A few weeks ago my family and I took a little vacation.
The timing of the trip was not exactly ideal, with the excursion taking place the week before the NFL Draft. You know, that time of year when I tend to have a few things on the calendar. However, left to the whim of those who set the school calendar in Montgomery County, Md., that was Spring Break week. So we packed the family - and all my draft materials - into the car and headed north, to a lovely resort in the Poconos.
Woodloch Resort was a very enjoyable experience for the whole family. Activities all day long to keep both our young children entertained, an impressive list of dining options, and nightly entertainment for the entire family. It was actually a pleasant trip, thanks in additional part to one thing that I have learned along the way as a dad.
Now, I’m not the ideal person to be doling out parenting advice. If you’re here for that, you might want to turn around right now. But if there is one thing I have learned about being a dad, and especially about vacationing with children, it’s this: Set expectations critically low. I mean, bare minimum type of low. Some of you have probably seen that commercial for a travel website that has a family staggering towards their hotel room, and one of the children has lost his shoe between home, the airport and now the hotel. These are the type of expectations you want to set and hopefully surpass: No one loses a shoe.
Why do this? Because if you just go into the adventure hoping for baby steps, you won’t be disappointed.
When asked to put together a piece setting expectations for Daniel Jones and his first rookie mini-camp, these images came rushing into my mind.
Jones and the rest of the new Giants are going to take the field for their first action as professional players. Given that Jones was selected early in the first round, a circus-like atmosphere will also descend upon the practice facility, looking for every single sign that Jones can live up to the first-round billing. While the impetus might be there to overreact and over analyze every read, throw and play, I’m here with some ... fatherly advice.
Setting the expectations
Back in 2004 another young quarterback was approaching his first mini-camp as a professional. In front of an array of media personnel and cameras that he said outnumbered the people living in Mississippi, Eli Manning ... struggled. Here are just some of the reviews after his first few days:
“Somewhat of a bust.” The Giants “had to expect more.” “Sloppy.” “Deer in the headlights.”
The media focused heavily on the results of each practice snap, looking at things like wobbly passes, interceptions, and the like. That cannot be the grading scale for Jones, and it should not be for any player this week. Let’s take a moment to reflect what the incoming rookies have been doing for the past few months: Going through the world’s longest and strangest job interview. From the time Jones’s college career ended, he has been training and preparing for the “test,” or “tests,” he would face along the way. The Senior Bowl. The Combine. His Pro Day. His team visits. Finally he will get back to doing what he knows: Playing football.
But that being said, given his focus the past few months - and the development he will need to achieve to become a starter in the NFL - expectations should be low. While the draw will be there to try and pour over his stats each day and live or die with each throw he makes, instead the focus should be on the larger picture, and what he needs to do each day to get better and prepare for life as an NFL QB.
With that in mind, here is what I’m going to be looking for.
Learning the Offense - Jones will likely struggle. Reporting will probably be similar to how Manning’s first mini-camp was rolled out, with wobbly throws and interceptions and even some fumbled snaps. But this is just the first step on hopefully a long journey, and he will not be a finished product out of the gate. What I will be watching for are signs that he is learning the offense. Is he making the right reads and decisions? Is he picking up on defensive rotations? Is he understanding the protection schemes in front of him, and how to adjust them? Even these will be slower than they need to be at the start, but that should be the focus. Not on the results, but on the process.
Another reason to focus on the process is because of the talent that is going to be in place around him this weekend. Jones will be throwing to players that he probably won’t be throwing to if he sees the field this year, or next. So that is another reason that the process, and not the results, are the key this weekend.
Becoming a Professional - Dave Gettleman indicated that he would love to have a “Mahomes model” take shape for the Giants at the quarterback position. While part of that process might be drafting a quarterback with the immense talent of Patrick Mahomes, there is more to the equation than a rocket right arm and a great football mind. Mahomes had to learn the business of being a professional quarterback, from Monday morning through Sunday afternoon, and everything that comes in between. Mahomes was lucky in that Alex Smith was an incredible tutor for him.
For Jones, who needs to learn the same things, that process begins this weekend. Taking in the information during the meetings and then applying it on the practice field. Mental reps are going to be critical for him throughout his rookie year, especially if he does end up sitting and watching for an entire season. There is a difference between observing from the sidelines and learning from the sidelines. Every practice snap can be a learning experience for Jones, whether he is the quarterback running the drill or not. What is he seeing from the defense? How would he handle that play-call? What check would he make or what aspect of the protection would he adjust. Jones needs to immerse himself in the business of playing quarterback, starting this weekend. Every single moment in front of him is an opportunity to learn and get better, and he needs to take advantage of those chances. Ask questions and never stop learning.
The Giants welcome in some new members of the family this weekend, including their prized first round draft pick. His development begins now, and how he handles these moments will go a long way towards determining whether he lives up to the early selection and proves Gettleman right, or whether he proves those on the outside criticizing the selection right. But the expectations for what we see this weekend are more in line with first steps, not a finished product. As with traveling with young children, setting those expectations in a proper light is the first step towards enjoying the overall experience.