Jets surely did, the Giants' players listened and nodded their heads swearing they understood.
But again, in the heat of the moment, will the message really sink in?
"The most important thing is you have to have it clear that you're going out there to work and get better, not to go out there and fight," Hernandez said, making it clear he got Shurmur's message.
"Sometimes you can't avoid those situations," he added. "It happens. … I'm not against it. I'm also not for it. If it happens, it happens."
OK, he's a feisty rookie talking tough. But the Jets-Redskins brawl, which eventually involved more than 30 players, started with Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson and Redskins offensive lineman Morgan Moses. Johnson is in his seventh NFL season. Moses is in his fifth.
And afterwards, Bowles sounded as shocked by the events as Captain Renault was to find gambling at Rick's Café in Casablanca.
"We're not trying to fight them and they're not trying to fight us," Bowles said. "If they want to be boxers and wrestlers, they probably would be in another sport. We're trying to get better and they're trying to get better. Some things happen. Overzealousness. I'll talk to my guys and (Redskins coach Jay) Gruden will talk to his guys."
OK, great. They probably talked to them before practice Sunday and a lot of good that did. Besides, really, what did they think was going to happen?
It doesn't always happen, of course. Most joint practices have little incidents, but they don't all erupt in complete mayhem. But there is a history of it happening. There are still plenty of people in the Giants organization who remember 2005 and the joint Giants-Jets practices in Albany, when near-simultaneous, sideline-clearing brawls erupted on two different fields on different ends of campus. And those were just the feature attractions of a day filled with minor skirmishes.
At one point, then-Giants coach Tom Coughlin and then-Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson exchanged some heated words.
Fights like that are dangerous, but the fights aren't the only risk. Intersquad practices are much less controlled. The last thing the Giants need is some young, Lions, third-stringer trying to make an impression on his coach (and make the team) by hitting a Giants player a little harder than he's supposed to. One extra shove near the sidelines, a bigger hit in the open field, or a more aggressive block in traffic could cause an injury that could cost either team a key starter.
Yes, there's a risk of that in any practice. But get the juices flowing in a competitive environment against another team, and those risks increase exponentially.
"Part of what makes these guys special is they really look forward to the physical part of what this game is all about," Shurmur said. "And every once in a while things heat up."
That is undeniably true. Hopefully in the next few days they don't get so hot that someone has to pay the price for it. Hopefully Shurmur and Lions coach Matt Patricia really can keep their 180 players under control. The odds would seem stacked against it. Just ask Bowles and Gruden.
That's why these joint practices just don't seem worth it at all.