EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There is no quarterback controversy with the Giants. Eli Manning isn’t in danger of losing his starting job. And neither Pat Shurmur nor Dave Gettleman really want to head into the season with a rookie starter anyway.
At least not yet.
And that caveat is the part that’s going to make things really interesting this summer, in what figures to be an otherwise quiet training camp for the rebuilding Giants. Because while the depth chart with the 38-year-old Manning far ahead of rookie Daniel Jones almost certainly won’t change at least until they’re deep into the regular season, no one around the Giants can or will say that for sure.
That makes it all a situation that bears watching since, for the first time since Manning arrived in 2004, the Giants do have the makings of a quarterback competition. Jones, the sixth overall pick in the draft, still has a long way to go to be any kind of a threat to Manning’s job. But he’s been impressive so far. He’s picked the offense up faster than the Giants ever anticipated. His throws look strong, he seems confident, he’s wowed the Giants with his speed and athletic ability.
And especially for a rookie, he definitely doesn’t look lost.
“He’s got a fast mind,” said Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula. “He picks things up pretty well. The things that you ask him to do, to make a couple of changes maybe that are different from what he was used to in college, he does pretty quickly. Everything that we’ve asked him to do he’s done pretty quickly.”
“I see improvement with him every day,” Shurmur added. “He displays to me that he gets it and he’s becoming more and more comfortable with what we’re doing offensively. That’s putting his skills to the test. He’s making plays in every practice and in our view, he’s getting better in every practice.”
It’s only spring, of course, but the 22-year-old Jones certainly showed all that on Wednesday, during Day 2 of the Giants’ three-day mini-camp. He was sharp, especially in team drills when he completed 6 of his 7 passes. One was a deep pass down the sidelines that dropped right into the arms of rookie receiver Darius Slayton. Another was a bullet pass through traffic into a spot where only tight end Scott Simonson could make the catch.
Those are second-team reps in shorts and no pads, of course, without a defense trying to scheme against him. But over the last 15 years plenty of Giants rookie quarterbacks have looked worse in similar situations – including Manning in his first spring with the team. Manning was awful that offseason and struggled in his first training camp, and he still ended up replacing Kurt Warner 10 weeks into that season with the Giants on the edge of the playoff race with a record of 5-4.
So you can see how a young quarterback who looks confident in the pocket and has shown off the wheels to make plays on the run could develop into a threat to a fading, aging starter faster than anyone expects. Jones would likely need a spectacular training camp and some impressive preseason performances to even have a chance to close the gap.
But in the NFL, things happen fast.
“My approach is to make sure I’m ready to play if I need to,” Jones told SNY on Wednesday. “And to prepare like everyone on the team is expected to – prepare like you’re going to play. Obviously, Eli is a guy who’s had a whole lot of success. He’s the guy. My job is to prepare and to improve every day and put myself in the best position to help the team.”
The idea that Jones could improve fast enough to push Manning to the bench is all premature and ridiculously early speculation, of course. The Giants’ hope and plan is that Manning plays well and keeps the team in the playoff hunt all season long. They are fine with Jones sitting and learning for a season – or maybe more.
And it’s not like Manning is ready for retirement anyway. Coaches and teammates have raved about him being in the best shape of his life this offseason. He’s talked about how comfortable he feels in Year 2 of Shurmur’s offense. He was shaky on his first day of minicamp on Tuesday, and he was only 3 of 7 in team drills on Wednesday after completing all 10 of his passes in 7-on-7s. But again, these are spring, non-contact, no-pads drills for a 15-year veteran. This isn’t where he’ll win or lose the biggest battle of his career.
Besides, his coaches don’t think he’s playing that poorly at all.
“I think he’s throwing the ball pretty good,” Shula said. “I think there’s been some really good connections down the field. I said about a month ago, he looks like he’s in better shape than he was last year. I still think that. I think he’s really dialed in.”
That’s not a surprise. And, as usual, Manning also seems unfazed by the competition. “My mindset is just, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go do my job,'” he said. Could it get to the point that he’s not doing his job well enough and that the Giants decide they’re better off with Jones? Absolutely. That was guaranteed to happen eventually the moment the Giants drafted Jones.
How quickly could that happen? Probably not very quickly at all. But until the inevitable transition is made, every move these two quarterbacks make will be measured against each other. That’s because Jones will replace Manning someday. The only question is: When?
And that really is the most interesting question of all.