There is so much — too much — emphasis on the Giants loving Daniel Jones because he reminds them of a younger Eli Manning. Some of the similarities are obvious and eye-catching — the body structure, the facial shape, the pocket-passing mannerisms. One of the most glaring differences surfaced Tuesday amid plenty of hooting and hollering from his new teammates who get paid to play offense.
On a sun-splashed morning, cool and crisp, Jones took the ball, reached back to fake a handoff and then rolled to his right, where there were no defenders to prevent him from putting on a display the Giants have not seen out of one of their quarterbacks since … Jeff Hostetler?
Jones kept the ball, planted his foot into the grass and took off, sprinting untouched for what would have been at least a 20-yard gain. On Day 1 of a mandatory minicamp practice coach Pat Shurmur described as “very competitive, very spirited,’’ Brown unleashed an un-Eli burst that could be a sign of things to come and unquestionably will reside in the minds of the decision-makers when the time nears to make a seismic quarterback shift.
“Oh man, he pulled that thing and kicked the knees up,’’ said receiver Sterling Shepard, flashing a wide smile. “He looked good. I knew we were going to get the defense on that. Yeah, he looked great running.’’
This is not the praise ever reserved for Manning, who in his first 15 years in the NFL earned a living in the pocket, thriving and surviving with his mind and his arm and very rarely (see Super Bowl XLII’s escape-job miracle, co-starring David Tyree) with his legs.
These two athletes, separated by 15 years, both stand 6-foot-5 and weigh nearly the same (at 221 pounds, Jones is three pounds heavier than Manning). They were coached by the same quarterback guru (David Cutcliffe) and their personalities seem to be, if not identical, certainly compatible. Where their paths diverge is running ability. Jones has it. Manning never had it.
“Just a normal zone read, he took off running, we’ve had ’em in our offense, depending on who the quarterback is and his skill set, that’s always available to us,’’ Shurmur said, at first downplaying Jones’ big-yardage run. “He looked good, looked like he would have scored.’’
As Jones turned the corner and saw daylight, players on offense sensed the opening and got louder and louder. It goes down as Daniel Jones’ first unofficial standing ovation.
“I think it’s fun,’’ Shurmur said. “He’s got a red shirt on so they’re not gonna hit him. The initial part of the zone read was good and he got himself out in space there pretty quickly.’’
The more he talked about the play, the more impressed Shurmur grew and the more eager he was to highlight Jones’ ability to scoot and score.
“He obviously moves around well, he’s down there around 4.6 [speed], I think he had 17 rushing touchdowns [in college],’’ Shurmur said. “He can move around. That’s a huge part. If a quarterback can move around, not so much just structured runs but the ability to create a play within a passing play, I think he can do that.’’
Last season at Duke, Jones averaged 12.4 yards per carry during a massive 186-yard rushing eruption in a 42-35 victory at North Carolina, ripping off a touchdown run of 61 yards. It is the most underpublicized part of his game.
“I saw some tape on him running — he carved somebody up,’’ Shepard said.
Seeing it on tape is one thing. Hearing about it is another. Seeing it emanate from your own huddle, well, that turns skeptics into believers.
“I see him pull the ball and take off, I said, ‘Ooooh, he’s got some speed on him,’’ receiver Cody Latimer said of Tuesday’s option keeper. “He ain’t scared to run. I think he’s a great player. He’s very smart, humble, quiet and he follows 10 [Manning] around, watches his moves. I think he’s doing a great job. I think he’s gonna be really good.
“You hear about it, but to see it in front of me, that little burst, I’m like, ‘OK.’ He’s got it. He’s got it. He’s a big guy and to see those explosive moves was really impressive.”
This spring, and on into the summer, Jones will get the snaps with the second-team offense and then go into hibernation once the real games kick in and Manning takes over. How much the Giants win and how well Manning plays will determine the next time Jones gets to go for a run.