TWO GIANTS QUARTERBACKS VIE FOR SPOT THEY WILL LIKELY NEVER SEE
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning and the Giants’ first-team offense will get their longest stints of the preseason in the annual MetLife Bowl tomorrow night against the Jets. But backup quarterbacks Geno Smith and Josh Johnson will still get their share of scrutiny.
The two veterans continue to compete for the No. 2 job behind Manning. Rookie Davis Webb remains in the mix, but he didn’t play Monday night in Cleveland. And Smith will garner more attention because for the first time he will face the Jets, who drafted him on the second round in 2013 and for whom he played the previous four seasons.
“You always want to go out there and prove yourself,” Smith said. “But nothing extra added toward them, though. I have a lot of great respect for a lot of people in that organization, and I appreciated my time there. But now it’s just focusing on what we have to focus on, which is going out there and executing on game day.”
Because Manning has started 199 consecutive regular-season games, the Giants enter every season expecting their backup to see little, if any, action. But that player still has the potential to become a very important player.
Coach Ben McAdoo hasn’t hinted if there is a leader in the backup competition. Johnson started the preseason opener against Pittsburgh when Manning got the night off. Smith was the first reserve in the game against the Browns. Neither quarterback has led the team on a touchdown drive (nor did Manning).
Smith has completed 21 of 33 passes for 193 yards, but he’s thrown both of the Giants’ interceptions, including one from Cleveland’s four-yard line. “I think he is picking up the offense,” McAdoo said. “He is working hard at it. He gets football. He throws a nice, catchable ball and he completes a lot of balls, so we just have to eliminate the negative plays.” Asked if Smith must avoid turnovers to make the team, McAdoo said, “Taking care of the ball would be an important part of being on this team, yes.”
Smith refuses to obsess about turnovers.
“I never think about it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t put my focus on the negative. When I go out on the field, I think about scoring touchdowns, leading the guys and making sure we’ve got that fire and that drive to go out there and put points on the board. You can never eliminate turnovers from the game. Every quarterback has them; it happens. Unfortunately, that’s a part of the game, but you’ve got to overcome it.”
Johnson has completed seven of 14 passes for 37 yards. He is more familiar with the offense after spending the entire 2016 season with the Giants. Like Smith, Johnson has alternated working with the second and third teams in practice.
“It’s more about being comfortable within the system,” Johnson said. “Having guys interchanging, it makes you be more disciplined as a quarterback, because you have to be more in control of everything and make sure the guys are on the same page. It’s really just about keeping it simple for the guys that are new and really not trying to overwhelm them. I understand that they are learning; they haven’t been here all offseason, and some of them haven’t been here for all of training camp. It’s really about just coming to an understanding, doing things that they’re comfortable with, as well as putting us in the best position to win the game.”
Smith also downplayed playing with multiple combinations of players.
“Honestly, it’s not really been that challenging, because we’ve got a great amount of guys who are competing for spots,” he said. “Everyone’s really just focusing on, not only themselves, but helping this team become great. That’s one thing that I appreciate, is that no matter who’s out there, whether it’s first, second or third team, guys are busting their butts and trying to get better.”
Another element was injected into the competition this week when four wide receivers were unable to practice because of injuries. The four absentees were Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, and Tavarres King. If they don’t suit up vs. the Jets, Smith and Johnson will be throwing passes to a collection of wideouts who are notable largely because of their inexperience. The group includes Travis Rudolph, Jerome Lane, Canaan Severin, Ed Eagan, C.J. Germany and Marquis Bundy.
“It’s a challenge that you accept because of the fact that it makes you take more ownership of the offense,” Johnson said. “You have to be a leader. You have to get guys up to speed, seeing and challenging them, see what they know and what they don’t know. If you have to have meetings with them off to the side, you do that. You have to really push the envelope with those guys and get them up to speed as soon as possible. But at the same time, when you get out there in a game, try not to do too much with them. Just really getting and allowing them to play fast so they can help put us in the best position to win the game.”
McAdoo won’t let the quarterbacks use untested receivers as an excuse for a poor performance.
“They still have to go out and play,” he said. “They have to trust the players that they are playing with. We will make adjustments with what we do in the game with players who haven’t been around here very long, but they will still have to go out and compete.”
*The Giants and Jets will meet for the 49th consecutive preseason. The Giants trail in the series, 25-22-1, with the tie coming in 1972. They won last year, 21-20. Manning played the entire first half and the first series of the third quarter, completing 10 of 15 passes for 65 yards.
“We are going to treat (tomorrow’s game) very similarly to the way we treated last year’s third game,” McAdoo said. “We may make some adjustments. We do have three games in 11 days and we will take that into consideration.”