EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning traditionally speaks to the media just prior to the Giants' opening preseason game to deliver what is essentially a state of the team (or state of the offense) message. The Giants will play their first game on Thursday when they host the Cleveland Browns. So today, Manning stood behind a podium in the fieldhouse at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center and responded to queries on a number of subjects.
But this session was a little different than most of Manning's mid-training camp news conferences. He is playing in a new offense installed by new coach Pat Shurmur, behind a rebuilt offensive line with all five positions being manned by a different player than when he last played a game, he is handing off to a new running back in No. 2 overall draft choice Saquon Barkley, and many of the receivers are new Manning targets.
So, what are his overall impressions?
"I think we have some big play potential in our group and that's good," Manning said. "We have to find opportunities to make those big plays and be consistent also. We can't be willing to give up those big plays to the defense in that sense. We have to be patient and wait for those opportunities. We have some special athletes that can make some outstanding plays."
Manning is eager to see how it all comes together in a game.
"I don't think it's about a specific person, it's about this group going out there," he said. "Especially this year, with a new offense and new players across the board at different spots. You just want to see how we're going to work together and how guys are going to do in game situations. To see if their level of play stays the same, elevates, or goes down. You have to be able to do it in practice, but you have to be able to do it on game day as well."
The new look like includes tackles Nate Solder and Ereck Flowers, guards Patrick Omameh and rookie Will Hernandez, and center Jon Halapio.
"I think they are doing a good job … they are getting on the same page," Manning said. "The most important thing for that group is communication, and understanding what the defense is doing, for them to be able to pass things off. Playing fast and playing as one in a sense, but they are all working hard and they are all dialed in."
Like everyone else who works with Barkley, Manning has been captivated by the record-setting running back from Penn State, who is 16 years his junior.
"He's asking questions, I'm asking him questions challenging him and getting him to understand seeing coverages, seeing defenses, and safety rotations and things like that so he understands his protections and what's going on," Manning said. "I've been impressed, he's a smart kid and he's learned the offense well, and I've been impressed with him on the field. The way he sees things, the way he reacts after catching the ball making moves. I'm excited to see him in a full speed situation.
"He's dialed in and he's seeing things. He'll have questions for me based on different concepts. He's looking at the playbook and maybe has questions to make sure everything is correct and why he has this on this one or that one. He is just trying to understand so he can play fast, and understand exactly what he is doing."
Manning's most frequent receiving targets are expected to be Odell Beckham, Jr., Sterling Shepard and second-year tight end Evan Engram. Barkley will certainly get his share of footballs thrown his way. Beyond that, the identity of the players who will catch Manning's throws has not been determined. Ten other wide receivers are currently on the roster, and all of them hope to regularly catch Manning's passes.
Manning has attempted to build a rapport with all of them in camp.
"I think it's going well," he said. "It's still a work in progress trying to figure out who is going to be that third and fourth receiver. We need those guys to step up, get open and be dependable. A lot of guys are fighting for that spot and doing some good things. We just need to figure which guys will be the most dependable in that situation."
Players such as Jonathan Stewart and Barkley have sat out all or parts of some practices to ease the training camp stress on their bodies. Manning has participated fully in every workout, but that doesn't mean the coaches aren't closely scrutinizing him.
"We do have to continue to monitor that and we do that verbally as well, saying, 'Hey, you've got to be honest with us, make sure we're not giving you too much,'" offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "But Eli does such a good job of taking care of himself physically, he starts in the offseason and just knows how to get his arm ready for the grind now. He's done a great job. We've pushed the envelope a bit with his reps, just because of the newness of what we're doing. But we want him feeling really good, not just about what he's doing but just getting him together with the guys that are going to be there on Sundays, the timing and all of the little adjustments that they're going to have to make."
Manning has no desire to take a break.
"The arm feels good and the body feels good," Manning said. "I've felt great all year and hopefully it stays that way for a while."
*The Giants today added a halftime to their practice today.
Midway through the workout on a sweltering day, Shurmur sent the players into the air-conditioned fieldhouse at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. After a five-minute break in which everyone downed water or Gatorade and munched on popsicles, the team then had its customary post-break installation period before heading back outside.
The total time indoors was 12 minutes, the same length as an NFL halftime.
"We wanted to simulate a halftime," Shurmur said. "It's a pretty good hot day, so we simulated
the halftime, much like you would in a game. We had a really physical first hour of practice, then we had a little, and then we came back for another physical hour. They were competitive in the early session, and they maintained their focus after the break."
*Former Giants receiver Victor Cruz watched practice.
*The players missing practice included wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Travis Rudolph, defensive backs William Gay and Donte Deayon, linebacker Thurston Armbrister, and tight end Ryan O'Malley.
*Safety Curtis Riley returned to practice after missing several days with sore hamstring.