No one really asks if you are ready to lead.
It took Eli Manning three years to get voted in as a Giants team captain. He was named the starting quarterback nine games into his rookie year and started all 16 games in 2005 and again in 2006. It was not until the summer of 2007 that Manning was selected by his teammates to represent the offense as a captain.
Daniel Jones heads into year No. 2 with the Giants, but in some respects it is year No. 1, as it is the first season without Manning. Good ol’ Eli was part of the furniture, woven into the fabric of every Giants cloth, and his presence was felt even after he was benched and Jones took his job.
It is a new era and the time for baby steps is gone. Jones had far more success as a rookie than Manning did in 2004, and Jones in his aw-shucks way was able to evoke more passion from his teammates in his first year than Manning did in his debut season.
It is not only about won-loss records. Manning went 1-6 as a rookie starter and was 11-5 the next season. Jones was 3-9 as a rookie starter. What awaits him in 2020 is anybody’s guess. He does not have to become the face of the team — Saquon Barkley is a willing volunteer — but Jones does have to take command of his side of the ball more forcefully than he did in 2019.
Joe Judge, who is in his first year as the head coach, knew only one starting quarterback in his eight years working special teams for the Patriots. No one is asking Jones to be Tom Brady. Judge is asking Jones to be more than he ever has been, though, even with the Giants engaged in remote meetings, with players gazing into computer tablets trying to connect with their teammates.
“Daniel’s got to take on a role just by the nature of the position,’’ Judge said on NBCSN. “He’s done a phenomenal job setting the tone with the way he’s working right now.
“The other guys on our team are going to have to lead as well. They’re going to have their own style and their own impact on the game, but we can’t rely on one guy to lead. But I’d say Daniel’s off to a very strong start in these virtual meetings by setting the tone with how he’s working, and that to me is the biggest thing. Everything he can do at this point, he’s doing. That’s all we can ask.’’
Manning, despite his family lineage, was not a natural at this. He never used his last name or draft status (No. 1 overall) as reason to assume he would instantly be accepted.
In offering some advice to Joe Burrow, taken No. 1 in this year’s draft by the Bengals, Manning might as well have been referring to his successor, as Jones enters his first season as the Day 1 starting quarterback.
“It’s tricky, because you want to come in and you want to be a leader,’’ Manning said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “There’s also that fact you got to earn that respect of your teammates before you start barking at ’em or you start coaching them up or get on a guy for not doing his job during a game.
“It’s hard for you to get on your left tackle — this guy maybe has been playing for 10 years, got family and kids and it’s important to him — and you haven’t gotten hit yet. Have you played hurt yet? Have you taken a big hit, gotten up and not complained and done your part?
“You got to go in, have your head down, don’t say a whole lot. Work your tail off in all aspects of everything. Practicing hard, practicing well and playing tough, showing that toughness before you can really step up as a vocal leader for the team. It’s so important to earn the respect of all your teammates before you can become the leader you need to be to play quarterback in this league.’’
Jones arrived to rookie minicamp almost exactly one year ago and said, “It’s my job to make people believe in me.’’ He established a foothold, but there is so much more of the climb left to make.
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