EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If Daniel Jones is as quick and nimble in the pocket as he is at the podium, he will have a long and successful NFL career.
Jones, the outstanding quarterback from Duke selected by the Giants with the sixth overall selection in the NFL Draft last week, today endured that unique rite of passage every high-profile athlete here faces: his first New York-area news conference. Between on-field sessions at the Giants’ rookie minicamp, he was asked about Eli Manning, the franchise icon he is expected to eventually replace, the likelihood that he will do more sitting than playing this season, and the harsh criticism to his selection in some fan and media precincts.
Jones responded to all of them with the kind of quick reactions, clear thinking and astute decision-making any team would desire in its quarterback.
“I think we both want the same thing. We want the Giants to win football games,” he said of his relationship with Manning, whom he knows well after twice attending the Manning Passing Academy and the veteran’s annual offseason workouts at Duke. “That is the goal here. I am certainly going to let that be known. However that happens and whatever the plan is, I am here to do that. I understand my role is to learn from him. I am going to make sure I am improving myself every day. At the end of the day, we want to win games. That is the goal and I think it will be good.”
The Giants selected Jones last Thursday. The following day, the young quarterback received a call from the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
“He congratulated me and told me he was excited to be teammates,” Jones said. “I certainly share that same feeling. I am looking forward to spending time with him and learning from him. It is a huge opportunity to be around a guy like that.”
In the previous three years, Jones started all 36 games in which he played for the Blue Devils. He threw 1,275 passes, including 52 that resulted in touchdowns, and ran for 1,323 yards on 406 carries.
This year, barring an undesirable turn of events, Jones is expected to be primarily a spectator on game day. Coach Pat Shurmur has made it clear that job one for Manning is winning football games, not tutoring the youngster. If the Giants are winning, Jones might be tethered to the sideline for a while – as Manning was for the first nine games of his rookie season in 2004.
Given that, would Jones have preferred to go to team that would have given a quicker route to the starting lineup? Jones was again on target when he answered that one.
“I wanted to be in New York,” Jones said. “I think through the process this is the place I wanted to be. I think I connected with the staff and really enjoyed my time with them. I haven’t thought about that a whole lot. I wanted to be here, so I was thrilled.
“I think the first thing that I have thought is to understand how awesome it is to have a guy like Eli. Keeping that in mind and making sure that every day I am learning from him. Also, focusing on improving myself, which is a big part of that process as well. It is a huge opportunity to learn and I am certainly mindful of that. I am looking forward to learning.”
Shurmur is convinced Jones possesses both the physical skills and intangible attributes required to succeed at the most important position in sports in the largest market in the country.
“He’s very accomplished, he’s very smart, he gets it, he understands what comes with being the quarterback here,” Shurmur said. “If you’re in this game long enough, you’re in the arena, you get cheered and you get booed, and he’s smart enough to know how to handle that type of stuff, and do what he can to help us win football games.
“When we went through the (draft) process, we were very certain that he would be his own man. That’s why we picked him, and we were very certain that he can handle the scrutiny that comes with being the quarterback of the New York Football Giants. It’s a lot of attention. There’s a lot of passion for what we do, and especially for the guy that plays that position, and we’re very certain that he can handle it.”
The Giants’ decision to take Jones at No. 6 was greeted with less than universal acclaim. General manager Dave Gettleman was questioned for not taking Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen or Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, or for not waiting until the Giants’ turn at No. 17 to draft Jones. Gettleman has patiently explained his reasoning, which is that he had a strong conviction on Jones and wasn’t willing to risk losing him.
To his credit, Jones didn’t try to pretend he was unacquainted with the hullabaloo.
“It would be hard to be completely unaware of a lot of that stuff and the way it works,” he said. “I don’t focus on it. There is a lot to focus on and a lot to learn right now. Being here, learning the offense and trying to pick up a bunch of stuff. I am not sure I can really afford to focus on a lot of that stuff.”
He instead concentrates on what matters, starting with the Giants’ offensive playbook, which he said is “a little thicker” than what he had at Duke.
“It is a lot of good stuff,” Jones said. “Coach Shurmur has been a whole lot of places and the way he has explained it to me is that he has taken pieces from everywhere he has been and has put together his own stuff. To me, that is the best of all the worlds.”
So, it seems, is the situation Jones now finds himself in, even if it the spotlight is hot and potentially harsh.
“I think anyone that comes into New York, you can see that there is more attention than they have had previously,” he said. “It is all part of it. It is my job to make people believe in me and I understand that. There is a lot of work to do and I am excited to do that.”
Photos from the first day of Giants rookie minicamp practice