Everybody loves the backup quarterback. Thus, with the New York Giants at 1-5, 37-year-old Eli Manning playing inconsistently and the Giants’ offense struggling to find its footing, the calls we have been hearing from the fan base for rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta to play were inevitable.
Those calls will grow louder should the Giants lose to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Even if the Giants win, they won’t subside. Not with the Giants almost certainly headed for a sixth season without a playoff berth in the last seven, and a dark cloud having been cast over Manning’s ability to finish out his contract as the team’s quarterback.
On Friday, I asked Lauletta about the increased media traffic at his locker recently and what he has learned from watching everything that has gone on around the Giants during the first six weeks of his NFL career.
“It’s very demanding in New York in general. Our fans and this city demands a lot. They want to see us win, they want to see us do well and obviously from the poor season we had last year a lot of fans were hopeful that we’d turn things around,” Lauletta said.
“They just expect a lot of you, but that’s how you want it. You want a fan base that’s going to be with you and be great fans, but if they’re not disappointed then they’re probably not a great fan base.
“We understand. It’s our job, it’s our responsibility to start winning some games.”
The Giants are going through a change after four years in the Ben McAdoo offensive system. New head coach and play-caller in Pat Shurmur, new offensive line, new running back, new wide receivers beyond Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
Lauletta has experience — lots of it — with learning new offensive systems while trying to win games. He had a different offensive coordinator in each of his four seasons at Richmond, and played in three completely different offenses. Thus, he understands what it’s like to play while you’re still trying to become comfortable with a new scheme.
“It’s very difficult. These are all new concepts and new stuff that these guys didn’t do last year,” Lauletta said. “Any time you’re exposed to something new you’re going to have some growing pains and make some mistakes here and there.”
Still, as he watches from the sideline in street clothes each week, Lauletta sees reason for optimism.
“We’ve had games where this game the o-line didn’t have a great game, or this game we dropped passes, or this or that, or Eli had a couple bad throws. Everybody wants to point fingers, but it’s a team sport and I think we just need to put it all together,” Lauletta said. “I think we’ve showed bright spots on offense. We have drives where we go and score and then we’re stagnant and we’re three-and-out the next two or three. We just need to pick it up in our consistency.”
That stuff, though, isn’t really what many in the fan base want to hear. Or think about. They want to know when the rookie is going to get to play.
That, of course, is out of his control. Reality is, that throwing him out there right now would be unfair to him. His practice reps have consisted to this point of running the Giants’ scout team, which means running the opposing team’s offense vs. the Giants’ starting defense. Lauletta has not been getting live reps running the Giants’ offense.
As Lauletta told me, it’s “Eli getting the reps because he’s the one who’s going to be getting the reps on Sundays and Mondays.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said during a session with media on Friday that he likes what he has seen from Lauletta.
“He’s talented, he’s got a good arm, he’s accurate. I think he’s got a lot of poise for a young guy,” Shula said. “He’s not just a smart young football player quarterback, but you kind of get a feel for rookies, quarterbacks or whatever position, but does football make sense to him outside of just what’s on the paper? And I think he definitely fits into that category.”
I asked Giants’ defensive back Michael Thomas for his thoughts on Lauletta:
“He plays hard. He’s trying to learn the game, he’s trying to get used to the speed, he picks up things fast, he can make every throw so far as what we’ve seen,” Thomas said. “I like the way the he’s developing.”
There may come a time this season when that development includes live reps, a game day uniform and perhaps some playing time. Fans can’t shake the nightmare of the way the Davis Webb situation unfolded a season ago. The Giants have a new GM and coach, though, so it’s really unfair to tether them to the decisions of the previous regime. If the season continues to spiral out of control, the Giants figure to put a plan in place to get Lauletta ready to play.
Until then, he says he will continue to do what he can to be ready.
“In the NFL another thing I’ve learned is that you have to prepare and be responsible for all the information that Eli is getting. If he takes a rep and we see a look and ‘hey, you should have done this.’ If you go in the game you’ve gotta know that because you should have been paying attention,” Lauletta said.
“The coaches do a great job preparing everybody. Obviously it’s hard when you haven’t repped it, but you still have to go out and execute. There’s no excuses.”
The Giants were thrilled when they found Lauletta still available to them with the 108th pick in the draft.
“He’s got all the stuff – he’s tough, he’s not shy in the pocket, he’s got pocket presence, patience and feel, which, again, those are instinctive things that you can’t teach,” GM Dave Gettleman said when the Giants drafted him. “He throws a really nice ball, he’s accurate, he’s got a sense of anticipation and timing and the other part is he’s a runner. He’s got legitimate escape dimensions and we’re really pleased about that.”
When will Lauletta get a chance to show whether those traits that attracted the Giants to him in the draft could translate to long-term success on the field? No one really knows. Finding out what they have in Lauletta, though, figures to be where the Manning succession plan starts.