EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – No Pat Shurmur interaction with the media would be complete without a quarterback question, even though the queries and his response don’t change. So let’s get this out of the way early, as Shurmur did today when the first inquiry on his conference call was whether he is considering starting Daniel Jones in the season opener at Dallas on Sept. 8.
“I think what we’re doing is, and I’ve said it all along, Eli (Manning) is our starter and we’re getting Daniel ready to play,” Shurmur said. “I think he’s done a good job in the preseason, as I’ve mentioned all along, he’s getting better, and he’s going to continue to do that so that at whatever time we need him to play he’ll be ready.”
Strangely, that answer elicited this follow-up: “So you’re not ready to say for sure that Eli will be your starter in Week 1?”
“I just said Eli’s the starter,” Shurmur said. “Didn’t I just say that? Excuse the fact that I had to repeat it, but I felt like I just said that. It’s all good.”
That includes the performances of both quarterbacks, who excelled last night in a 25-23 preseason victory against the Bengals in Cincinnati and have played well in the Giants’ 3-0 August.
Manning played only the first series, as he has in each game, and completed four of eight passes for 41 yards. He would have hit six passes had Cody Latimer held onto two balls that were in his hands. In three games, Manning has completed nine of 13 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown.
Jones stepped in and played another superb game, which is why Shurmur keeps fielding questions about his readiness to start. He shook off a hard sack and completed nine of 11 throws for 141 yards, improving his preseason numbers to 25 completions in 30 attempts (83.3%) for 369 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Because he was drafted sixth overall, plays quarterback, and is throwing the ball so well, Jones has cast a shadow over the rest of the Giants’ rookie class. But he is far from the only newcomer performing impressively in August.
Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence has started every game, and while he has just one tackle, he has demonstrated the strength, quickness and instincts that will make him a force up front.
Cornerback DeAndre Baker missed his second game with a knee injury, but should soon return as the starting left cornerback, a position he took over soon after his arrival in May.
Third-round draft choice Oshane Ximines, the outside linebacker from Old Dominion, has executed a variety of moves while posting a team-leading 3.0 sacks, including 2.0 last night.
“I think as he plays more he will develop more of that,” Shurmur said. “He probably was as disruptive as he’s been in the preseason. He’s just getting used to playing, I think he is one of the guys that he can find a way to the quarterback. We were pleased with some of the rushes he had last night. He was a little better in the run game as well.”
Fourth-round selection Julian Love has been solid as a nickel corner and at safety. He has five tackles (two solo) and has broken up two passes.
Linebacker Ryan Connelly, a fifth-round choice, contributed three tackles while starting his second game in place of Alec Ogletree (calf).
“I thought Ryan Connelly did a good job yesterday,” Shurmur said. “As he’s going along, he’s getting more and more comfortable within the scheme.”
The second fifth-round choice, wide receiver Darius Slayton, debuted last night with a sensational 27-yard reception on a throw from Jones.
With Baker and Antonio Hamilton (groin) sidelined, sixth-round choice Corey Ballentine started against the Bengals at left corner and tied for the team lead with seven tackles (five solo).
“I thought he competed well, I think he had over 40 snaps (42) on defense,” Shurmur said. “Very competitive, he had a couple of nice pass breakups. He did give up a couple plays in the passing game, but he was matched up man-to-man. I do think he was tighter in coverage this week than he was last week, but he’s also a very sure tackler. Some of the tackles he made along the sideline were very sure in terms of the ball was completed certainly in the zone, and then he kind of was the first responder on the play and made the tackle, so he’s making really good progress and we’re pleased with the path that he’s on.”
Tackle George Asafo-Adjei (sixth round) has not played because of a concussion, and defensive tackle Chris Slayton (seventh round) has played 55 snaps and has five tackles in three games.
*After the release earlier this week of wide receiver Da’Mari Scott, the Giants have 89 players on their roster. A week from tomorrow, they must reduce that number to the regular-season limit of 53 players.
Shurmur said the cuts this year will be more difficult than those he made last season.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Shurmur said. “You want competition within the groups. A year ago, we cut from 90 to 53 and there were only a couple guys that ended up on other rosters. I sort of feel like this year we may end up cutting more guys that are going to be attractive to maybe another team, which tells me that our 90 is better, and also tells me the players are embracing what we are talking about. The goal is to either make our team or somebody else’s. I believe in our team, I love our team, I love what our team is trying to do. It’s going to be much tougher for me this year when we get to that point, having to say goodbye to some players that I am very fond of. I’m just hopeful that they are available if we need them or somewhere they can go on and keep their career going.”