Eli Manning exited the dual doors at the Quest Diagnostics Performance Center, stepped foot on the patio that overlooked the practice fields and began the short trip to the podium some 30 feet away.
There was no limp, no boot and no sign that the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback had undergone ankle surgery seven weeks before, just a member from every major media outlet waiting for words to come out of his mouth.
“I’m excited to be back out there, learning the offense and getting going,” Manning said.
Having Manning’s presence on the field may have shocked everyone but himself. The sturdy and stable signal caller underwent the knife for the first time in his football career following a dismal display from those protecting him in 2013.
As injuries began to deplete the Giants’ offensive line, Eli began to hit the ground at a far more frequent basis. No longer could the quarterback sit in the pocket and wait for the likes of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to get down the field, there simply wasn’t the time.
Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times, nine more than his previous high in 2009, but it wasn’t No. 40 that left a mark. On his second to last pass of the 2013 season, Manning felt pressure from Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker.
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The quarterback attempted to avoid the sack by throwing the ball away, but was brought down by Baker shortly after releasing the ball. His left ankle rolled underneath the defensive tackle’s 333-pound frame. Manning stayed in the ball game, throwing an interception on his next pass attempt, before limping off the field and to the locker room.
The 33-year-old opted not for surgery, but following the “Manning Passing Academy,” a camp for quarterback hopefuls he holds with brother Peyton, Manning went under the knife.
“I was still experiencing some discomfort as I began my normal offseason preparation, and after consultation, we felt the right thing was to have Dr. Anderson clean out the ankle,” Manning told The New York Times’ Ken Belson after the surgery.
Having never undergone surgery before, neither Manning, Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin or General Manager Jerry Reese knew how long it would take Manning to rehab. At a pre-draft press conference, Reese declared Manning “out for spring ball,” and that he’d “Be back when he gets back.”
But Manning remained more optimistic, knowing the six-to-seven week recovery timetable he was given put him ‘medically cleared’ for the first day of organized team activities (OTA).
“This was my goal, to be back by OTAs,” Manning said. “They said six weeks, so I kind of had it in my head that I should be ready. I knew early on after three weeks that I was feeling pretty good and could do a few things.”
Manning got a sense his goal could realistically be accomplished over the last four weeks. The former No. 1 overall pick began running and rolling out before taking a day or two off to gauge swelling and soreness.
“You try not to overdo it,” Manning said. “Not trying to have consecutive days where you’re doing a lot of pounding, a lot of jumping and landing on it.”
The initial decision to have surgery was based on the discomfort Manning felt during the “Manning Passing Academy.” Comparing how he felt then to how he feels now is night and day, solidifying in Manning’s mind the decision for surgery was the correct call.
“It feels a lot better,” Manning said. “In running and doing drills, I would notice it at times where, at this point, I didn’t notice it. I’m out there worried about football and not thinking one bit about my ankle.”
Yesterday’s practice was the second straight for Manning who said the coaching staff and trainers tested his ankle after it concluded for soreness. For the second day, Manning had no swelling or discomfort. The plan now is to avoid taking days off.
The more Manning is on the field, the more joy it fills his 67-year-old head coach. For the first time in six years, Manning is no longer running Kevin Gilbride’s offense. The long developing deep shots are gone, replaced by Ben McAdoo’s quick-hitting, fast-paced West Coast scheme.
Manning admitted having the new offense made him want to get on the field as soon as possible, and now that he’s there, he’s intrigued.
“We’re at the very early stages,” Manning said. “I like where we’re heading and the options that this offense gives the quarterback and the whole team to be successful.”
As for Coughlin, he’s just happy to see No. 10 lining up under center.
“It’s huge,” Coughlin said of having Manning on the field. “He can get the reps during the spring here and he will have the offense down by the time we break. Then come back and he’ll be comfortable with it.”