Manning adjusting to expanded role
With Tiki Barber retired, the Giants are counting on Eli Manning to assert himself as the leader of their offense, writes Jeffri Chadiha.
With Tiki Barber gone and Michael Strahan's status unclear, the Giants are counting on youngsters to emerge. Check out what else Jeffri Chadiha observed at Giants camp.
• Observation deck
• Training camp index
What I did wonder, however, was how much Manning understood about the importance of this season. Simply put, the Giants' offense rests on his shoulders now. Gone are the days when Tiki Barber could provide the bulk of the leadership and many of the big plays that gave that unit stability. Now that Barber has retired, the Giants need their fourth-year quarterback to stamp his personality on this offense, which is something he hasn't done up to this point in his career.
The Giants will try to compensate for Barber's retirement with the backfield combination of Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns, but there's no guarantee they can be as consistent as Barber (who gained 1,662 rushing yards in 2006). That means Manning will have to provide more plays in the passing game and more guidance whenever possible.
"Tiki was a guy who led by example, but as the quarterback, I'm the guy who dictates how the game goes," said Manning, who has led New York to two postseason appearances in his two seasons as a full-time starter. "I have to get the team into the right play. I have to avoid mental mistakes. And I can't let my frustrations show up in my play. Even if things aren't going well, I have to let my teammates know that everything will be fine."
This all sounds good, but let's face it: Manning's problem isn't that he doesn't understand what it takes to play the position. The man has a former pro quarterback for a father (Archie) and a future Hall of Fame quarterback for an older brother (Peyton). He knows how to say the right things when asked about doing his job. The issue is that three years in the NFL haven't allowed him to shake the perception that he'd rather blend into the background than assume the reins of this team.
If that image is to change, the first thing Manning has to do is improve his pedestrian career numbers (a 54.1 completion percentage and a 73.2 passer rating). Giants coach Tom Coughlin already has seen more consistency from his quarterback during training camp, but he also has stressed that Manning needs to lead the Giants on more scoring drives this season.
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress added that there's been a slight change in Manning's on-field demeanor as he adjusts to life in the offense run by new coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
"Eli knows this is his team," Burress said. "You can see that he's taking control of the offense and putting people in the right positions."
One point that needs to be made here is that Manning doesn't have to change his personality. There are plenty of mild-mannered quarterbacks who've found success in this league.
"I was around [former New York Giants quarterback] Phil Simms early in his career, and he never talked much," Coughlin said. "He just played well."
Added Manning: "You have to be who you are. I don't believe in talking just because you feel you have to say something. If something needs to be said, I'll say it because this is my offense. But I'm not going to rip into somebody just because I feel like doing it."
I do understand where Manning and Coughlin are coming from on this. But there also comes a point when every quarterback has to assert himself more than Manning has. Simms proved his mental toughness by dealing with the head games of former Giants coach Bill Parcells.
Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young once had a heated shouting match with 49ers coach George Seifert after being pulled during a game early in the 1994 season, a moment Young later considered a turning point in his own growth as a leader. If you want a more recent example, look to Cincinnati's Carson Palmer. Nobody will ever describe him as loquacious, but you can bet he'll tear into any receiver who misreads an audible.
What I'm saying is that Manning needs to start picking his spots to showcase his own brand of leadership. When I look at the Giants, I see receivers such as Burress and Jeremy Shockey who would rather train in Miami than work out with Manning in the offseason. I see a head coach who is one bad season from looking for a new job. I also see 15-year veteran defensive end Michael Strahan sitting at home and threatening to retire. What I don't see is a team that can afford for Manning to carry himself the same way he has throughout his career.
Is this unfair? No. It comes with being a quarterback, especially one chosen with the first overall pick in the draft. After all, two other quarterbacks who came out in 2004 -- Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego's Philip Rivers -- already have established themselves as the leaders of their respective offenses. Now it's time for Manning to do the same for a team that clearly needs more direction this year.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- San Francisco, Houston win Super Bowl bids
- Romo out at least 3 weeks after surgery
- Jets' Goodson to plead not guilty to charges
- Kraft: Positive reports on Gronk's surgery
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Training camp reports
Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Matt Mosley, Len Pasquarelli and Mike Sando are traveling the country to bring you the latest news and information from all 32 training camps. For more camp coverage, click here.
Thursday, July 26
Pasquarelli: Steelers' camp physical
Saturday, July 28
Clayton: Vikings placing faith in Jackson
Sunday, July 29
Pasquarelli: Saints' Bush eager for Act II
Monday, July 30 Pasquarelli: Bucs' Gruden likes what Garcia offers
Sunday, Aug. 5
Pasquarelli: McGahee at home in Baltimore
Monday, Aug. 6
Mosley: There's a new sheriff in Dallas
Tuesday, Aug. 7
Chadiha: Spikes savors his opportunity in Philly
Thursday, Aug. 9
Clayton: Whisenhunt whipping Cards into shape
Saturday, Aug. 11
Clayton: San Francisco brimming with confidence
Tuesday, Aug. 14
Pasquarelli: Bengals' Johnson a true workhorse
Thursday, Aug. 16
Chadiha: Even-keeled Losman ready to lead Bills
Friday, Aug. 17
Mosley: Texans' Williams sets bar high in Year 2