With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Quarterbacks
2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: For quarterback Eli Manning and the entire passing offense, 2016 was a major disappointment. The passing game was once again expected to be THE strength of the team. Instead, the New York Giants fell from 7th in the NFL in 2015 (271.4 yards per game) to 17th in 2016 (242.4 yards per game). Manning’s yards, yards per pass play, and touchdowns were down while interceptions increased. All of this was a significant shock given that Manning was coming off of one of his best seasons in 2015 and was entering his third season in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense. The Giants had problems making big plays. And when they didn’t hit the big play, the Giants had problems sustaining drives and scoring points. This wasn’t supposed to happen given return of Victor Cruz and the addition of Sterling Shepard, not to mention the rest of the offense returning mostly intact.
The back-up quarterback situation also evolved into a mild surprise. Ryan Nassib – who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft and who was the #2 quarterback on the team since 2014 – had a terrible preseason and then developed an elbow issue that landed him on Injured Reserve in December 2016. He was replaced by Josh Johnson, who the team signed in September after he was cut by the Baltimore Ravens.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants made no effort to re-sign Ryan Nassib and he has since signed with the New Orleans Saints. The Giants re-signed Josh Johnson, signed ex-New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith in free agency, and drafted Davis Webb in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: It’s one of the great ironies that a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback on a team that plays in the biggest media market in the world is rarely the subject of media attention. For years, his pressers have been yawn-fests that rarely make a headline. That’s a tribute to Manning’s demeanor, character, hard work, on-field success, and off-field behavior. That said, the biggest question mark on this possible Super Bowl contender is if Manning is losing it? Manning has never missed a start, but he is 36 years old and coming off a disappointing season where much more was expected. Many will convincingly argue that Manning was sabotaged by a sub-par supporting cast, but if this was true in 2016, it was also true in 2015 as the biggest changes were the moves from Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris to Victor Cruz and Sterling Sheppard. Perhaps the loss of Shane Vereen was a much bigger blow to the passing game than realized.
This offseason, the Giants ditched their 2016 opening-day starters at running back (Rashad Jennings), wide receiver (Victor Cruz), and tight end (Larry Donnell). They added aging but still dangerous super-stud wideout Brandon Marshall, revamped the tight end position with the additions of Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, and re-configured the running back group with Paul Perkins starting and the drafting of Wayne Gallman. In both of Manning’s two Super Bowl seasons, he had a quartet of dependable targets to throw to (Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer/Steve Smith/Kevin Boss in 2007 and Victor Cruz/Hakeem Nicks/Mario Manningham/Jake Ballard in 2011). The Giants appear to have a similar level of talent now. So the pressure will be on Manning to perform and once again make the Giants a top-10 passing offense. A highly-paid franchise quarterback is supposed to raise the level of the entire offense.
“I think we want to get back to where we are scoring points and being explosive and where we can take over a game,” said Manning. “The important thing is that we get those yards. That we get the points. You know we didn’t score enough points last year, everyone knows that. We didn’t take care of the football where we needed to take care of it.”
The second big story line, and the one actually gaining more media attention right now, is the back-up quarterback situation. Because of when he was drafted, Ryan Nassib was never considered the heir apparent to Eli Manning. But Davis Webb has a legitimate chance to eventually replace arguably the best quarterback in New York Giants history. Webb has the physical tools and he appears to have the mental make-up. But does he have “it”? And can he handle the media spotlight of New York and the pressure that comes with replacing a living legend in a few years?
“Davis has done an excellent job in terms of his preparation,” said Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan. “I mean, here is someone that was in a completely different offense in college and he has come in and all of the reports that we had about him as far as being a grinder, being a gym rat, and being someone who is a football junkie are true because he puts the time in. And the thing that we have been pleased with in his development is that he is not making the same mistakes twice and there is a learning curve, they are all going to make mistakes, but he has continued to show incremental improvements and he has adjusted well.”
In the short-term, Geno Smith and Josh Johnson will most likely vie for the #2 job. While unlikely, Smith has been given a tremendous opportunity to revive his career and stick it to the Jets if he eventually became a successful starter with the Giants. But don’t count out Josh Johnson, who may be better suited to the back-up role.
ON THE BUBBLE: Barring the unforeseen, Eli Manning and Davis Webb are locks to make the 53-man roster. The Giants won’t risk putting Webb on the Practice Squad. Unless Webb unexpectedly advances rapidly, the Giants will carry three quarterbacks and Geno Smith and Josh Johnson will be fighting for the primary back-up spot.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Frank Cignetti Jr. on Geno Smith: “(He is making a) very positive (impression). Tremendous work ethic, tremendous passion for the game, smart… He’s done a great job acclimating himself to the New York Giants. He’s done a great job rehabbing, he’s done a great job learning the fundamentals. He’s done a great job communicating in the classroom and on the field. Every day we’re teaching and learning and Geno has done a great job.”
Cignetti on Josh Johnson: “You could see last season that Josh is a pro. Josh has been in the league. What do I mean by that; he knows how to prepare, he knows how to study, he does a great job in the classroom, he does a great job in the locker room. On the field, he does what he’s asked to do, and does it well. The nice thing is to see Josh go through the offseason program now, because he wasn’t here the last offseason. The offseason, like McAdoo communicates, is building our fundamentals, building our communication, being in the classroom, then on the field with our teammates. Always teaching and learning. So, Josh has been able to start from jump street in the offseason and it’s been great to see.”
PREDICTIONS: Eli Manning seems to alternate the good with the bad. Since 2016 was a down year for him, expect him to rebound in a big way in 2017. Of course, having Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Sheppard, and Evan Engram to throw to will help his cause. The big question is how good can Eli play at the age of 36? The pressure will be on him to perform and help his team make another Super Bowl run. If Eli and the offense struggle, we may see Davis Webb sooner this decade than expected.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Eli Manning, Josh Johnson, Davis Webb