Giants running back Rashad Jennings pledges to protect Eli Manning
When Rashad Jennings arrived in New York he didn't know where the cafeteria was, how to get around the area, or where he was going to be living. But he knew where he wanted his locker to be.
Right next to Eli Manning's.
That's not exactly prime real estate in the Giants locker room given the crowds of reporters that often surround the quarterback sometimes three or four deep. But Jennings wanted to send a very clear message to Manning and the rest of his new team. He'll be Manning's new BFF.
Backfield friend forever.
"I'm always going to make myself quarterback-friendly," Jennings said on Sunday. "Quarterback-friendly is not always necessarily in the route. Quarterback-friendly is protecting his blind sides as well. I'm always going to make myself available to protect him, whether it's getting out in a route and giving him somewhere to go with the ball or protecting him."
That was evidenced in Friday's win over the Jets, and in particular on the touchdown drive that resulted in the Giants being able to exhale over the performance of their starting offense. Jennings had one 7-yard carry and no receptions on the drive, but he made some of the biggest plays of the 11-snap, 91-yard march.
The first was a blitz pickup in which he started on Manning's right side but slid all the way across the pocket to block a blindside linebacker. In a situation where many recent Giants running backs would be left extending a hand to help hoist the quarterback off the turf after a sack, Jennings' hit gave Manning time to complete a 16-yard pass to Victor Cruz.
"You could see the safety rotation and also the linebacker was tipping it a little bit from his eyes," Jennings said of anticipating that block. "The defense can't help but to show their eyes to what they're doing."
Then, on the touchdown pass to Rueben Randle, Jennings stayed with Manning as he rolled to his left rather than floating out of the backfield as a potential target. He picked up a defender who was getting past left tackle Will Beatty, giving Manning and Randle time for the route to develop.
"There's obviously 11 seconds left, no timeouts, so your IQ goes off and you understand that it's more important for me to protect and make sure this quarterback is clean in this situation in comparison to getting into a route," Jennings said.
While Jennings said that level of awareness is common in the NFL, too often in recent years it has not been with the Giants. Jennings not only brings that game awareness and studiousness in his own career but is rubbing off on rookie Andre Williams.
"To be a complete running back, you have to be able to study film like a quarterback, you have to be able to catch the ball like a receiver, block like an offensive lineman, and you have to be able to be agile just like a running back -- who you are," Jennings said. "Playing running back, you have to wear a lot of hats."
And being a professional athlete it's kind of your job to study the game and be great at it. It's part of the duty."Given that the Giants' offensive line is still a work in progress and their pass blocking has so far left something to be desired -- Manning has been sacked five times on 42 pass drops in the preseason -- having Jennings as a personal bodyguard will undoubtedly add to Manning's comfort in and out of the pocket. For Jennings, though, the Friday plays were nothing special.
"That's what football is supposed to look like," he said. "It's not a surprise. Nobody is over-thrilled or zealous because that's what we expect."