Head coach Tom Coughlin says that coming off the worst season of his 10-year NFL career "there's no question" quarterback Eli Manning can return to playing championship-caliber football.
"There's no question in my mind about that," Coughlin said. "As a matter of fact, this studying part, it's a good thing. It is a good thing. And that's really what I wanted to go ahead and put in place, where the wheels for the veteran players, the wheels were really turning and so that was part of the objective."
For the sake of the 2014 Giants, and maybe even for the impact of the upcoming season on the legacies of the quarterback and the coach, Coughlin had better be right. If he isn't right all the overhauling the Giants have done of the offensive coaching staff, system and personnel will be naught and the season will go up in flames.
The 33-year-old Manning is, of course, learning a new offensive system for the first time in his 11-year career. For Manning, the change is much more drastic than simply getting play calls from a new voice. Manning has made his career as a risk-taker in a vertical passing game, with screens and check downs being an after thought. Now, he finds himself in a West Coast offense reliant on quick, short throws where accuracy and decisiveness in getting rid of the ball are paramount. It is a huge change for Manning, who recently admitted he has been studying more and taking more work home with him than ever before.
"I think that process of having to really grind to go back to where you're learning something very, very fundamental and you can't assume a thing, even though there's vastness involved obviously it's not simple," Coughlin said. "...If Eli's grinding and studying and as smart as he is, you know those other guys have got to apply themselves as well. And since they're all in this same boat, the new, the old, whatever, I like it. I think it's a good thing."
After throwing a career-worst and league-high 27 interceptions a season ago, something had to change for Manning, who has two years left on his contract. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo Thursday vowed that the Giants' turnover issue (a league-worst 42 in 2013) "can be fixed, and yes, it will be fixed."
To fix that, the Giants have to get Manning back to that championship level Coughlin spoke about. In this offense that means Manning, who has made a career of eschewing the safe, short play to seek the bigger play or the home run, will have to change. He will have to make the short throw and be accurate with it to create catch-and-run chances, make the quick decision, learn to reign in that desire to go for the big play all the time.
"I think he's done an excellent job of studying and being prepared for each practice each day. He's picked up the offense in a short amount of time, he's done a great job with adjustments. I think all-in-all we're very pleased with where we're at, especially with him," said quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf.
Langsdorf said Manning has worked diligently not only to learn the terminology of the offense, but the nuances of the footwork he had not been accustomed to."We've spent a lot of time fundamentally throughout the spring, both footwork and everything from ball fakes, ball handling to throwing accurately to dropping back," Langsdorf said. "There's a little bit different of footwork that we're using, some of the routes that he's used to, and we're timing it up with the receivers so there's a little bit of fundamental work but he's a veteran guy and a pro that's had success for a long time so we're not doing anything, drastic changes, but just trying to fine tune and tweak a few things.
"He's taken it upon himself that he needs to have a great season coming up. He knows, I think he's had, with the amount of success he's had in the past, I think he knows the challenges of last year, the turnovers and things. He's been very motivated to improve and you can see that just with his daily preparation. He's in early, he stays late, he's studying. ... He's taken it very seriously."
If the Giants are to be a factor in the NFC East in 2014 the Giants desperately need the championship-caliber Eli. Seriously.