There will be a moment before Thursday night’s Giants-Jets preseason game that Daniel Jones will take for himself. It won’t last long — maybe just a few seconds — but the Giants’ rookie quarterback will look around MetLife Stadium and let it soak in that he’s about to make his first appearance as a professional football player.
It might be when he runs out of the tunnel leading to the field. Or when he arrives at the locker room for the first time. Or looks up into the stands and sees the fans he hopes to impress in the coming years.
“First time walking out there, whether that’s warmups or before the game, I think I will take a moment and look around,” Jones said. “I’m excited for that.”
It is a moment to be cherished by anyone who makes it this far, but especially for a young player who carries the burden of expectation like Jones. The heir apparent to Eli Manning, Jones was taken sixth overall and was welcomed immediately with a chorus of boos from skeptical Giants’ fans who believe he was drafted far too high.
That angst has since subsided, in part because Jones has progressed nicely through the offseason and the first two weeks of training camp. But the moment of truth will begin to reveal itself now that there will be live action to judge whether Jones will indeed be a capable successor to the 38-year-old Manning, who goes into the season as the starter.
The journey has taken Jones to a place where only the most deserving football players get to experience.
“I think I’ve realized just being here, I think you realize that a little bit,” he said of what it means to be in the NFL.
Whatever time he takes for himself on Thursday won’t last long, though.
“I’ll have a moment to [appreciate] that, but realize you’re playing a game pretty shortly,” he said. “So, I don’t know if you have a whole lot of time to do that.”
Coach Pat Shurmur was coy about which players he would use, with some starters figuring to be held out. Not with Jones.
“Daniel is a guy that will play, I’ll tell you that, for sure,” Shurmur said. “The preseason games are very important, especially for quarterbacks. It’s the next step in his process, so we’re looking forward to seeing him go out and execute.”
Jones’ NFL baptism comes against a Jets’ defense led by coach Gregg Williams, who is known to dial up blitzes whether it’s the playoffs or the preseason. Williams is one of the most aggressive defensive play-callers in the game, and he’ll almost surely have a few surprises for Jones.
“Something you notice is how aggressive they are and how hard they play,” Jones said of Williams’ defense. “It’ll be different from what we’ve seen in practice in terms of their base looks, their base coverages and pressures.”
Might as well get used to it, kid.
“[Jones] is going to get pressure during the season,” Shurmur said. “We’ll react to whatever comes.”
Actually, it remains to be seen when — or even whether — Jones is subject to regular season blitzes, because Shurmur has made no definitive plans about Jones’ playing time. Manning is his quarterback until further notice, even if it seems like it’s just a matter of time when Jones does take over as the long-term starter.
For now, Jones will keep his head down and continue to absorb Shurmur’s offense, something he believes he’s handling quite well so far.
“It’s still pretty early in my progression, and I realize there’s still a lot to learn,” he said. “But I do feel like it’s slowed down, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing a lot of different things. A lot of it has to do with understanding what the defense is trying to do to you and understanding whether that’s in protections or your progressions in the pass game.”
He’ll get a better idea of just how far along he is on Thursday in his first action against an opposing defense.
Excited? Nervous? A little bit of both?
“I think I’ll be excited, first and foremost,” he said, “Just to get out there and [putting] on the uniform and [running] out on the field will be exciting.”
Jones now gets the chance to answer those draft-day boos and play his way into Giants’ fans hearts.
Here we go.