Six practice snaps on a Wednesday in late December for a two-win team wouldn’t normally cause so much as a ripple for even the most intense observers of an NFL squad. All it should signal is that things are moving a few reps closer to the end of the season. And yet there was something very notable about the half-dozen plays on the Giants’ practice field this particular Wednesday.
Rookie quarterback Davis Webb was running them.
After weeks of speculation over when and how Webb’s role on the team should change, there was finally some movement. Subtle though it was, and with no perceptible ramifications regarding the depth chart for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, it was still an important difference for the Giants. And for Webb.
“Today I took another huge step, a chance to get reps, and I was very excited about today,” Webb said after the workout.
He was told about the opportunity on Tuesday. The Giants ran eight plays in their practice in what they call the “competition period.” That’s the first offensive unit against the starting defense, each running their own systems. Eli Manning normally takes all of those reps (sans the week when Geno Smith was the starter). On Wednesday he took two of them, leaving six for Webb.
The rookie hadn’t done that since training camp.
“We just wanted to make sure we got him some reps on the field,” interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Just to give him some work.”
“It’s been a little while, but it felt great,” Webb said of the experience. “I think I did a good job. Definitely things to work on, but I’m pretty happy with my start today, my first time in a while.”
Webb said he thought he performed well. So did his teammates.
“He just came in and did his job, did a good job,” center Brett Jones said. “He’s been preparing for it, obviously, and he’s ready for it. Whatever opportunity he gets. It was cool to have him back there. It was fun. He knows what he’s doing.”
“He looked pretty good,” fellow rookie Evan Engram said. “He handled it well. He made some checks, changed the protection a little bit. We had a touchdown if it wasn’t for a flag in the end zone.”
That pass was intended for Engram, just like the fourth-and-goal pass against the Eagles on Sunday. This time, the penalty was called after the defender’s interference prevented Engram from making the catch.
“I thought he made some good calls and got us in some better plays, some good checks, and ran the offense well,” Manning said.
Just having Webb on the field, though, seemed more significant than any result.
“It was an opportunity for me to work on some things I’ve worked on behind the scenes in my preparation throughout the year,” Webb said. “It gave me a chance to be thrown in there, actually go through it myself, have the O-line hear my calls and have the receivers see my signals. It was a cool experience and I got better from it.”
Manning was unfazed by the disruption in routine.
“Late in the year, you don’t mind getting a few reps off and let him get some reps,” Manning said. “It’s all good.”
So what does it all mean about the future and these last two games of the season? Even the amped-up Webb recognized the answer to that question.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.”
Spagnuolo said Manning will start against the Cardinals and Smith will be the backup, almost certainly leaving Webb as the inactive third quarterback for the 15th game this season. Spagnuolo left himself some wiggle room (“Who knows?” he said when asked if Webb will be active. “We’ll see. There’s always a chance, but we’ll see”) but also said there was no change to the depth chart and that as of Wednesday Webb would not be playing. Just like always.
“My biggest goal as a player is to reach my full potential,” Webb said. “I trust the process. I’ve gotten better each and every day. Today I finally got to get some reps and put that plan into action a little bit. It was really exciting.”
But he also seemed fine with returning to the back of the line and resuming his previous role as support staff for Manning and the rest of the Giants, running the scout team, and helping where he can. He said he isn’t sure if he’ll get more chances in Thursday’s or Friday’s workouts.
“I was just excited when I was told I’d get an opportunity to go out there and practice what I’d been practicing behind Eli the whole season with my air throws and my air communication,” he said. “But now we’re back to helping us with the Arizona Cardinals.”