Daniel Jones probably won’t be the starting quarterback in Week 1.
But he’ll be ready to be.
So said Giants offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, who is so impressed by the draft pick that he believes – were he in a different circumstance – he could be a plug-and-play passer on Day One.
“I think he’d be ready to go, that’s my personal opinion,” Shula said Wednesday. “I think he has that capability.”
If the organization thought any differently, it probably would not have drafted Jones with the sixth overall selection.
But they also drafted him to sit and learn behind Eli Manning for a period of time. Whether that lasts a season or longer (or shorter) likely has more to do with Manning than with Jones. If Manning and the Giants win early and keep winning, it’ll be hard to make a change. If they don’t, well, the Jones Era will begin.
Having an NFL-ready quarterback pushing from behind him is something Manning has not experienced much of in recent years. It can be argued that one of the reasons why Manning has started as many games as he has over the past two dreadful seasons – 31 of 32 with eight wins – is that Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta were not developed enough to take over for him. Now he’ll have a backup who the coordinator thinks is ready to do that at any point.
“Times have changed,” Shula said of quarterbacks and how they are introduced to the NFL. “In years past you would draft a guy, whenever you draft him, even if it was that early, those guys would traditionally not play until their second or third year. But ever since probably what, six or seven years ago, you started seeing more guys play early.”
Shula had done a lot of pre-draft work on Jones and was even at his Pro Day, so he had a good sense of what the Giants were getting. Other Giants coaches had their first real exposure to him at last weekend’s rookie minicamp. Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert was watching his own players, but obviously went back and saw the quarterback who was delivering the ball to them.
“Very impressive,” he said. “The ball was on the money. He seemed like he carried himself pretty well. I’m very excited about him.”
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher also was impressed.
“He was a guy who was decisive with where he wanted to go with the ball, took great command,” Bettcher said. “Things get a little hairy on defense [at rookie minicamp] because there are a lot of young guys learning new things, so there will be defensive looks that he is dealing with that aren’t real defensive looks. You never saw the guy get flustered. You saw him handle it and play with poise.”
Bettcher noted that he’s been with teams that had strong quarterbacks, whether it was in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck, in Arizona with Carson Palmer, or here with the Giants with Manning.
“You see a guy who is in that mold,” Bettcher said.
Shula has experience with rookie quarterbacks thrust onto the field. He was with the Panthers when they selected Cam Newton first overall and made him their Week 1 starter.
To be clear, Shula is not stumping for Jones to start in Week 1.
“The obvious reasons for him with Eli as our starter to be sitting is he’s going to be learning from one of the best ever in regard to preparation,” Shula said. “Not just the normal stuff, but the day-to-day operations, the routine schedule, and then all the details of the position.”
And as for Manning, Shula said he’s been impressed by the 38-year-old’s performances in the offseason training program.
“Seeing him [last year] I thought he was in really good shape,” Shula said. “I think he’s in better shape now than he was … I think he’s moving around pretty good, his arm looks fresh. And maybe even the comfort level of being a year into the system, knowing more of what we want, but he’s throwing the ball well and moving around.”
But there is little disguise to how excited Shula is to have Jones. And he thinks having Jones absorb some of Manning’s off-the-field habits will help him when he gets on the field. Just about every young quarterback takes his lumps to a certain degree when he first sees NFL action. Manning certainly did when he took over in 2004. Jones probably would if he were to start in Week 1 this season. Having him sit and learn from Manning should reduce those bad experiences when he finally does play.
“It probably depends on the guy, but I think who we got, yeah, you can avoid those things,” Shula said. “Did Cam Newton take lumps his first year playing right away? Did [Patrick] Mahomes when he played? Sometimes you take them and you still win. That’s what we like about this guy. He competes like crazy and there are a lot of signs that we think are going to point toward him leading us to a lot of wins.”
It’s just a matter of when.
Giants sign RB Smith. Ezekiel Elliott’s former backup could become Saquon Barkley’s. The Giants signed free-agent running back Rod Smith, who spent most of the past four seasons with the Cowboys and had his most productive day in the NFL against the Giants. In 2017 Smith scored on a 15-yard run and an 81-yard reception. He had 47 yards on six carries and 113 yards on five catches. He’ll compete with Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, Robert Martin and undrafted free-agent rookie Jon Hilliman to provide depth behind Barkley.