MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. — It’s too early to tell for sure, but that has never stopped Eli Manning from being optimistic at this time of year. As the Giants head into their mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, their quarterback seems very excited about not only the changes that have taken place since last season but what has remained the same.
“The offense didn’t have a whole lot of change,” Manning said on Monday when he appeared at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic at Mount Kisco Country Club. “A new receiver [in Sterling Shepard], maybe get Victor back, who we haven’t had in two years. So there will be some new faces out there. But running back, tight end, offensive line, we have a lot of the same faces, and I thought we did some good things last year. We were able to move the ball and score points. I think it’s good when you have a lot of the same guys back. It means guys have an understanding of what we’re trying to do, what we need to do, what we need to do better, and you can grow with those guys.”
Even the change at coach didn’t upend Manning’s world. Ben McAdoo was his offensive coordinator the past two seasons and the offensive system he used will continue to be the Giants’ playbook now that he is the coach. Most of the substantive changes to the roster are on the other side of the ball.
That doesn’t mean everything is status quo. The Giants did add Shepard, who is expected to be a strong contributor, and all signs point to Cruz playing some kind of role in the offense as he comes back from calf surgery. Cruz has been held out of the team’s workouts this spring as a precaution, and with the stated target of a return for training camp, the level at which he will participate in this minicamp is unclear.
Manning said he approaches Cruz’s return just as he did last year, when he attempted to come back from a torn patellar tendon.
“It’s the same in the sense that I have my job to do and I’m going out there and going through my reads and trying to get on the same page with all the receivers out there,” Manning said. “Hopefully he can get back, be there for training camp and that whole time, and stay healthy to where he can get back into the mix and help us out . . . He knows the offense, knows the timing of it, knows those things, so it’s just a matter of him getting comfortable running the routes and being on the field again.”
Manning even is pretty bullish about the perceived weakness of the unit, the offensive line (in particular the right side, which has drawn tremendous criticism from fans and media).
“I’ve always thought of the offensive line as not always five individual players; you have to look at them as a group,” Manning said. “It’s how well they communicate, how well they get along and understand the schemes and can handle whatever is thrown at them. The longer you have the same five together, they’re going to grow and get better together. I think we have a good crew. They work hard, it’s important to them, and we can win with them for sure.”
Of course, it’s three months until the opener. A lot can change before then, both in terms of personnel and personality.
“You never know how things are going to shake out,” Manning said. “Guys hopefully stay healthy. Hey, you’ve got to win tight games. Those things, you don’t always know that in April how the team can do whether you’ve got a three-point lead with two minutes to go or you’re down three with two minutes to go. Can you pull off those victories and get wins? Usually those are the differences between successful and non-successful years.”
They certainly were last season. The upcoming season? Manning gave his usual mid-June forecast.
“I guess I’m always optimistic and always feel good about where we are and what we’re doing and feel that we can be a good team,” he said.
At this time of year, it’s impossible to argue against him.