Manning forced to take back seat

Tom Coughlin finally announced the most anticipated decision of the summer – his starting quarterback. While it was hardly a surprise following the performances of Kurt Warner and Eli Manning against the Jets, it didn't become official until 11:20 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 29. Coughlin brought both players into his office separately to explain the decision before he shared his verdict with the media. <BR><BR>

While all eyes immediately turned to Warner in anticipation of him starting the season opener in Philadelphia on Sept. 12, Coughlin plans to keep a close watch on Manning and how he reacts to the first real adversity of his professional career. Things were going well for the first-overall pick from camp's outset till he struggled mightily against the Jets.

Two days later, his dreams of starting the season opener were dashed.

Manning's teammates are convinced his time will come in the not-too-distant future.

"Had Eli been named the starter, it would have meant that Eli looked better than Kurt in the preseason, but that is not the case right now," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "Eli is definitely going to be the man of the future and right now, at least, he has the opportunity to learn from a great quarterback."

"Eli will be great eventually," tackle Luke Petitgout added. "I think it's a good course to take with him, let him learn, let him watch...get the speed, just get the feeling of being in the NFL for a while and then come in and take over eventually whenever that may be."

THE REACTION: After learning of Coughlin's decision, Manning met with the media. Here's an account of how things unfolded.

Q: What was your reaction to the coach's decision?

A: He called me in this morning after I got through lifting weights and he just told me. That's fine. I understood everything. I just have to go in this week and continue to work hard and nothing changes for me. I have still got a lot to learn and a lot to prepare. I am going to prepare each week like I am the starter, like I am going to play and that is just going to make me better down the road.

Q: Is this surprising to you at all?

A: No. It wasn't surprising. Obviously after the way I played this past week, obviously I didn't go out there and do what I had to do. I wasn't upset by it, I kind of feared it might come, but it doesn't change anything. I have still got a lot to learn.

Q: What exactly did the coach tell you when he gave you the news?

A: He said that Kurt is going to start and that I have to continue to go out there and work hard every day, continue to get better, learn and just prepare myself to play.

Q: Do you think you had a fair shot all along to win the job?

A: I felt so. I felt I was given every opportunity to go in there and prove that I can go in and play. I worked with the ones in practice; I got a chance to start one preseason game. So I thought it was fair and I was given a fair chance.

Q: Did Tom explain his decision to you?

A: Sure he explained it.

Q: What did he say? What were the reasons why?

A: He just said Kurt is going to start. He did not give an exact reason why but obviously this past week's game didn't help anything. I figured it would probably work out this way, so it is just going to make me work harder to prepare myself.

Q: Are you worried that not playing is going to make it harder for you to develop as quickly as you would like?

A: I don't know how the season is going to go, whether I am going to get playing time or not. So I have to go out and prepare each week like I am going to play in the way that I treat practices and make decisions and watch Kurt as he plays, and just try to take mental reps. If I get a chance in a game, go in there and try to make smart decisions and do good things with the ball.

Q: Do you know at what point you will be the starter here?

A: I have no idea. It's hard to say. I will see how the season goes. All I can do is go out to practice everyday and make smart decisions and practice hard and learn from watching film. If my name is called, just go out there and try to do a good job.

THE GOOD: Manning enjoyed his first NFL start in Carolina, completing 9-of-15 passes for 117 yards against the Panthers on Aug. 19.

"I still have a lot to get better at," he said. "I'm feeling better in the pocket, feeling more comfortable there. I still have a lot to learn but I'm working hard at it.

"I felt like I knew what was going on."

Coughlin has noticed how Manning's pedigree has come in handy during his rookie camp.

"I think he's certainly been around football all his life and talked football all his life," he said. "It doesn't take much to imagine him at whatever age tugging along with his brothers and father. As competitive as he is himself, his relationship with Peyton and the way they've talked, and his choice of school and how that went, I think you've got a guy who really loves the game and is interested in all the intricate details."

THE BAD: With the exception of a couple times he had to sing in the dining hall at U-Albany, Manning basically made it through camp unscathed. That was until camp's final evening when Jack Brewer spearheaded an effort to tape Manning up with athletic tape and dump him into the cold tub after practice.

"I got out early and had already showered," Manning explained. "They came into the shower and said that I better watch out because they're after the rookies. I was getting dressed and almost out. I saw them coming for me and tried to hide and then I ran. I didn't know where the cold tubs were, but I ran right into the cold tub. I just gave up and they got me. They taped me up, but I wasn't in there too long. It wasn't too bad."

Brewer was pleased with his successful prank on New York's $45 million man.

"You always have to do something to the first-rounder," he laughed. "I went through it too and I'll always remember it."

THE UGLY: No doubt Manning's two-INT, one-fumble game against the Jets was as low as he's been in quite some time. While Coughlin wouldn't admit it, there's no doubt that was the final factor in the head coach making the call to go into the season with Warner at the helm.

"It happens," Manning said. "You just have to learn from it and get better. I just didn't play well. I never got in synch, made some mental mistakes and made some bad decisions."

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