It was hard for anyone not to notice the shift — Eli Manning included.
As Manning’s weekly appointment with the lights and cameras and recorders of the media in front of his locker came to an end Tuesday, all those instruments of information found a new home. They didn’t have very far to go, either. Just one locker down.
Attention turned swiftly from a quarterback who has won two Super Bowl MVPs to one who never has appeared in an NFL game. It was Davis Webb’s turn for the spotlight. Manning hadn’t even finished answering all of the questions asked of him before the commotion of the Webb interview required him to raise his voice just a little bit to be heard.
When he finished his media obligations, Manning headed to the shower. It’s hard to get inside his head when it comes to reading or projecting emotions — his countenance over the years has sparked plenty of conjecture — but it certainly seemed as if Manning glared at the throng that had surrounded him moments earlier and now was focusing on Webb.
Maybe he didn’t. Maybe it didn’t even register. It’s just a metaphor, really.
But in the days since Ben McAdoo suggested that everyone’s job would be subject to evaluation and possible replacement by younger players in order to see who can help the team in the future — Manning specifically included — that metaphor has become more of a reality.
Even Monday, when McAdoo tried to back off the quarterback controversy he stirred up after Sunday’s 51-17 loss to the Rams, he did it without changing his initial reaction.
“Eli, he’s our quarterback,” McAdoo said, and had he left it there, the issue would have been resolved.
He did not.
“But,” McAdoo continued, “that doesn’t mean at some point in time we won’t throw another guy in there to get a look at him. Every position needs to be held accountable, and every position needs to play to a high standard.”
Manning gave his standard answers in the face of such speculation.
“I want to play,” he said Tuesday. “That’s what I like to do. I like to play football and play quarterback. I understand that I’ve got a job to do and I’ve got to do it better and do it well and get wins, and if you don’t, everybody’s job is up for grabs in this league.”
Webb is wedged in the middle of what feels like a quarterback transition for a franchise that hasn’t had one since 2004.
“It hasn’t changed my preparation or anything,” Webb said Tuesday. “My opportunity, when it ever does come, I want to be ready. But my job, my role, and that’s not going to change, is to be the best teammate I can be.”
Webb was gracious about his delicate spot.
“There’s not one person that sets the standard better to be a New York Football Giant than Eli Manning,” Webb said. “I learn 100 things in every minute from Eli.”
But he also flashed the kind of arrogance that all NFL quarterbacks have, even, apparently, the ones who never have taken a snap. He was asked if he’d be confident if his opportunity were to come soon.
“That’s an easy question,” he said. “I’m confident in everything I do. It can be playing checkers, and I’m confident.”
As if sensing blindside pressure, Webb quickly added: “Don’t blow that out of proportion. That can be a question that can be deceiving.”
Toward the end of Manning’s interview period, he was asked if he understands why this is happening. If he at least can appreciate that he is 36 years old, that the Giants used a third-round pick on Webb, that at 1-7 they are going nowhere this season, and that they may need to start looking to the future.
“Sure,” he said, sounding too exhausted or perturbed from the speculation to fight back verbally any longer.
It was right about then that Webb walked to his locker to begin his interviews.