Tom Coughlin might be a touch sadistic, and the evidence is in his reply to the mental anguish he’s inflicted upon Eli Manning this offseason.
The New York Giants coach smiled broadly on Tuesday when asked about Manning saying he’s "nervous" about starting his 11th NFL season playing under a different offensive scheme brought over by new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
"That’s a good thing. That’s what all this was done for, to make (Manning) a little nervous and excited about studying and getting back at it, and the rest of them, too," Coughlin said. "So I think that’s a good response. I read one of the responses was something about him being uncomfortable. Well, that’s the position I’ve taken since Day 1 and we don’t want anybody around here comfortable."
Since arriving here in 2004, Manning has pretty much played under the same system, which emphasized a solid running game to set up play-action passes and shots down the field. Before McAdoo was hired, Manning had only two offensive coordinators and, for the past seven seasons, it was Kevin Gilbride under the headset. Gilbride’s schemes often worked well (Manning’s franchise-record 4,933 yards in the Super Bowl season of 2011 proved as much), but last season the Giants couldn’t protect well enough to give Manning the time to throw down the field. Manning said as soon as he tried to adjust by getting rid of the ball quickly, defenses started crowding the short routes to take them away.
Now, McAdoo is implementing a scheme that will often ask Manning to get rid of the ball quickly. It’s a West Coast-style offense, or at least as much of one as can possibly exist this many years after the late Bill Walsh popularized it. Manning threw a career-high 27 interceptions last season and his 57.5-percent completion rate was his lowest since 2007, which is why Coughlin was intrigued by a system that, theoretically, should lead to higher-percentage throws — provided Manning gets comfortable with the playbook before Week 1.
But Manning isn’t the only old dog around here trying to learn new tricks. Even Coughlin has had to do some catching up.
"It’s different where it’s not his offense anymore, so that’s been new for him. It’s been someone else’s offense he’s been learning as well," Manning told FOX Sports before Tuesday’s practice, the first of training camp for the Giants. "But we’re working with (quarterbacks coach) Danny (Lansdorf) and working with Ben on getting that down and talking through that. (Coughlin) has asked what I feel more comfortable doing, so we’re practicing it all and talking over it to make sure I’m comfortable and it makes sense to us."
Manning said the biggest adjustment for him right now has been his footwork. Previously, he would worry only about the depths of his drops and then scan the field. Without giving too many inside secrets away, Manning explained McAdoo’s system requires him to begin his drop with a certain foot and set his feet in a particular direction based on the play call and routes.
"It’s more precise," he said. "You have to rely on listening to your feet to tell you when to go to your next progression, when to run, when to extend the play. It’s really listening to your feet to tell you what to do with the ball and where to go. … I think it times up better on certain things. That’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but I like it. It makes sense and I understand it."
It also makes sense to Victor Cruz. Like Coughlin and Manning, the Giants’ star receiver has been working on the terminology aspect of the new offense. In the meantime, he knows quicker passes mean a better chance to run after the catch.
That’s how the big play could return to the Giants’ offense. Anyone who thinks short passes means no long gainers should go back to 2011 and watch what Cruz did on his 99-yard touchdown in the huge Week 16 victory over the New York Jets or the 74-yarder against the Dallas Cowboys a week later that began as a quick out to the left sideline.
Rookie Odell Beckham Jr., whom the Giants need to contribute immediately alongside Cruz and Rueben Randle, is also very good after the catch. Manning will try to get all of his targets the football more quickly than he ever has to take advantage of their abilities. And while he might not have as smooth of a release as McAdoo’s former pupil Aaron Rodgers (especially considering how smooth Rodgers is while on the move), Manning plans to trust his guys to make plays.
"I would love that. Any receiver would love to get the ball as early as possible so they can see the defender coming and make him miss, especially a guy like myself that loves to do things after I catch the ball," Cruz said. "If I can catch it earlier with some space, that’s always a positive."
Cruz added, "Absolutely, I like to have the ball in my hands, whether it be a 3-yard route or a 30-yard route. I want the ball in my hands so I can make big-time moves and make people miss and get in that end zone.”
Manning might be nervous about how much new material he’ll have to learn, but he believes the pieces are in place to get this Giants offense back on track.
"We’re going to hit some big plays," he said. "It’s a matter of getting the ball into your receivers hands and letting them make plays, hitting them in stride, getting them in the open field. If you throw the ball accurately, they can make something happen."