EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** After one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2014, Eli Manning has continued to evolve with the expectation of playing even better in 2015. And he has a new/old coach to help him realize that goal.
Last year, Manning set Giants records for pass attempts (601), completions (379) and completion percentage (63.1), and his 4,410 passing yards were the second-highest total in franchise history.
But Manning was not satisfied with simply posting lofty numbers. He is determined to return the Giants to the playoffs after a three-year absence. Manning tweaked his offseason regimen, working on his footwork, learning how to better care of his passing arm, refining his diet. He has been a standout early in training camp, throwing strong, accurate passes, not one of which has been intercepted.
Entering his 12th season, Manning has the work ethic of a free agent rookie desperate to secure a spot on the final roster.
"I think just always looking for a way to get better," Manning said today. "That's the goal. You can't get stuck in your ways, I think that's everybody, coach (Tom) Coughlin and for me. Just looking for an opportunity to learn more about how to stay stronger, how to get an arm stronger, how to maintain your body, how to eat better. I think everything, especially as you get older, you start listening to your body a little bit more. Understanding what works, trying to eliminate the soreness and feeling tired or getting worn down, and taking care of your body a little bit more. So it's that whole process."
Manning is particularly focused on the health and strength of his right arm, which has thrown 5,609 regular-season passes and untold thousands more in practices and informal workouts. He performs specific exercises for the arm, and now follows a pre-practice routine that includes warming up before he throws the ball. In the past, throwing the ball prior to practice was his warm up.
"It feels good, it feels live right now," Manning said of the franchise's most important arm. "I think that's the goal - keep it strong, keep it healthy. I think a lot of times training camp is the most difficult time, where you are throwing the most consecutive practices in a row. Less off days, less rest days, it is a time when you have to be careful and make sure you're not overthrowing and keeping it strong and doing your maintenance. I think I've got a good program, a good system, to keeping it healthy. Not overthrowing, so it will stay strong the whole season."
The change has been evident to Mike Sullivan, Manning's position coach.
"I think his arm is very live," Sullivan said. "I don't think his arm has ever been stronger. He looks like he has a lot of zip on the football."
Sullivan's observation is particularly relevant, because has been away from Manning for three seasons. The Giants' quarterbacks coach in 2010-11, he left to spend two years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator and one as a consultant before Coughlin brought him back this year (Sullivan coached the team's wide receivers from 2004-09).
It's a partnership both coach and quarterback are happy to reprise.
"Eli has always been very goal oriented," said Sullivan in response to a question about whether a 70 percent completion rate was reasonably attainable. "He has always been someone that has had high expectations for himself, and I would say this, he is certainly going to do everything and has been and will continue to do everything possible to achieve those goals that are going to help us win. I think that it comes down to however many passes we need to win, that is what we are going to want to complete. However many big plays or touchdowns or adjustments in the run game or protections or whatever needs to be done, he is going to do. I don't know if there is any set number or those certain indicators that help you win.
"We all know that if you protect the football, if you are able to have a certain amount of yards you are able to rush for or efficiency on third down or red zone or QB rating, those are all objectives but ultimately it just comes down to winning, and I think that is all that really Eli cares about. In fact, I know that is all he cares about."
In Manning's previous two-year stint under Sullivan, he threw 60 touchdown passes, 41 interceptions, twice exceeded 4,000 yards and led the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
"Obviously, I have a great relationship with coach Sullivan," Manning said. "He's been around here a long time. A receivers coach and I think the quarterback-receiver coach is somebody you're communicating with a lot. You're always kind of popping your head in the receiver room, talking about something, a check, or a signal, or how you want something run. (You're) talking to him to communicate something to the receivers. Then obviously, (he was) in the quarterback room for two years as a quarterbacks coach. I have a lot of great communication, great respect for him.
"It's a little different now. He kind of came in the spring, where I maybe knew a little bit more than he did at the time with the new offense. But now he's caught up. I'm asking him questions and he's asking us questions, we're getting on the same page. We're still kind of referring to coach (Ben) McAdoo (the offensive coordinator) on some things. But he's great in the film room, getting us to think, getting us to answer questions, think on our toes, go through reads, verbally communicate what we're trying to do, and getting us on the same page."
A strong arm, a familiar coach, an impressive collection of offensive weapons, and steely determination to succeed have Manning set up for a big season this year.
"I feel better right now than I did at this time last year," Manning said. "So I'm excited about the way my body feels, my health, and the way everything is kind of set up. I feel good about it. Hopefully, I can keep it that way."
Photos of players during Giants Training Camp Thursday.