In this, the third iteration of Eli Manning, there still is the uncertainty of how the 37-year-old quarterback will look under the watchful eye of quarterback whisperer Pat Shurmur.
But based on how Manning has been used in training camp and the preseason, this could be a somewhat different version of the pure pocket passer we have come to know during the past 14 seasons.
Are we about to see Scrambling Eli Manning?
Well, let’s not go quite that far, even if Manning’s father, Archie, was one of the most renowned scramblers in NFL history. But Shurmur already has put in some plays in which Manning moves out of the pocket before delivering his passes.
“He’s very fit for a 37-year-old,” Shurmur said. “There’s no reason he can’t run boots and nakeds [bootlegs]. I think any quarterback, you need to be able to change the launch point, and I think sometimes that helps the quarterback get completions outside the pocket, and there’s absolutely no reason he can’t do that.”
Manning has built a Hall of Fame resume from the pocket, leading the Giants to two Super Bowl championships with MVP performances each time. But the greatest quarterback in franchise history isn’t averse to changing things up for his new coach. In fact, he has embraced Shurmur’s emphasis on moving him around to keep defenses guessing.
“Yeah, I think it’s good to move in the pocket,” Manning said after Friday night’s game against the Jets. “It’s got to help the run game. Got out a few times and got some completions. Play-action was good. We made a few plays off of that.”
Let’s be clear: Shurmur is not about to turn Manning into Russell Wilson or even Aaron Rodgers, whose nimble footwork allows the Green Bay star to create opportunities with his feet. But Shurmur’s willingness to move Manning around — and Manning’s willingness to embrace it — could prove valuable as the Giants continue to acclimate themselves to the new coach’s system.
“Eli moves around well enough where he can execute some of that stuff,” Shurmur said of Manning’s ability to change his release points.
It’s an especially refreshing change after the offense stagnated so badly under Ben McAdoo toward the end of the 2016 season and throughout 2017. McAdoo’s play-calling had become hopelessly predictable, and the offensive line’s inability to consistently block well made the situation even worse.
One other thing you may have noticed in Friday’s game, the final dress rehearsal for the starters before the Giants begin the regular season Sept. 9 at home against the Jaguars: Shurmur wasn’t afraid to dial up the deep ball on a regular basis. It’s yet another change from the McAdoo playbook, which all too often featured Manning taking the underneath route because teams routinely dropped into zone coverage to better defend the deep ball.
Shurmur already has shown a willingness to dictate the terms of his approach to the defense, not the other way around. Some of the deep balls against the Jets came off play-action passes, another encouraging development for Manning. The quarterback previously had thrived off those fakes to the running backs to freeze the defense and thus allow his receivers an extra split-second to get open.
“I got to [the play-fakes] a little quick early in the game, because [the Jets] were playing the run,” Shurmur said. “The good news is some of our play- actions were a bit believable and that allowed us to get down the field a little bit with a little extra protection and then hit on some of our deep balls.
“There’s some games when it’s more effective than others. The [Jets] were making a very strong effort to stop the run, so the next phase of it is try to take advantage of that a little bit.”
Manning was 17-for-23 for 188 yards, which included a 54-yard completion to wide receiver Cody Latimer and a 30-yarder to Sterling Shepard.
“Play-action, and the safety jumped over the route on Shepard, so I had a chance,” Manning said. “Cody ran a good route. I probably could have put it out a little further and let him score a touchdown, but he adjusted well to the ball.”
The Giants did have problems in the red zone, settling for four field goals by Aldrick Rosas in the second quarter. But remember, the Giants were without wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is being held out of preseason games to avoid risking injury to his surgically repaired ankle, and rookie running back Saquon Barkley, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.
“I thought it was good to get out there and get a full half playing with the new offense,” Manning said. “It’s just little things, hearing the calls, getting used to running the offense with the new offense and new things and the play clock and everything going. So I’m good either way, whatever [Shurmur] wants to do. Still have some things I want to work on and get better this week.”
It’s too soon to know exactly what Shurmur has in mind once he opens up his playbook to start the regular season. But the hints we’ve seen so far look encouraging.