*The Giants' backup quarterback candidates will showcase their skills Friday vs. the Steelers: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ben McAdoo was light on the details regarding the Giants’ personnel deployment for their opening preseason game, other than saying, “We are going to treat it very similarly to the way we treated it last year.”
In the first preseason game of 2016, Eli Manning didn’t play. So it seems likely he will be a spectator again when the Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night. That would presumably leave veteran backups Josh Johnson and Geno Smith to split the bulk of the quarterbacking duties (though McAdoo did say rookie Davis Webb will also play).
Smith and Johnson combined to throw only 14 passes in the 2016 regular season, all by Smith, who then played for the Jets. Johnson was with the Giants, but he did not throw a regular-season pass for the fifth consecutive year. He did lead the Baltimore Ravens with 57 pass attempts in the preseason a year ago. But that didn’t prevent him from being released on Sept. 3. The Giants signed him two days later. Now Johnson has a chance to throw a pass in a game for the first time in almost a year.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about it every night. Just trying to live in the moment, though. Right now we’re still in training camp, just trying to keep being able to prepare and go out there and be ready for everything thrown at me.”
Smith has similar emotions. A second-round draft choice in 2013, he started for the Jets in his first two seasons. But in 2015-16, Smith played in only three games, starting one – and he suffered a torn ACL in that game last Oct. 23. Smith signed with the Giants in the offseason and, like Johnson, hopes to earn the job as Manning’s top backup. He has taken the majority of the second-team snaps of late. But the performances of Smith and Johnson vs. the Steelers might well determine who jumps into the lead in that competition.
“It’s going to be fun,” Smith said. “I’m excited. Looking forward to it, you know, being my first game since last October. So, it’ll be fun. We’re going to go out there and cut it loose, play like I know how and just give it everything I got.”
Manning is entering his 14th season as the Giants’ starter. Because Davis was a third-round draft choice this year – and because the team is excited about his potential – it’s safe to assume he will be on the regular-season roster. It’s also plausible McAdoo will not entrust an untested rookie with the No. 2 position. So does that leave Smith and Johnson vying for one spot?
“I’m not sure, but I know that we’re competing,” Smith said. “We’re all competing to get each other better and if it’s that one spot, then obviously I’m going for it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Josh. I think he’s a tremendous player. He’s been in this league a long time, proven guy. And, I mean, if it is a competition for one spot, as a competitor, you want to win every single competition. That’s day-in and day-out.”
Johnson took a broader view, perhaps not a surprise considering he has been with nine organizations since entering the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008.
“It’s the NFL, it’s a competition between everybody,” Johnson said. “You’ve got competition with the guys who want jobs on the street, you’ve got competition with the guys in the building. It’s all about your performance. It’s a performance-driven business, so you’ve got to get out there and perform with the opportunities that you’ve got. Obviously for me, I keep it simple. Then, the fact that there’s only one quarterback that goes out on the field at one time, that’s really all that matters, and make sure you’re on the same page with those 10 guys that you’re out there with. To me, that’s what’s more important.”
While both quarterbacks were relatively inactive last season, Smith has the added challenge of playing his first game after recovering from a serious injury. He will not wear a brace on his surgically-repaired knee, but is confident he’ll have no issues.
“I’m in better shape,” he said. “Having a knee injury, you don’t have a time to take a break. So, I’m in better shape, my body feels better. My weight is up, but my body fat is down, so that’s something that’s a positive. And continuously working on my diet and all the little things that’ll help me stay healthy are things that I’m working on.”
Given what might be on the line for them individually, what do Smith and Johnson hope to accomplish against the Steelers?
“Ton of completions, great execution on the reads, getting to the run-checks, doing all the things that we need to do to score points,” Smith said. “As long as we’re scoring points, then no matter how it gets done, we’re doing a good job.”
“First and foremost, win the game,” Johnson said. “Score a lot of points, no turnovers. Have complete command of the offense, be a leader. And keep our defense off the field as much as possible because we’ve got the ball in our hands, we’re getting first downs, putting points up on the board and putting pressure on their offense.”
Not much to differentiate between them there. And if both Smith and Johnson play well vs. Pittsburgh, the same might be said of their duel to be the No. 2 quarterback.
View photos from Giants Training Camp practice