The last time the Giants changed up their offensive system, which was four years ago, it was a bit of a tedious process. Ben McAdoo tinkered with Eli Manning’s footwork to the point where it was like re-teaching the quarterback to walk, the receivers had to grasp complex theories and make their reads and adjustments in microseconds, and the running game relied on a timing that never quite reached clock-like precision. It was barely sundial accurate.
Even McAdoo himself, a first-year offensive coordinator at the time, cautioned about a steep learning curve ahead. After four years, it at times felt as if it never leveled off.
This time, though, as the Giants transition from their old scheme to Pat Shurmur’s new one, the adjustment seems to already be ahead of pace. It’s only OTAs, voluntary spring workouts in shorts and helmets, but the offensive pieces that have been on the field for the Giants throughout the offseason workouts have been flying around, making plays and looking comfortable doing so.
“The speed that we’re picking up this offense is really awesome,” tight end Rhett Ellison said on Monday after a feisty practice.
Ellison, of course, has a jump on that process. He played under Shurmur in Minnesota and had a fairly good grasp of the offense before the new Giants head coach ever loosened his tie from his introductory news conference. The reason others have caught on, Ellison said, isn’t so much about Shurmur’s schemes.
It’s about Shurmur.
“I know Shurmur and how he teaches and how he finds ways of really just simplifying it and making it relevant to every position group,” Ellison told Newsday. “That’s just who Shurmur is . . . It’s hard to explain unless you are sitting in the meetings, but he’s just a great communicator. Some people are just gifted with that. And he also trusts the people he has put around him so he’s not in everybody’s business. He’s letting the coaches and the team embrace what he’s teaching instead of just forcing things on guys.”
While Ellison did not mention Shurmur’s predecessor by name, his description of the current head coach is about as far from the McAdoo Stylebook as a coach can be. And it’s a big reason why things seem to be coming together as a brisk pace.
“Last year was a little bit harder to learn [the offense],” second-year running back Wayne Gallman told Newsday. “The way the coaches teach it and how they make it easier for us, it could definitely be hard but they made it easier for us. And the thing I like about this offense is that it’s not that hard to learn. The coaches teach it and everything has come pretty quick. At first it was like everything was very new, but now it’s clicking.”
It’s why wide receiver Cody Latimer, when asked about his play thus far, gave the kind of answer that typically doesn’t come until much further along in the installation of an offense.
“Just here playing ball,” he said, “playing fast and not thinking.”
Even wide receiver Russell Shepard, picked up as a free agent just two weeks ago, has already achieved a pretty good understanding. He played under Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula in Carolina last year, but he said he’s also been impressed by the way Shurmur presents the playbook.
“He does a great job of expanding the whole concept, the whole thing,” Shepard said. “Some coaches get zoned in and focus on one thing, but he does a great job of explaining it from all different angles. He’s a great teacher before anything. And that’s the core of being a coach is teaching.”
The core of winning football games, though, is students. Or in this case, players. How well they can not only grasp the plays but translate them into production on the field will determine the professorial merits of the head coach.
So far, Shurmur seems to be deserving of an apple.
“We’re already able to move the ball without memorizing a script or something like that, so it’s pretty cool,” Ellison said. “For where we are, it looks good. But obviously there’s a way to go.”