EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – We don't yet know how well Eli Manning will play this year, but it's already obvious that his sense of humor is as sharp as ever.
That was evident when he was asked today if the Giants' selection of Saquon Barkley on the first round of the NFL Draft demonstrated the organization's faith in him.
"Taking a running back, I think, showed that they think I can still perform at a high level, lead this team and be a successful young QB in this league," Manning said.
Manning is 37 and preparing for his 15th Giants season, but he is young at heart and in his throwing arm, and that's what matters most. He is excited about playing for new coach Pat Shurmur and eager to lead a turnaround after the disappointing 3-13 season in 2017.
The Giants opened their three-day mandatory minicamp today, and Manning was as enthused as a rookie, 90 days before the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"I enjoy the spring," Manning said. "It is a great time to get the guys together and to start working on your craft. We have a new offense. I think it is very important to get in here and learn it. It is very exciting for me to be in the meeting room with the coaching staff and get to learn football. There are lots of different ways to run an offense and to run plays, similar plays but read them differently. Learning from them, buying into it and looking forward to the challenge of going out there, perfecting it and being successful in it."
Manning said the forgettable performance of last year's team has been purged from his memory.
"When you have a new coaching staff, you get a clean slate," he said. "You have to prove to them that you are ready, can get the job done and can be prepared. I try and get better every day, pick their brain and their mind. Make sure I am doing what they want me to do and what they expect from me. I think that is what you try and do every year. You have to go out there and produce, make plays on Sunday."
The new coaches are as enthused to work with Manning has he be with them.
Shurmur was asked if Manning has surprised him in any way.
"I'm always surprised at how smart he is and at how things, I don't want to say come easy to him because he studies, but he has a great feel for the game and that great feel for the game is backed up by a heck of a lot of work," the coach said. "So when you have that combination, a guy that can really see the game and then a guy that really works at it, then I think the sky is the limit."
Manning perhaps didn't reach that high today, but he did enough to impress Shurmur.
"Eli looked very good today, he looked sharp and again, this is just a continuation of what we've seen to this point." Shurmur said.
Manning played in the same offensive system (Tom Coughlin's/Kevin Gilbride's) for the first 10 years of his career before spending four years in Ben McAdoo's scheme. He has spoken of his fondness for Shurmur's attack since he first studied it, and is pleased with the offense's progress thus far.
"I think it is going really well," Manning said. "I feel comfortable with it, I visualize it. The receivers are cutting fast and know what they are doing. The offensive line is doing a good job. Obviously, we have a couple of new pieces and people in there, especially on the offensive line group. I think they are adjusting and communicating well. Every day is important. Get a little comfortable and confident every day with the offense and the calls and the adjustments we can make. We are doing some good things, but we still have a lot of work to do."
Manning has never been in the bold prediction business, and he's not about to start now. But it's hard not to notice his confidence, and believe that the Giants can engineer a rapid turnaround.
"Every year could be a special year," he said. "It is just a matter of how guys can play on Sunday. There is always going to be ups and downs during the season. It really comes down to if guys can keep it about the team and keep it together. Stay committed for 16, 17 weeks and going into the playoffs. I think it is a good crew of guys. Now it just comes down to how hard can we work and how committed can be in putting this all together and finding ways to win together."
If the Giants find a way to do that, Manning will certainly feel young again.
Photos from the Giants first practice of mandatory minicamp