Perhaps it seems like a preposterous question to ask whether or not the New York Giants are better at quarterback entering their 2015 training camp than they were a year ago. After all, with apologies to third wheel Ricky Stanzi, Eli Manning is still THE quarterback and Ryan Nassib is still the unknown understudy.
Yet, that is the question we are asking as we do position-by-position previews in advance of the Giants 2015 training camp. Are the Giants better at each position than they were a season ago?
So, are they better at quarterback? My answer to that is that yes, they are. Or, at the very least they have an excellent chance to be.
Think about 2014. Manning had ankle surgery. Even though he did participate in spring practices, trying to get his ankle right and ultimately undergoing the surgery had to impede his preparation for the season. The Giants were installing a completely new offense, different than what Manning had run the first 10 seasons of his career. It required not only acclimating to a new playbook and new terminology, but also a change in Manning's approach and -- most significantly -- learning completely new footwork at the age of 33.
Quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan, who worked under Kevin Gilbride previously and was not with the Giants last season, marveled at what Manning did last year.
"There are so many components, particularly from the timing standpoint and from a footwork standpoint, even just from the initial stance in the shotgun, which were different from what he had done in the previous 10 years of his career. I gained an even greater respect and appreciation for him to be able to adjust and to be able to have the open mind and embrace a lot of subtleties," Sullivan said during minicamp. "It's still football and it is still about a quarterback making good decisions, being accurate with the football and being a leader, but from a terminology and technique standpoint, I was very impressed with a lot of the things he has been able to adjust to."
Recall how ugly things were in the preseason, when Manning completed only 48.8 percent of his passes and it seemed like a moral victory when the first-team offense did more than go three-and-out.
The Giants eventually got things right on offense -- at least in the passing game. Manning finished with an excellent statistical year, completing a career-best 63.1 percent of his passes, throwing 30 touchdown passes to just 14 interceptions and posting a passer rating of 92.1, nearly 23 points better than his career-worst 69.4 in 2013.
As a team, the Giants scored no fewer than 24 points in any of their final six games.
Manning isn't learning an offense now, and wondering if this new thing he is being asked to do will work. He is now in control of an offense knows can succeed. He has learned the footwork and the philosophy. He and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo have a season's worth of trust and understanding built with each other. The Giants are not starting from scratch, which is where they were a season ago.
During OTAs, Manning talked about having a full, healthy offseason to work with McAdoo.
"It was big. It was important having this last month - watching the film, talking a lot about the mechanics, the footwork, being able to go outside with him and working on a lot of drill work. A lot of it is stuff I wasn't able to do last year. I was coming off the ankle surgery, I had a new offense - of lot of things going through the mind, trying to figure out concepts," Manning said. "This year, I understand the concepts. I'm still working on it, but I'm concentrating on the footwork and the mechanics and the timing of everything. It was great to have that this year and kind of get back to the basics of everything. I feel comfortable, I feel real good right now."
The veteran quarterback also has to have more confidence entering 2015, last season's improvement helping to erase the memory of his career-worst 2013 season.
"I think when you know where you are going with the ball, it always helps. Have a plan, have a progression where you are going to start, put your feet in the right direction, make sure you can be able to step into your throws and I think that when you have a little more comfort and have a better confidence in your reads and where you are going with the ball and getting to your second and third receivers in the progression, the ball should come out a little better," Manning said.
It would be remiss not to talk at least briefly about Nassib. As we have discussed here previously, we still haven't seen Nassib play snaps that mean anything, so he remains an unknown. He is, however, now in his third year in the NFL and second in the new offense, one that should suit him thanks in part to his mobility and having played in a similar system at Syracuse. In theory, Nassib should be better prepared than he would have been a year ago should he be forced into action.