EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' offensive line is far more stable than it was in the second week of training camp a year ago, while the team's wide receivers have much more uncertainty. But Eli Manning today delivered a positive review of both units.
Barring a surprise development, the Giants have a group up front they believe can carry them through the season. The new right side of guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Mike Remmers has joined their counterparts on the left side, guard Will Hernandez and tackle Nate Solder (who each took every snap last season), and centers Jon Halapio, healthy again after missing 14 games with ankle and leg fractures, and Spencer Pulley, who started nine games after Halapio went down.
"I think they are better off now just in a sense of a couple things," said Manning, who spoke to reporters for the second time since camp opened last week. "There is a year under everybody's belt. Last year, a lot of new guys, Nate's new, Will's new, we have new guys on the right side, but also a new offense, new calls, new terminology. There's a lot going on, we had to figure out a lot of things and work through and make the mistakes and try to fix them.
"This year, there's a combination of guys that have been in this offense and bringing in a guy like Zeitler and Remmers, who has been in this style of offense before, the calls are very similar so he picks up right on it. I think all those things help them play that much faster, not having the mistakes, picking up things quicker like some of the twists that the defensive line does. I think it has been a lot smoother in that sense."
Coach Pat Shurmur concurs with the quarterback's assessment.
"I feel like we're more settled," Shurmur said. "I have a real good vision of probably the front six or seven guys, and where they'll play. With the addition of Remmers, obviously, and Zeitler, that's pretty settled right there on the right side, where last year we were sort of unsettled there."
While the line has been solidified, the receivers have been hurting. Corey Coleman (torn ACL) is out for the season; Sterling Shepard (broken thumb), Brittan Golden (groin) and rookie Darius Slayton (hamstring) have missed practice; and the unit's key offseason acquisition, Golden Tate, faces a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Tate, who said he took a fertility drug that included a substance banned by the league, is appealing.
While acknowledging the losses, Manning prefers to focus on the opportunities created by the injuries for other receivers, including Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, and Russell Shepard.
"I think it's unfortunate, I feel bad for Corey Coleman with the ACL," he said. "Hopefully we can get Slayton back, Shep will hopefully be back soon. He's at least able to run routes and be able throw some routes. We don't want him to get in bad habits, he has to catch everything with one hand. Not throwing him the ball, but we can have him run the route full speed. I can look at him, I can see his body language and still kind of get some timing stuff. When he comes back from the thumb he won't be a step behind.
"I think it's a great opportunity to get Cody going and get some of these young receivers going. Getting Bennie Fowler and (tight end) Evan Engram moving around. I think it's an opportunity for other guys to step up and see what they do. It hasn't affected our offense in the sense that we are not able to go out there and execute against the defense."
The offense has been crisp and productive early in camp and Manning, of course, deserves much credit for that. He is more comfortable in his second season in Shurmur's offense. And he is throwing the ball extremely well. Manning credits some recent changes to his offseason training regimen that have improved his arm strength while decreasing fatigue.
"I just mixed up where I was working out and what I was doing," Manning said. "The year before I was here a bunch, I got my own trainer (Mike Brueckner) this year. I went to the baseball world, I've done that in the past. We've gone into that field a little bit more, relative to throwers and quarterbacks. Just working hard on the weight training parts of it and keeping my legs strong and feeling healthy and making sure things are working properly. A lot of arm care, just keeping my arm strong or improve my arm strength at this level.
"I feel like it has paid off, I'm throwing the ball well. The arm is staying strong. (Staying after practice) three or four days after practice to not lose it, which is what happens in training camp sometimes. You have four practices in a row, if you are not used to it, you can see your arm getting tired and it's still feeling strong and coming out good."
Several years ago, Manning began doing specific arm exercises and throwing for several minutes before practice. He compared it to a baseball pitcher warming up in the bullpen before taking the mound. Earlier in his career, he would just toss a ball a few times to get ready. But the now 16-year veteran knew he needed a more detailed routine.
"In football training, not everybody is doing as much shoulder rotator cuff or core as a quarterback needs," Manning said. "In the offseason, some of those lower body lifts are similar or the same, but I think just taking the time, you have to start early, get your movements right, get your functionality right, and get stronger in your legs, because that helps your arm strength. It all generates from your lower half, your core, and your agility. I think that's good, and obviously there is a whole other element to the arm, and how much required to stay on top of it. You kind of get a plan that takes you into the offseason and into the season, so stay on that and get a plan of how much to keep doing that because as a quarterback you are throwing a lot more. You probably have to break down some of the arm care but still do enough where you're staying strong."
Shurmur didn't push Manning to change his preparation, but he endorses the decision. With Manning's throwing prowess and understanding of the scheme, plus the improved line, the offense is ahead of where it as a year ago, despite the injuries to the wide receivers.
"His training was just a little bit different than it's been (in the past), and I think he's really throwing the ball well," Shurmur said. "When he came back for OTAs, we saw it. Some of it was physical, some of it was how he trained. Going through this, especially with the quarterback, we're more at step two. We can come out and say, 'We're going to run this play,' and I can say, 'Hey listen Eli, if it's Cover Two, let's check it to this.' And we don't even have to have practiced it. We can just call it in the huddle and get it done. You ask the quarterbacks to get better every day and train and do all of the right things, and along the way, they sort of find their way. Eli's done that every year. Eli knows what he's looking at, he knows when he sees it. When you're in a system longer, then you'll pull the trigger quicker also. I think that's where maybe you'll see a little difference."
The next step is for Manning, the line and the receivers to play as proficiently in a game. The preseason begins in nine days vs. the Jets.