WAYNE, N.J. — The Patriots are the betting favorites to win Super Bowl LII, but looming in the distance is their February nightmare: Eli Manning and the Giants, who are not quite favorites but who do have the look of contenders.
It only is June, of course, with the opener more than two months away. But Manning said Tuesday he would rather everyone be talking and thinking big from the start than the other way around.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said, speaking during a 7-on-7 youth football camp, where he appeared on behalf of Gatorade to discuss the importance of summer hydration. “There’s excitement with fans, and the players feel it also.
“When you feel like you have a good squad and feel like you have good players and a lot of guys returning to the same team and a great nucleus, guys who are committed, I think that’s good.”
But Manning said there is much work ahead, starting with integrating a talented, versatile receiving corps that now includes tight end Evan Engram and wideouts Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall.
“I’m excited about the group that we have,” Manning said. “I think we have guys who work hard. It’s important to them. They’re committed to it.”
To illustrate the point, he noted that Marshall — who also was there Tuesday — had texted to ask that they stay in touch on FaceTime so he does not forget signals he learned during the now-ended offseason program.
“I’m still trying to figure out the timing of the hitch route,” said Marshall, a Jet the past two seasons. “I think our last practice Eli just threw it at my feet and said, ‘I’m just going to throw it so you get the timing.’ ”
Manning confirmed he has cut Marshall no slack in practice.
“I’m not going to wait for you and see if you do it right and then throw it,” the quarterback said. “I’m throwing it off my time and you’ll learn when the ball’s going to be there. That’s the only way to get it right.”
Said Marshall: “I think I dropped every other ball the first two weeks. I was like, these guys probably think they made a bad investment.”
Marshall said he never has had a quarterback who gets the ball out as quickly and is so precise. “That’s been the biggest adjustment for me,” he said.
Manning does not have to work on football timing with Beckham, but like everyone else at the Giants’ facility he hopes Beckham learns to channel and control his emotions.
“Hey, it takes some time to figure this out,” Manning said, “especially with how popular and how quickly he came into the league and expectations with social media now and everything going on, trying to figure out how to kind of live your life in the limelight and in the spotlight.
“It’s not an easy thing. I think he’ll mature and start getting used to it more and more each and every year.”
The Giants’ hopes rest on the continuing health of Manning, 36, who has started every game since the middle of the 2004 season. Has he changed off the field to adjust to his advancing age?
“Yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “Just the lifestyle, your sleeping habits, your eating habits, your exercise . . . You understand the difference in how your body feels when you get eight hours of sleep versus six hours.
“Or it’s just eating healthy every meal, not having those bad weekends where you eat junk, just getting out of that world.”
Manning’s busy home life makes taking care of himself a challenge. His three daughters are ages 6, 4 and 2.
“Nice and quiet,” he said, jokingly. “It’s relaxing, no drama at all.”