Eli Manning is looking to improve upon last season, and his preparation shows his determination.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants have been in camp for three weeks, and somehow their most important player has spent most of that time under the radar.
Eli Manning has twice spoken to the media, did not play in the first preseason game, and has maintained his customary work ethic and attention to detail in practice. So, how has he performed thus far?
"I think his preparation has been what it has always been in terms of exemplary," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said today. "I think there is a sense of confidence he has at this point in this system, having so many years under his belt. Obviously, there are some new toys for him to play with (notably wide receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram), which he is very excited about. I think we are very excited from a coaching staff standpoint in terms of the adjustments he has made when he is turning loose after practice. I think he is taking great care of himself physically, and we feel like he is in great position to be at his best during the regular season."
Although Manning is considered a low-key player who doesn't draw attention to himself, he is very willing to instruct or correct players when he believes it is necessary. Brandon Marshall, who has 941 career receptions, made that clear earlier this week when he said Manning spoke to him when he was "two steps" off on a route in practice.
"He's someone that we all know is steady, very even keeled, he doesn't get rattled," Sullivan said of Manning. "If you want to see the 'Aw shucks' go away faster than Odell Beckham on a slant inside to the end zone, have someone bust a route or someone not do what they are supposed to do. In certain instances, given his history and relationship with a player, it might be, 'Hey, you need to do a better job with this.' Or it might be a little more of the personality of his older brother (Peyton) in terms of getting in a guy's face.
"He is definitely a competitor and I have even said this when I was a receiver coach, the feedback that he gives to the perimeter players. The coaches can talk about why it's important to take this angle or take these steps, but when you have the guy who has the ball who is coaching you up, and if you want the ball - and they all want the ball - they are going to do it the way he wants it, so that is a great factor."
Sullivan and fellow coordinators Steve Spagnuolo (defense) and Tom Quinn (special teams) today spoke publicly for the first time since camp opened. As they are each time the media has an opportunity to grill them, they fielded questions on numerous subjects.
A key determinant in the efficiency of the offense this season will be the performance of the line. Sullivan is eager to see the unit perform in the second preseason game, Monday night in Cleveland.
"We have seen a lot of progress, especially being in pads," Sullivan said, "especially having one game to take a look at where you can draw it up on the board, talk about it in meetings, be out in the shorts, but until you see the type of fits and the type of finish. We are not where we want to be, but we are headed in the right direction with regard to those things and I have seen some flashes of the type of offensive line performances that we are going to want to have. We are pleased with where we are headed right now. We have a lot more work to do, but we are headed in the right direction."
The Giants did not score a touchdown in their preseason opener last week vs. Pittsburgh. They did kick a field goal on the last of the three series in which the starters played.
Scoring more points is the first goal of Sullivan and Co. this year. The Giants were 11-5 in 2016, despite finishing 26th in the NFL with 19.4 points a game. They would like to boost that significantly in the coming season.
"Points is definitely an area, as well as ball security, are two major focuses for us," Sullivan said. "I think it is a combination of some of the personnel, some of the new faces that we have on the roster (that gives him hope that scoring will increase). There are some schematic ideas or concepts that we worked on to put guys in position from a matchup standpoint or 'Okay, you are going to commit two players here, well that gives you an opportunity over here.' I think there is optimism. We also improved in the running game. We will improve in the run game and, of course, that opens up a lot of other areas. So I think looking at all of those combined is a reason to be optimistic for us to score more points this year."
While Sullivan spoke about his longest-tenured player, Spagnuolo was asked about several of the young defenders who will take on key roles this year. That group includes middle linebacker B.J. Goodson, and defensive tackles Jay Bromley and Dalvin Tomlinson.
Goodson has the reputation of being a heavy hitter in the middle, but he has also impressed Spagnuolo with his coverage and leadership skills.
"He runs real well," Spagnuolo said. "He's embraced the whole thing, being a linebacker and taking command. I love the look in his eye. Believe it or not, the other day I said something to him maybe a little harsh, and he responded just as harsh. Now, I like that in a Mike linebacker. Antonio (Pierce) and I were talking about it, and there weren't many moments like that with AP and I. But I like that when there's a little fire in the Mike linebacker."
Bromley and Tomlinson are competing to start in the spot vacated by Johnathan Hankins.
"I think Dalvin made a big jump from last week to this week," Spagnuolo said. "He's played a little bit more violent, I think he's getting a little more comfortable with the guys he's playing with. I'm really encouraged by him. Jay has been a steady Eddie. He knows the defense. We've always talked about him working on his footwork and he's been doing that."
*Quinn said adding veteran Mike Nugent on Aug. 1 to compete with first-year kicker Aldrick Rosas has been good for the team.
"The timing was perfect with it," Quinn said. "We got to get good, solid work with Aldrick, get him kind of exactly where we wanted to and then you bring a guy in to compete. It's good to have a second leg in camp. Today, we did kickoff, kickoff return and field goals, so there were a lot of kicks there. If you have one guy, then you probably have to put a machine in there. So, it's been good."
Quinn faces more uncertainty than Sullivan or Spagnuolo in planning for the regular season, because he doesn't know which reserves will make the team and be available to play in the kicking game. He prepares by using as much of the current 90-man roster as he can.
"You work a lot of guys," Quinn said. "We'll have two teams - a first and a second team - and then (we have) the show team, the guys with the yellow hats (in practice). They're the third and fourth team. They're all doing our stuff. They're all getting reps, and then once we get to a game, we'll kind of decide based on playtime, (in the) first half, second half. We're trying to get as many guys reps that are deserving. So when it comes down to that time, you feel good about everyone."
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