Manning making huge strides

Eli Manning claims that he drove 65 mph up the New York Thruway on his way to Giants training camp. It's pretty tough to believe that, however. Manning was so eager to sign his contract and get to Albany on time that he showed up at Giants Stadium at 8 in the morning on July 29. A lot of waiting followed until Manning was finally able to pen his John Hancock on a contract that could land him as much as $54 million during the next six years.

It's easy to understand why he was so excited. So excited that he barely even enjoyed inking the pact, rushing right into his car and heading north. Manning arrived in Albany at about 3:40 p.m., 160 minutes after the rest of his teammates, and went right into New York's offensive meeting, where he was given his playbook and compared notes with QBs coach Kevin Gilbride.

"I'm looking forward to camp; I'm ready to play some ball," Manning told a large media gathering. "I knew it would get done. I'm glad it worked out this way. He (Manning's agent Tom Condon) knew I wanted to get here on time. "I wanted to get here on time. I didn't want to fall behind and cause another scene, especially after everything that happened at the draft. I'm glad it worked out."

Manning said there's nothing anyone can tell him that will fully ready him for NFL life.

"I don't think anything can prepare me for what I'm about to go through," he said. "I watched Peyton's rookie season, so that might have prepared me somewhat. But I think you just have to go through it. You have to ask questions and just learn as you go."

The contract

The fact that the Giants had the fourth slot for their rookie draft pool, but had to sign Manning, who was the first pick, made things pretty tricky for GM Ernie Accorsi and Manning's agent, Tom Condon. We'll do our best to explain the complicated deal.

First off, Manning received a signing bonus of $3 million when he signed his deal. He'll earn a salary of $1.744 million this season. His 2005 salary will jump to $2.18 million and he'll receive a $9 million roster bonus on March 10. The pact contains a complicated mechanism by which Manning's playing time can void the 2008 through 2010 seasons in the contract but the Giants can then buy back the 2008 and 2009 seasons by paying Manning a $5 million bonus. A $3 million roster bonus in 2007 brings the total bonus money to $20 million.

To start or not to start

TGI was able to speak to both former Bears coach Mike Ditka and Hall-of-Fame QB Terry Bradshaw while they were in Albany. Each expert had the exact same message: Start Manning right from the get-go.

"I'd start Manning," Ditka said. "I drafted him to play. I didn't draft him to watch. If I'm going to lose games, I might as well get beat with the future instead of the past."

"I'm glad I played right from the get-go," Bradshaw echoed. "I did have some good games. You get rid of the bad pretty quick but you take the good into the offseason and you enjoy it and build off it."

"I want the experience. I've never been a believer that you learn by watching. You still have to go out there and play. You might as well just start playing."

Bradshaw said he understood New York's philosophy in wanting to protect Manning and begin the year with Kurt Warner under center. He just doesn't agree with it.

"If Kurt's that far along and if there's an offensive line issue here, I could understand not wanting to beat him up and have him lose his confidence, but he's got a father that's played, a brother who's a star and he's too smart to know that there are areas that need to get better," he said. "He'll have his bad games; he'll have his good games. But I'd play him. "If you were smart, you'd play him and then immediately break the game film down and tell him what was his fault and what wasn't his fault. That way you'd help him stay grounded and not get down on himself."

Manning, of course, repeats the same mantra that he'd like to start but that he won't get down if it doesn't work out.

"My goal is to be starting quarterback," he said. "The coaches will know who's ready to play. If they don't feel that I'm ready to play that's just going to make me work harder to show them that I can get in there and make the right plays."

Manning said he thought he believed he would get a fair shake coming out of camp.

"I think so," he said. "If they see that I can go in there and not turn the ball over and be productive in the offense and get the plays called and not make mental mistakes, I think they'll give me a shot."

The week that was

Manning continues to make exceptional throws on a daily basis. His passes are the tightest of spirals and get to their destination in a hurry. However, one of Manning's first practices in full pads was probably his worst. He's been getting progressively better since then. Manning took the tough morning practice of Aug. 2 in stride.

"You have to have a short memory as a quarterback just if you make a mistake here, you have to wipe it off and go into the next play," Manning said. "You can't forget about it. You can't make the same mistake again, but you can't dwell on it. If you get down, then you can make mistake after mistake, so you just put it off and get better."

Tom Coughlin said he's liked what he's seen from Manning.

"He's been hanging in there pretty well," he said. "He's a very aware young man."

Manning, who sang a terrible rendition of The Righteous Brothers' "You've lost that loving feeling" at lunch, said he had put to good use a very important tip he learned from older brother Peyton – having his own pen when signing autographs so he doesn't have to keep switching pens.

On a more serious note, Manning said he's prepared to handle Coughlin's criticism when the going gets tough.

"I've been jumped on before," Manning smiled. "I've been yelled at before. I've had coaches yell at me. That's just part of football. It's part of the deal. I'll take the yelling and just try not to make the same mistake twice."

"I'm going to go out there and try to play smart football. Try to make all the right decisions and all the right plays. Obviously mistakes are going to happen, interceptions are going to happen. You try to prevent them and keep them down. But they're a part of football. All I can do is play as smart as I can play and put the team in position to win games."

Manning showed himself very well in the joint practices with the Jets on Aug. 7. He said that he "didn't make any mistakes" once he got into the seven-on-seven and team portions of the morning practice.

"I thought it went really well," Manning said. "We had a good tempo; everybody was excited to face another team. I was looking forward to seeing what other defenses do and go out there and face a new guy, so I thought it went well."

"I think it is beneficial, just before I go into the preseason, to get a taste of other teams and get different defensive looks and just go out there and compete against new players. Again it's not live yet, so I haven't experienced the rush and how quickly I'm going to have to get the ball out of my hands and those things. It was a good test today, but I think once you get into the preseason, we'll really start to get the feel of things."

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