Violent thunderstorms gave way to a warm and humid backdrop in northern New Jersey today as the Giants took the field for their second straight day of fully padded practice. There was a buzz at the Quest Diagnostic Training Center as celebrity Giant fan LL Cool J, star of NCIS: Los Angeles, was in attendance to watch his favorite team practice.
Danny Langsdorf, the Giants new quarterback’s coach, caused an even bigger buzz, when he stated that one of the goals this season is for Eli Manning to complete 70% of his passes. Given that Manning’s best season completion percentage was 62.9% in 2010, the Giants single season record, that’s quite the stretch goal. Even Aaron Rodgers has not achieved a 70% completion rate for a season, his best being 68.3% in 2011. Langsdorf also said that Manning is “a better athlete that I thought.” On the new offense, he added that Manning is picking it up quite well, is getting more comfortable, and isn’t wasting time at the line of scrimmage. Speaking after practice, Coughlin said he is on board with the 70% target and believes it’s achievable in the West Coast offense.
If Manning reaches a 70% completion rate in 2014, it will be higher than his 2013 quarterback rating, which was 69.4. In order to achieve the goal, Manning will need to complete 69 more of his passes or 4.3 per game. He would join some elite company that includes Sammy Baugh (70.3% in 1945, on 182 passes), Ken Anderson (70.6% in 9 strike shortened games in 1982), Joe Montana (70.2 in 1989), Steve Young (70.3% in 1994), and Drew Brees (71.2% in 2011). Alex Smith was completing passes at a 70.2% rate through 10 games in 2012 before he was benched for Colin Kaepernick. An interesting note is the absence of Peyton Manning from the 70% club. The elder Manning’s best season completion rate was 68.6% with Denver in 2012. It’s an admirable goal, but one that Eli Manning doesn’t have the skill set to achieve.
Manning also addressed the media, but was not asked about the completion percentage goal. Sporting the start of a beard, Manning thinks that yesterday’s practice went well and that the offense had pretty good speed throughout. He said the tempo sped up with pads. Among the new things Manning is doing in the new scheme is a change in his footwork.
Tight Ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride did not single out a specific player that has stepped up at the position, but said the entire group has stood out at different points. Gilbride said the team is looking for a tight end who can “do it all,” but needs depth players in specific roles. He pointed out that the team has made a specific effort to get all five players first team reps in practice. He said the competition for the starting position is wide open, a statement that should come as a surprise to no one. On Adrien Robinson, Gilbride said he has “flashed” in camp, but has been inconsistent, and needs to develop further. Regarding the role of the tight end in the new offense, he confirmed what the players have been saying, that it will be a major role, and that the tight ends will frequently line up in the backfield. In his post practice press conference, Coughlin was asked if any of the tight ends stood out. “Not one, but there’s been some progress,” was his reply.
Wide Receiver Mario Manningham admits he needs to knock off some cobwebs but believes he is rounding back into the player he was before he left the Giants in 2012. He recognizes that he needs to re-establish a rapport with Manning and while he known the knee he injured in San Fransisco is fixed, Manningham still needs to regain confidence by planting his foot on the ground in a game. He called his time with the Forty-Niners “frustrating” and admits he’s not quite back to 100%, but is feeling better every day.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins is not surprised that he has not been tapped as an immediate starter, but said that nothing changed when Linval Joseph left the team. He has been training to start all along. Hankins added that he likes how the new defense is coming together and his combination with defensive tackle Markus Kuhn has been great. He thinks the biggest improvement in his game is pushing the pocket.
Safety Antrel Rolle has been impressed by rookies linebacker Devon Kennard and safety Nat Berhe. He is looking forward to seeing what both can do when allowed to hit players on another team at full speed. Rolle’s face lit up when asked about Kennard’s physicality and pointed out that “he lets up.” On Berhe, Rolle said that he shows promise, and believes he will become a good safety.
Kennard, the rookie start of camp, also addressed the media and was asked what his favorite position is among the many he has played. “Defense,” was the response. When asked about his coverage skills, Kennard said they are “a work in progress.”
The team took the field for a shortened practice period and started with kickoff returns. Trindon Holliday was in uniform and took part returning kicks along with David Wilson, Quintin Demps, and Jerrel Jernigan. Afterwards, Holliday was back on the sideline with his sore right leg wrapped. One of the wrinkles of the kickoff return practice was a ball stripping drill, which, if executed in a game, can turn momentum on a dime.
Kennard made his presence felt again in a punt coverage drill as he pancaked fellow rookie Dan Fox. Later in practice, the rookie dynamo registered a second big hit on running back Rashad Jennings.
It was Brandon McManus turn to kick and he missed his first kick of training camp as appeared to slip on a 45 yard attempt. His other three attempts were good, bringing his overall success rate to 11 for 12. Today’s kicks included a 50 yarder.
Neither Odell Beckham or Xavier Gimble, both nursing hamstring injuries, took part in today’s practice. Coughlin said they were both with team doctors having tests run. Offensive tackle Troy Kropog joined the ranks of the injured as he was carted off. No word on the severity of the injury.
Eli Manning got off to a rough start as the team came out in a two minute drill practice that pit the starting offense against the second team defense. Manning’s first pass, a deep sideline throw to Rueben Randle, was intercepted on a leaping effort by cornerback Zack Bowman. Manning bounced back with a touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Fells after a missing a fade to Jerrel Jernigan. Overall, Manning tried to hit Randle deep three times during the practice session, going 0-3 with the interception. Perhaps the “communication” issues have not been cleared up yet.
Rookie running back Andre Williams, who is determined to improve is pass catching skills, showed he still has some work to do as one bounced off his pads in the flat. The catch of the day was turned in by tight end Larry Donnell who made an acrobatic catch down the seam on a pass from Ryan Nassib. He punctuated it with a somersault upon landing.
Hankins took some reps with the first team and got into a dust up with fullback Henry Hynoski. Helmets went flying, but it was nothing more than typical training camp scuffling.
The new “NASCAR” pass rush package made another appearance, featuring Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathais Kiwanuka, Robert Ayers, and Damontre Moore along the defensive line. Here’s hoping the new NASCAR pass rush is as successful as the original.
Practice ended early and the team went inside for recovery stretches. The GPS devices that monitor the players vital statistics, performance, and exertion likely determined that it was time to end practice on an extremely hot and humid day. The new strategy appears to be succeeding as nagging injuries are minimal compared to previous camps. Even the coaches got into the spirit and participated in the recovery stretching today.
Play calling was discussed post practice, and Coughlin advised that Ben McAdoo will be on the sidelines, not up in the coaches booth, calling the plays starting with this Sunday’s preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. Asked about snap distribution, Coughlin only said that he’s thought about it since the game was announced. He did add that with five preseason games, there will be plenty of snaps for the starters.
The team practices tomorrow from 1:20 PM to 3:30 PM, GPS device permitting. Practice notes will be delayed as I am attending live with my sister, niece and her 4 month old some, a Giant fan in training. Look for the update in the evening.