Monday, October 18, 2004

Practice Report for Thursday

By Michael Eisen,

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One consequence of the Giants’ fast start is that the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft spends gamedays on the sidelines instead of on the field.
And that’s fine with Eli Manning.

Rookie QB Eli Manning continues to develop behind starting QB Kurt Warner.

“The number one thing for me is for the team to win,” Manning said. “It makes everything easier. It makes the next day coming in and the whole week go a little smoother. I’d like to be out there playing. But I’m making the best out of the situation and it’s fun to be a part of this team and to be winning games.”

The 4-1 Giants will take a four-game winning streak into their bye weekend. Quarterback Kurt Warner, who won the starting job with a strong training camp, has thrown just one interception in 147 pass attempts and has made several key plays.

Manning has played just once, at the end of the Giants’ only loss, 31-17 in Philadelphia on opening day. In what could be considered a good omen, the Giants scored a touchdown on his first professional snap on Tiki Barber’s 72-yard run.

Manning completed three of nine passes for 66 yards, including a 34-yarder to Barber. He was welcomed to the NFL with a crushing blind-side hit from the Eagles’ Jerome McDougle.

Manning is still the Giants’ quarterback of the future. But as long as Warner continues to excel and the Giants keep winning, he will remain a spectator during the games.

But Manning continues to grow and improve as a quarterback. He works hard every day in practice, both as the scout team quarterback and with the snaps he gets with the regular offense. Manning studies each week as if he is the starter and does a mental rep in practice each time Warner takes a snap.

In addition, at Tom Coughlin’s urging, Manning is studying tapes of successful NFL quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb and his brother, Peyton Manning of Indianapolis.

“I’m getting more comfortable with the offense,” Manning said. “You learn little things like simple reads, what defenses plays are better against. Each week when we put in the game plan you try to learn different philosophies of the offense and continue to learn what plays are good against certain defenses.

Because Manning is a Warner injury away from becoming the quarterback, he must prepare each week as thoroughly as the starter. When asked where Manning has made the biggest strides, Coughlin mentioned the mental aspect of the rookie’s progress.

Manning has benefited from having a willing and astute teacher in Warner, who has never hesitated to help the young player who aspires to take over his job. Manning has been able to learn about being a professional and what it takes to win in the NFL by watching Warner. But all the classroom and practice sessions can’t make up for not playing on Sunday.

Manning had a head start because he brings superb football intellect to the job.

“He certainly did an outstanding job of grasping all the things we threw at him in the spring and in the summer and even now of understanding what we want,” Coughlin said. “It’s a different thing to perform under pressure than it is to learn it obviously, but I can tell you this, that at no time did we back off anything in terms of preparation knowledge, level of sophistication because he was a rookie. Our plan was to load him up and that’s what we’ve done.”

Perhaps the most important question right now for the Giants regarding Manning is this: If something happens to Warner, can the rookie go in, run the team and win games?

“I think he would be as ready as anybody can possibly be,” Gilbride said. “Unless you are out there doing it, that is where your greatest growth takes place. He gets as much work as we can afford to give him in practice. In terms of the mental reps and the preparation that we can do in the meeting room and then in our drill work, he is doing all he can do and he is as good as any backup will be in terms of getting himself ready to go.”

For the Giants to find out definitively, Warner would have to suffer an injury. Obviously, no one wants that to happen. So for now, Manning will have to continue his hard work while waiting his turn to step into the lineup.