EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Mike Shula is impressed with the Giants quarterbacks, both young and … older.
The team’s second-year offensive coordinator, Shula works with the quarterbacks every day, running their drills on the practice field and teaching them in meetings. He is confident that Eli Manning’s 16th season as the starting quarterback will be productive and successful, and that first-round draft choice Daniel Jones will be a worthy successor – whenever that occurs.
“This time last year was my first time with Eli, and seeing him in the offseason, I thought he was in really good shape,” Shula said today. “I think he’s in better shape now than he was.
“I just think that he’s moving around pretty good. His arm looks fresh. And maybe even with him, it is kind of maybe the comfort level of being a year in a system and kind of knowing more of what we want. I think he’s throwing the ball well and moving around good.”
As Pat Shurmur has pointedly said, Manning’s job is not to mentor Jones, but to win football games. If that occurs with the regularity the Giants expect, the youngster will spend most, ifnot all, of his rookie season learning from the 16-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl MVP. And that’s not a bad thing.
“I think the obvious reasons for him with Eli as our starter and sitting, he’s going to be learning from one of the best ever in regards to preparation,” Shula said. “It’s not just the normal stuff, but the day-to-day operations, the routine, the schedule, and then all of the details of the position. You see it in practice and then see how it manifests itself on game day.”
Manning has always helped his backup quarterbacks, including rookies Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta the previous two seasons. It will be no different with the first opening-round quarterback the Giants have drafted since they traded for Manning 15 years ago.
“You can imagine, it’s like another day at work,” Shula said. “I can remember when we were getting ready to draft Daniel and I called him. I could barely hear him because he’s got his youngest in his arms, the baby. He might’ve been changing a diaper. (He said), ‘Oh yeah, coach. Great. See you tomorrow.’That’s how he is. That’s how his approach is. I always saw that before I got here with the Giants and he was in front of the media and he is that way every single day.”
Jones was here over the weekend for the rookie minicamp andwill return next week, when Manning and he will be on the field together for the first time.
This isn’t Shula’s first experience coaching a highly-drafted quarterback. In 2011, he was the first-year quarterbacks coach of the Carolina Panthers, who were selecting first in the NFL Draft. They chose Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Shula, who first coached in the NFL in 1988, understands the issues that test all rookie quarterbacks.
“I think the challenge is for any young guy the speed of the defense,” he said. “If he’s throwing a deep ball outside to a receiver, he’s got to understand that most likely the free safety in the NFL is going to get to that ball a lot quicker than what he saw in college. The definition of a guy being open in the NFL is a lot different than maybe it is in college. There’s going to be a lot of tight coverage, where, he’s still open and you’ve got to throw it.”
As he would with any young quarterback, Shula is going to test Jones as much as he can in the spring and during training camp.
“I think with all of them we try to push the envelope early,” he said. “First of all, you want to kind of see how quickly they can pick things up, how quickly they can retain now with not as many reps as they would in college. And then kind of go from there. We want all of the young guys to play catch up. We understand that there’s a learning curve, but we still want to test that a little bit. I think that helps us gather information down the road on what kind processor these guys are, talking about Daniel now, as well. At that position, going from the meeting rooms or walkthroughs to the practice field and the game field.”
Shula spent extensive time prior to the draft studying Jones and is confident the sixth overall choice has the tools to succeed.
“I think he had a great pro day,” Shula said. “Of course, we liked him all along. When you see a guy throw the ball in person, I was down there at the combine as well, but just another exposure. He throws the ball very well; he’s got a quick release,good touch. And then when he got here, I thought everything was actually a little bit better. His arm was even stronger than I had remembered. His release was even quicker than I remembered.”
Beyond his physical ability, Jones has the makeup to produce in the most important position in sports in the most demanding market in the nation.
“He’s a solid person,” Shula said. “He’s really smart. The way you tell that is not necessarily by, alone, how he is picking things up, but by the questions that he asks. You’ll say certain things, and then all of a sudden, you’ll get a question and sometimes you forgot to be detailed in talking about it and he’ll ask that question reminding you. Or another question, on a deeper level, in regard to all of the looks that we could see, and a rookie usually doesn’t ask those things.
“Our first exposure was the rookie minicamp and I thought he did a really good job. The things that were different for him, and like any rookie, that we do were different than he did at Duke. He was so well-coached at Duke, but we’ll have a couple of little different things. We’ll be under center a little bit more than they were. The things that he was new to, you could kind of see how quickly he picked them up. Maybe the first day it wasn’t quite as sharp, but the next day it was like he had done it for a long time.”
Which is an excellent start for both Jones and the Giants.