New York Giants
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It's been a few years since Giants quarterback Eli Manning has had a big, physical receiver to target in the passing game.
Yet with the addition of Brandon Marshall to the mix, all it took was just a few practices for Manning to find his groove which was really last on display when Manning had Plaxico Burress to target.
"They're both similar height," Manning said, comparing Burress and Marshall. "And just smarts on football, body control, being able to go up and get the ball. So yeah, I'd say some definite similarities there. Obviously, Plaxico, had a number of years playing with him, so I knew what he was going to do, knew how to read his body. I knew whether it was going to be a back shoulder versus a fly or a jump ball. So, we need more live reps doing that."
Manning and Marshall have been trying to expedite their chemistry to where a simple dip of the shoulder, or a nod of the head is all the other needs to exploit the opposing defense.
Thus far, the marriage has been a productive one. Manning has connected with Marshall numerous times in practice, especially in the red zone, where the two have been trying to recreate the chemistry on the fade pass that Manning and Burress made so famous.
"We're doing some good stuff, Brandon and I, getting on the same page," Manning said. "Every day there's something new that comes up though. A route here, a concept, just getting on the same timing. You can kind of talk about everything, but you've got to get in as many live reps, one-on-ones, get running different routes, getting on the same timing with things will be good."
Although Manning can hit any receiver of any height, having a big-bodied target makes his life that much easier because it helps him to find a familiar face in a forest of players scrambling around trying to get a hand on the ball.
"Those big guys, you have an opportunity to throw them open," Manning said. "They can be physical at the line of scrimmage and get some separation that way, where the quick guys make moves.
"So, Brandon does a good job finding ways to get open. Whether it's being physical with the DBs, or throwing the back shoulders, throwing the fly routes, going up and get the ball. I can always just have separation with the quick guys, but they're still getting open in a different way."
Besides making life easier for the team on the field, Marshall has been nothing short of a model citizen in the locker room, according to head coach Ben McAdoo.
"I think he's a tremendous communicator," McAdoo said. "I found that out the first time I met with him, we had a nice conversation, we sat down one-on-one and talked about what we wanted to get out of this, on both sides. He's a guy that speaks from the heart and he's a tremendous communicator and I think that's rubbing off on some guys in the room."
Slowly, but surely, the Giants are starting to get out of rookie tight end Evan Engram what they thought he might be able to deliver.
Engram, the team's first-round draft pick this year, has begun to settle down in the offense as things start to slow down for him. The coaches have used him all over the place: in the slot, in the backfield, in-line and out wide, and Engram has delivered the goods each time.
In particular, Engram is starting to emerge as a legitimate red-zone threat for an offense that last year couldn't buy a touchdown inside the opponent's 20-yard-line, finishing 22nd in the red zone, converting just 51.1 percent of their opportunities into touchdowns.
"He's a target down there, we all see that," said head coach Ben McAdoo. "We all see the skill set."
Engram credited McAdoo for recognizing that the young tight end is further along in the offense than he realized and for encouraging him to just let his natural instincts take over.
"He was pretty much telling me to play fast. Once I'm more comfortable, learn and have everything down ... that's what happens when you get more comfortable in the playbook," Engram said. "You play fast, so he's just pushing me to play faster and I had that in my mindset, for sure."
Engram understands and is willing to do whatever the coaches ask of him, but he also knows what he can bring to the table if unleashed.
"I work to be a big-play maker," he said. "I know there are a lot of weapons that can make big plays in the end zone, so I definitely work and want to be one to add to those guys."
"The challenge for a guy like him is, you move him around, you ask a lot of him, play a lot of different spots. And he can think too much, you think too much playing that position," McAdoo said of Engram's biggest challenges.
To get himself ready for his spotlight, Engram spends most of his downtime in between practices with his nose in his playbook. He also tries to pick the brains of his veteran teammates and his coaches, and he'll visualize a play unfolding and how his role in that play is to slow things down.
"It's learning stuff every day. Learning from mistakes every day, that's the biggest thing," Engram said. "I feel like everything is coming along. I'll have mistakes here and there, but I'm really just taking advantage and capitalizing on those mistakes, learning from them and making sure they don't happen again.
"Once I'm more comfortable, learn and have everything down ... that's what happens when you get more comfortable in the playbook. You play fast, so he's just pushing me to play faster and I had that in my mindset, for sure."
Giants quarterback Eli Manning doesn't know what the plan is for Friday's preseason opener against the Steelers. Either way, he's ready to roll with whatever head coach Ben McAdoo decides.
"I think I got enough action over the last 14 years to get me ready for the upcoming season," Manning said when asked if he was concerned he might miss out on something if his reps are cut back.
The question is legitimate. Last year, Manning sat for both the first and fourth preseason games, the intention being to get the young quarterbacks work while also cutting down on the wear and tear of the 36-year-old signal-caller.
But with the Giants having added several new pieces to their offense such as tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison and receiver Brandon Marshall, Friday's game represents an opportunity for Manning and the Giants to see what they have going at full game speed.
Manning disagreed, and tried to reassure the media that he'll be fine regardless of what McAdoo wants done.
He said, "Whatever coach wants to do, what he thinks is best for me, the team, I'm going to do. So, again, for the first preseason game, you might take six or seven snaps.
"It's not like it's going to make a difference for that upcoming season. I think you've got enough reps in practice, enough reps in the second and third (preseason games) and obviously 13 other years of preseason and regular-season games should get me in good rhythm."
Flowers and Hart sounds like a musical folk song whose goal is to make people happy.
In reality, Flowers and Hart that's Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart of the Giants, by the way are a pair of young offensive tackles on the starting offensive line whose mission is to crush opposing defenders and, to an extent, make the Giants' fans who have been worrying for the last two seasons about the inconsistency each has shown, happy.
"Bobby and Ereck, they're not twins, are they?" asked head coach Ben McAdoo. "Every time we talk about one, it seems we talk about the other. They're two different people."
While they are different people, each has taken a similar path to get to this point. Both were drafted in the same class: Flowers a 2015 first-rounder and Hart a seventh rounder.
Both are locker-room neighbors and both spent this offseason literally joined at the hip as they went through a targeted weight training and conditioning program aimed at helping them to lose weight, improve their stamina and give them flexibility to help their techniques.
"I feel better, I feel stronger so it's definitely paying off," Hart said last week of his progress.
Hart noted that he's been working to improve the little details in his game such as hand placement.
"There's just so many things you can point out on each play," he said. "That's something that comes with growth. You just see things that don't work so you are not going to make the same mistake you made last year."
So far so good for the former Florida State offensive lineman.
"He's making progress in his technique and he had a couple runs where he stretched the front side well, which was good to see," McAdoo said.
Flowers has now strung together several good practices in a row, showing faster hand punch against defensive end Olivier Vernon, who said the improvement in the former Miami tackle is hard to miss.
"Ereck's getting better with his punch in pass protection," Vernon said.
Flowers, who has twice led the Giants in penalties, hasn't been perfect, but McAdoo has reminded people that change isn't going to happen overnight.
"I think development takes time, and right now we're developing a lot of players," he said. "But for a guy like Ereck, third down's a big period for him. That's where he needs a lot of work in pass protection and one-on-one versus defensive ends, and he took a step today to get better on our third-down period and he did a nice job."
Flowers, who remains tight lipped around the media, believes he's on the right track.
"I see myself improving every day out here at camp," he said. "First I started off a little bit slow and now I see me getting a lot better every day."