Eli Manning will probably play into the third quarter Saturday night against the New York Jets. After that, Geno Smith and Josh Johnson figure to each get brief opportunities to show the New York Giants why he should be the team’s No. 2 quarterback.
One of the two figures to get the job when the Giants trim their roster from 90 players to 53 at the end of next week. The other? He will be looking for another NFL opportunity, one that may not come.
Let’s break down the competition.
The 26-year-old Smith has proven this summer that he is healthy, moving well and taking hits on his surgically repaired knee without incident. What he hasn’t proven is that he has overcome the mistake-prone tendencies he showed while throwing 36 interceptions to just 28 touchdown passes in four seasons with the New York Jets.
Smith has completed 21-of-33 passes in two preseason games, a 63.6 percent completion rate. He has two interceptions, though, and has had at least one other interception wiped out via penalty.
"Taking care of the ball would be an important part of being on this team, yes,” head coach Ben McAdoo said Thursday when asked about Smith’s propensity to turn the ball over. "He's picking up the offense, he's working hard at it, he gets football, he throws a nice catchable ball and he completes a lot of balls. We just have to eliminate the negative plays."
It is ironic that Smith could make or break his chance of sticking with the Giants while facing his former team on Saturday night.
“It’s going to be an exciting game. Another opportunity to go out there and play with these guys on my new team and to really build ourselves up,” Smith said, “Obviously, going against your old team, you may have a few emotions here and there, but I think I’ll be able to manage it well.”
Smith tries not to worry about the turnovers.
“I never think about it. Honestly, I don’t put my focus on the negative. When I go out on the field, I think about scoring touchdowns, leading the guys and making sure we’ve got that fire and that drive to go out there and put points on the board. You can never eliminate turnovers from the game. Every quarterback has them, you know, it happens. Unfortunately that’s a part of the game, but you’ve got to overcome it,” Smith said. “So, without being able to play a full game, you can’t necessarily see that, but all in all when you’re in the red zone, you’ve got to take care of the football. All those things come in as factors. You’ve definitely got to be mindful of it. You know, that’s first things first is protecting the football, but you don’t want to go out there and play scared or just check it down every time.
Smith also said he is trying not to focus on the competition with Johnson.
“I understand there’s a competition, but everyone’s out here competing. I’m not the only one, and everyone wants to win that spot,” Smith said. “So, you can’t focus on that. You can’t let that beat you up. You’ve just got to go out there and work your butt off and be confident and let that show.”
The 31-year-old Johnson, a fifth-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2008, has not had as many opportunities in the first two games as Smith. Johnson is 7-of-14 passing for 37 yards.
Johnson has not thrown a pass in an NFL regular-season game since 2011, but has managed to carve out a career as an always ready, always hopeful backup. He hopes to continue that with the Giants.
“It means everything. The more opportunities I get to play this game … My love for football has allowed me to stay this long. It has allowed me to push through the hard times, to be humble and to keep working in the good times,” Johnson said. “Right now, I’m really trying to just stay in the moment. Obviously, the goal is to be on this team and to be the backup quarterback, but you really have to live in the moment and control what you can control in this process. You can’t really worry about things that you can’t control; that is how you let things pass you by.”
What can Johnson do to show the Giants he should be the backup for Manning?
“First and foremost, take control of the huddle. Be a leader out there, move us up and down the field and continue to get first downs. Put us in position to make sure we get points and are capitalizing in the green zone. No turnovers, protect the football; that’s the most important thing we preach around here. Without the ball, we can’t do anything,” Johnson said. “It’s really doing my job to the best of my ability and making sure that the other 10 guys that I’m out there with are all on the same page.”
At this point, the No. 2 job feels like Smith’s to lose. If he plays well Saturday when he gets his chance, there may be little Johnson can do to take the spot from him.
If the Giants were to end up cutting Smith, he would almost certainly get another opportunity elsewhere. Should they release Johnson, that might signal the end of his NFL journey.