There are always a range of emotions coursing through the building the week after the NFL draft — when the rookies selected gather for the first time at the team facility, check out the locker room, get fitted in blue Giants gear and hit the field for the first time.
A rookie minicamp comes at the perfect time. Hope springs eternal as the temperature rises, the greenery flourishes and there is a renewed freshness in the air. This is a new beginning for quarterback Daniel Jones, selected last Thursday night with the No. 6 pick. He gets to toss the ball around for the first time for the Giants and get a look at the playbook as he and the other nine draft picks gather for a three-day NFL indoctrination.
There is nothing like the arrival of a quarterback taken in the first round, if that quarterback is considered the heir apparent for the starting job. It has been 15 years since the Giants experienced this sort of rush. In the spring of 2004, the first impression was more woozy than wonderful.
Eli Manning was selected by the Chargers with the No. 1 pick in 2004 and promptly traded to the Giants in a mega-deal that shipped Philip Rivers to San Diego. On his first day on the field for the Giants in his first minicamp, Manning looked as shaky as a newborn foal taking its first uncertain steps. His first pass wearing Giants colors was a wobbler that hit a tackling sled.
“It was a very windy day out on the grass practice field that we had, and he threw the ball so poorly that day, I remember feeling physically ill,” co-owner John Mara said a few years ago. “I was saying to myself, ‘What did we just do?’ I remember feeling quite nauseous just thinking about what we had just done. We laugh about that now.”
All these years later, with Manning the MVP of two Super Bowls, a rocky rookie camp debut is a lighthearted memory for all to share. Manning came aboard with much fanfare, based on the legacy he carried with his last name and the heightened status he achieved as a top prospect.
Jones comes to the Giants out of Duke with several similarities to Manning as far as size, on-field mannerisms, cerebral playing style and coaching upbringing. There is one overwhelming difference. Manning was viewed as an exciting addition and the quarterback to usher in a new era. Jones was a surprise choice so high in the draft — most fans and talent evaluators were convinced the Giants would go defense at No. 6 and look to get Jones at No. 17. Opinions vary greatly and sometimes wildly as to Jones’ ceiling and potential.
General manager Dave Gettleman insists Jones at No. 6 was not a reach and that the team’s draft board put Jones and pass-rusher Josh Allen — who dropped into the Giants’ laps — on the same line, meaning they had similar grades and assigned value. The majority of Giants fans wanted Allen at No. 6 and a quarterback later in the draft, making Jones an unpopular selection.
The angst may continue for a while, but Jones now gets to go to work, embarking on his NFL career, assuming a role as a backup to Manning, for now.
“We’re just going to get him started, put him through the paces,’’ coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think every time they go on the field, you want them to execute what we’ve given him to do that day, and so we’ll start at square one with him and get him up and running and see how far he can take it and how quickly he can learn it. Our anticipation is he’s going to learn quickly, and we’ve seen that he can perform at a high level.
“It’s just got to look like good football, and I think that’s make good decisions, throw on time, be accurate, execute well, be smart with the football, all the things you’re looking for on Sunday you want to see it in practice, and you give him a little bit at a time, as time goes on, it builds up, and you just hope he builds on that.’’