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Daniel Jones' skill-set adds new wrinkle to playbook

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Without even throwing a pass, Daniel Jones today made the most talked-about play in the opening practice of the Giants' minicamp.

In an 11-on-11 drill, the rookie quarterback tucked the ball under his arm and ran about 30 yards down the field. Jones, of course, was in no danger of being hit. But he demonstrated good instincts and, let's be honest, the kind of speed not often seen in a Giants quarterback.

Both Jones and coach Pat Shurmur downplayed the significance of the young player's scamper.

"That was a called run. If it opens up there, I can scramble, too," Jones said. "If it is called and is part of the plan, I can certainly do it."

"Just a normal zone read," Shurmur said. "He took off running. We have had them in our offense depending on who the quarterback is and his skill set. That is always available to us. He looked good. Looked like he scored."

Eli Manning is the best quarterback in Giants history, but he didn't earn that designation by running the ball. In 15 years, he has 311 rushing attempts, none longer than 18 yards. He has gained 560 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

When it was mentioned to Shurmur that the players appreciated Jones' run, he said, "They did. I think it is fun. He has a red shirt on, so they aren't going to hit him. The initial part of the zone read was good. He got himself out in space pretty quickly." 

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was somewhat more effusive, saying of Jones, "Oh man, he pulled that thing and kicked the knees up, it was good (laughter). I knew we were going to get the defense on that, but yeah, he looked great running."

Jones has experience producing on the run. In his three seasons at Duke, he had 406 rushing attempts for 1,323 yards, 17 touchdowns, and a long run of 68 yards.

"I've seen some tape on him running," Shepard said. "He crossed somebody up – I forgot which team it was in college – but he was carving them up pretty good on his feet."

"He obviously moves around well," Shurmur said. "He is down there around the 4.6 mark (in the 40-yard dash). I think he had 17 rushing touchdowns. He can move around and that is a huge part. If a quarterback can move around, not so much on just structured runs but the ability to be able to create a play within a passing play, I think he can do that."

Jones wasn't selected sixth overall in the NFL Draft because he can lower his shoulder and pick up two yards on third-and-one. The Giants were smitten with his passing and leadership skills. And Jones has demonstrated arm strength, a deft touch, and the ability to make good decisions from the pocket in three-plus weeks of practice. But he also "absolutely" takes pride in his ability to help his team by running the ball.

"It is something I did a whole lot in college at Duke," Jones said. "It is something I am comfortable doing. When the offense calls for it, I am comfortable doing it. I take pride in being able to run a little bit. We have a lot of good running backs, but if it is a call and it is open for me, I am comfortable doing it."

Much of his running in college was due to necessity, either a lack of separation by receivers or breakdowns in the protection in front of him.

"It was a lot of zone read stuff," he said. "We did a lot of different types of zone read, power read things. Different quarterback read elements and scrambles, but we did do a lot of the read stuff as well. In the red zone, when the space is condensed, we like to use a quarterback run that will give us an extra boost in the run game blocking."

Though Jones turned heads with his run, he had a lukewarm assessment about his overall performance today.

"I think I did alright," he said. "I made some good plays and some not so good plays. The challenge for me is to be consistent. Be good consistently. That is what I am focused on. Just trying to get more comfortable. Seeing things and reacting quicker. I think I made improvement in some places, but the challenge is to keep improving."

*Another newcomer, third-year safety Jabrill Peppers, said he needs to improve this year but not because he was a high-profile offseason acquisition.

"Even before the trade, I was saying that I have to pick up the play, it's year three," he said. "You definitely gotta pick up the play to be at the level I know I need to play at, and this organization needs me to play at. Regardless how I got here, I'm here, and I'm ready to play my best ball, work as hard as I can and help this organization win ball games on Sundays."

Peppers has brought an infectious enthusiasm to the back of the defense, and though he's played just 29 career games, he is emerging as a team leader.

"His leadership was felt immediately," Shurmur said. "He has a very charismatic personality and he loves to play the game. He picked up quickly what we were doing on defense well and he is extremely smart. He is very tough and very competitive. When you see guys like that on the field, you feel their presence immediately. He got to it quickly."

*Shepard said he and fellow wide receiver Golden Tate – a free-agent signee this spring – have similar skillsets, which the Giants can use to their benefit.

"You can move us around anywhere on the field," Shepard said. "We're just natural playmakers. Wherever you put us, we're going to find a way to get open, and find a way to get the ball, and make things happen after the catch. That's what he's been great at his whole career – making things happen after the catch. I don't think that's going to stop now."