New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a 35-year-old, 12-year veteran in the NFL. There is nothing we can learn from his performance this preseason that we don’t already know…at least on the surface. Nothing Manning does individually will matter in the least in terms of predicting his 2016 season. He could throw for five touchdowns a game and it wouldn’t matter. He could complete 25 percent of his passes and play just three drives a game and it wouldn’t matter. Preseason numbers are almost always irrelevant when it comes to consistent and familiar characters like Manning.
However, Manning’s performance isn’t entirely ignorable because of the pieces around him. This preseason is actually going to be pretty important in seeing how the quarterback interacts and melds with some of his offensive teammates. There is a lot on the line, and building that chemistry and relationship strength in the preseason is key.
The most pressing relationship that must be built is that between Manning and rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Shepard is likely to start on this club opposite Odell Beckham Jr. It is a tall task for the rookie, but he seems up to it. That is, if he develops a rapport with his new QB.
It won’t be about how many yards Shepard gains on Manning throws in the exhibition games. Instead, it will be about consistency and execution. Two things to keep an eye on will be how often Manning looks Shepard’s way on pass plays and what percentage of targets Shepard is able to catch.
The first indicates a willingness to use and include the rookie. Whether Manning actually goes his way with a throw is not of importance as long as he’s looking to use him. The second portion tells us how that connection is building: if throws are where Shepard expects; if Shepard is where Manning expects him to be.
These factors are important for Manning and all of his receivers but especially with a rookie like Shepard. The same will go for Manning and his tight ends. In fact, in a personal way to the tight ends themselves, it could be even more important. The job of starting TE is still up in the air for the Giants. Whoever works the most comfortably in the offense with Manning could secure the spot during the preseason.
Larry Donnell in the past has been this guy for the Giants , but he has issues with drops and is coming off of an injury-plagued season. Will Tye filled in last season and seemed comfortable with Manning, but he doesn’t have the upside or athleticism of a Donnell or Jerrell Adams. On the team’s first unofficial depth chart released this week, Donnell had the first-team job; but that is far from a guarantee.
Much like the connection between Manning and Shepard, starting tight end will come down to who melds the best with Manning during August. That could very well be Donnell since he has the most experience of anyone vying for the spot. But Manning also has the most experience with his mistakes and miscues. Manning is always mellow on the outside, but it has to be tough to satisfy a two-time Super Bowl champion.
For Manning personally, this will be his third season in Ben McAdoo’s offense and first with McAdoo running the whole show as head coach. Mastering that playbook and relationship will perhaps have an even larger impact than with any specific teammate. Again, it won’t be about the stats Manning puts up. Instead it will be how comfortable he appears in calling audibles, making reads, making the correct choices against the defensive scheme in front of him, etc. These are basic quarterback necessities, but even the best passers go through peaks and valleys in a (relatively) new offense. This is where preseason football shows its usefulness.