It's a Telling, Not Yelling, Time for Eli

ALBANY, N.Y. — When we weren't asking any Giant who would stop about the Michael Strahan situation on this sunny late July afternoon, the training camp theme seemed to center around Eli Manning's transformation into a "real" leader as he approaches his fourth NFL season.

As usual, Manning answered all questions in a polite, professional and borderline boring manner. His teammates, of course, have grown accustomed to Manning's mannerisms and calm demeanor. And truthfully, they don't anticipate a much more vocal Manning now that they've lost their most consistent, respected and talented player on offense.

"I think obviously on this team we have enough people that talk," smirking middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "I don't think we need Eli to do anything that Eli doesn't like to do. For one, Eli doesn't like to talk very much. That's not him. That's not his personality. He's not a loud guy."

Pierce appreciates other things about Manning more than how he overtly leads the offense.

He is one of the first guys to arrive at work each morning and one of the last to leave every evening. He was at Giants Stadium by February, working out and acquainting himself with new quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer. Other Giants have regularly referred to Manning's renowned work ethic since he arrived in New Jersey amid the excessive expectations attached to his famous surname.

We don't doubt his work ethic or his desire to become the consistent quality quarterback guys like Ernie Accorsi, Jerry Reese, the Maras and the Tisches expected him to be by now.

But this isn't about work ethic, desire or anything intangible at this point. And frankly, we shouldn't care about Manning becoming more demonstrative in the huddle, on the sideline or in the locker room. Because 2007 should be a telling season for Manning, not a yelling season.

This is the year he'll have to become consistent and avoid making mistakes at the most inopportune times, or you can stick that "For Sale" sign outside his Hoboken home. The Giants simply cannot wait any longer for Manning to show that he was at least worth acquiring for Philip Rivers straight up. We obviously already know he wasn't worth Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding, all of whom represented San Diego at the Pro Bowl six months ago.

Manning seemingly understands that without Tiki Barber around to carry this team to postseason appearances, what was already a minimal margin for error is much slimmer as he enters his third full season as the Giants' starting quarterback.

"I feel like I know where to go with the ball," Manning said, "but (it's about) just making fast decisions and the right ones. Just knowing when a play is not going to be there, going to my check-downs and just getting positive plays. If you're getting two or three yards, it's better than an incompletion or better than anything that could happen by forcing something. So it's just (about) playing the game, being smart and taking care of the ball."

Making decisions hastily has hurt him throughout his two-plus seasons as their starter, so much that we're often forced to overlook the flashes of brilliance that temporarily remind us why Accorsi and Co. were so smitten in the spring of 2004.

If the problem plagues him again this season, Tom Coughlin might not be the only one out of a job in 2008. There isn't a better time to reload behind center than when a new coaching staff starts trying to turn things around, even if Manning was paid a $5 million bonus earlier this year and is under contract through the 2009 season. In this time of instant gratification, four years will have been more than enough time for Manning to have shown the Giants a real return on their $54 million investment in him.

The trend has already been established in less demanding cities throughout the league.

Four seasons of mediocrity made the Lions jettison Joey Harrington. Houston had seen enough of David Carr after five seasons, despite that he was never properly protected. And Daunte Culpepper has had three employers in the last 16 months, just three years after Minnesota made him their $102 million man by signing Culpepper to a 10-year contract extension.

So those dismissive of the thought of Manning making a premature departure from East Rutherford shouldn't snicker. Jared Lorenzen has a cannon for an arm, is in much better condition than he was when the ex-Kentucky star came here three years ago and might warrant a legitimate, long look at some point. Or maybe a proven veteran like Culpepper becomes available again.

Nevertheless, Manning's teammates remain optimistic that this will be the 26-year-old quarterback's breakthrough season.

They've noticed improvements during the offseason, the kind that prompt them to believe that Manning is capable of leading this team beyond the first round of the NFC Playoffs. Barber might be calling games these days, not changing them, but Manning's chemistry with Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer encourages them. They know, though, that Manning's acceptance as the unquestioned leader of this Barber-less offense depends on his production from September through January, not on his commendable performance from February through August.

"This is his fourth year," center Shaun O'Hara said, "and you can definitely tell he has a lot more confidence in himself than when he was in his rookie year. But obviously, that's to be expected. I think that he understands the situation he's in, and with a guy like Tiki leaving it definitely opens up an opportunity for him and I think he's looking forward to that."

O'Hara reminded us in assessing Manning's leadership capabilities that Barber wasn't nearly as vocal in 2004, O'Hara's first season with the team, as he was in subsequent seasons. Barber's assertiveness increased as he repeatedly proved that he was one of the top tailbacks in the NFL.

"You really have to prove yourself on the field, with your play, and a lot of times that really precedes becoming a vocal leader," O'Hara said. "Tiki was a leader by example and was a quiet leader. So it really took him to get to that platform to really step up vocally."

In other words, this is the season for Eli Manning to finally let his play do the talking.

The Giants Beat Top Stories