Pressure cooker’s on for Manning

Published on: 28th February, 2010

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East Rutherford, N.J. — As the 32 NFL teams open their training camps this week, the big question surrounding the Giants as they begin their 82nd season in the NFL remains eerily similar to that which faced this team before the 2006 training camp commenced: Will Eli Manning finally deliver consistent performances, correct his occasionally misplaced on-field decision-making, and develop into the team leader the 2007 Giants sorely need him to be?

By Scott Mandel / Special to SNY.tv

 

It’s fair to say this is a franchise in transition with the retirement of Tiki Barber and the aging of veteran stars Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer. The Giants are badly in need of new leadership on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Manning, entering his fourth year, says he’s ready to take on that role.

“Leadership is something you either feel or you don’t,” Manning said recently. “It’s part of growing up and becoming a more mature player. You want people to look up to you, you want people to come up to you with questions and for support. You want people to watch how you do things. It’s what I’m used to and what I expect.”

It’s fair to say expectations are greater than ever for the Giants quarterback. Considering his family pedigree, his skills, and the huge investment the Giants made to secure him in the 2004 draft, any excuses referencing his youth and inexperience will no longer be acceptable to most Giants fans. Manning will either become one of the top quarterbacks in the league this year or he could very well be viewed as one of the all-time busts. Suffice to say, his progress and how he deals with adversity will be scrutinized all season long by teammates, coaches, fans and the opposition.

Unlike last season however — when the Giants leaned on Barber to pick up the slack when nothing else was clicking for them offensively — there will be no such safety valve for the Giants this year. Now, the burden and the pressure of putting points on the board will fall squarely on the shoulders of Manning as he becomes the new focal point of the Giants’ offense.

At the Giants’ recent three day mini-camp, Manning did not seem fazed. Rather, he’s fully aware of the pressure cooker he’s now playing under here in the nation’s biggest media market.

“You can’t do anything about pressure, you can’t control it,” he said. “I feel I’m prepared for this situation. I’m looking forward to this season. It’s part of being an NFL quarterback.”

Manning also recognizes the importance of becoming a more consistent performer and one capable of handling adversity better than he has in the past.

“Any quarterback could start out throwing two interceptions early in the game, but the great players bounce back,” he said. “They don’t let it affect them the rest of the game.

“The key for me is simple. You don’t want to make costly mistakes when it matters.”

For his career, Manning has started 39 consecutive games and led the Giants to the playoffs each of the last two years. His completion percentage last year was just 54.1 percent, putting him 21st among 32 ranked quarterbacks. His 77 percent quarterback rating was 18th, just behind Jon Kitna and David Garrard. His 18 interceptions were the fourth most by a starting quarterback. Certainly not what the Giants and their fans may have expected.

The Giants recognized the need for Manning to increase his growth curve as their off-season hiring of Chris Palmer — a known NFL quarterback guru — indicated. They also handed the offensive play-calling reigns to Kevin Gilbride, with whom Manning reportedly had a better relationship than he had had with predecessor John Hufnagel.

Coughlin feels Manning has shown good progress since this past April’s mini-camp.

“I think anytime you have a guy going into his fourth season, having seen an awful lot of things, it’s a plus,” Coughlin said. “This spring, he got a lot of work with Jeremy Shockey, Sinorice Moss, Steve Smith, Michael Jennings, and some of the young tight ends, Darcy Johnson and Kevin Boss. I think it will really pay off for him.”

Coughlin believes this improved familiarity will lead to better decision-making by his quarterback in game situations.

“The more players have a chance to work on the communication between the quarterback and the receiver — even if it is not spoken — the better off we can be,” Coughlin added. “That’s what you are really after — the unspoken, the look of the eye. It can only help us win.”

Gilbride has noticed some improvement in Manning.

“There are different drills to try to get him to accomplish the same goals that we’ve always had for Eli,” Gilbride said. “We want him to be in balance when he throws the ball, have his feet underneath him so he gets the weight transferred from the back to the front, just the basic fundamental things.”

Gilbride is also working with Manning to improve his in-game decision-making.

“He usually makes great decisions, but it’s been those occasional bad ones that have really hurt us. So those are the ones we are trying to stay away from. Eli looks at hours of film, he works hard to understand things that are going on out there.”

It remains to be seen whether Manning’s outwardly calm, country boy demeanor is the ideal fit for this particular team or town. He has, perhaps, not yet comprehended that the job of quarterback of the New York Giants, like it or not, requires poise and leadership on and off the field.

That’s particularly the case without a veteran presence like Barber to speak with authority to his teammates as well as to the hyperactive New York press corps. In addition, Coughlin is now working on a one-year “win or else” contract, so it’s safe to say the 61-year-old coach will no longer treat Manning with kid gloves. If Manning doesn’t perform, Coughlin will do and say whatever it takes to win games, including using backups.

Another season of mediocrity will undoubtedly set off a huge chain reaction within the Giant organization beginning with a new coaching staff and, perhaps, an organizational review of the quarterback position.

There is big pressure this year on the Giants, Coughlin and Manning. This is the season that we find out if Eli will forever be described as the quarterback who never seemed to improve from his first season or if he will become an elite, winning player in this league, joining his brother in the pantheon of the quarterback position.

It should be a fascinating season, practice to practice, game to game.

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