Manning Adjusting To Changing Giants’ Receivers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Having lost his top three receivers to injury certainly isn’t the way New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning envisioned the 2017 season unfolding.

Yet that’s indeed what awaits the veteran signal-caller as he and his offense begin preparations for an extremely tough Denver Broncos team that is coming off its bye week and who will open its doors to the struggling Giants Sunday night.

For Manning, who has pretty much seen it all, there is no time to sit around and bemoan the cards that fate has dealt the Giants.

“We have to move on and obviously, whenever you lose players, you have to make adjustments and other guys have to step up,” he said.

“Nothing has changed in that fact. So, we brought back some guys who have been around, been in the system who have made some plays for us in the past. So, they’ll be ready. They’ll know the system. (I’ve) thrown the routes with them before. Shouldn’t have to worry about guys not knowing their assignments. So, I’ll have confidence in them, and we’ll go out there, have a good plan, go execute it.”

The guys whom Manning will be throwing to starting this Sunday include Tavarres King, Ed Eagan and Travis Rudolph, who, along with holdover Roger Lewis, will try to fill the voids that occurred when Odell Beckham Jr., Dwayne Harris and Brandon Marshall all suffered season-ending injuries, and with slot receiver Sterling Shepard nursing a sprained ankle that could keep him out of a couple of games.

Of that trio, only King has prior regular-season NFL experience, having appeared in nine games with four receptions for 63 yards.

Manning, always the optimist, said he’s not worried about the lack of regular-season experience his new passing targets bring to the table, and points to the fact that all three were with the Giants this summer for varying lengths of time, which should cut down on any learning curve.

“I think it’s different when you bring in a guy who is brand new to the system,” Manning said. “Then you’re working all week just to make sure he knows what the routes are, knows what the adjustments are, knows everything.

“With these guys, some of them have been here two-three years. They know what they’re doing. They were just here a few weeks ago, so they’ll be ready. We’ll talk. There’s always some things you’ve added in.

“There’s some new plays or different things, but I don’t see there being a problem with being on the same page. I think we’ll be on the same page. Just about going and competing and making the plays.”

Beside King, whom Manning has thrown to, and Roger Lewis, another familiar face who should see a fair number of passes, is tight end Evan Engram, who has 19 receptions for 200 yards, but who failed to catch any of the four pass targets thrown his way last Sunday.

“I think it’s a big opportunity for everybody,” Manning said, adding, “but, obviously Evan is one of the guys who has been here and Evan has been a playmaker already for us, so he’ll have some opportunities to get open. That’s not our goal to line him up at receiver. Want to keep him, you know, every once in a while, we put him out wide. But, want to keep him running plays that he knows how to run.”

As is his usual practice for an upcoming opponent, Manning had nothing but high praise for the Denver defense, ranked first overall in average yards allowed per game (260.8) yards per game, first against the run (50.8 yards) and 11th against the pass (210 yards).

“They are a good defense. They have good players. They have a good scheme. So, we have to have great preparation. We can’t make it easy for them, so, we have to go out and execute,” he said.

“We have to be able to get first downs, don’t make the mistakes and see where we can get some of our best matchups and go make some plays.”

Above all, Manning said it’s important that the Giants don’t press in their quest to get that elusive first win.

“We have to get that first one; I think everybody knows that,” he said. “That only comes from great preparation and going out there and playing great football.”

To get his teammates both new and returning alike focused on playing great football, Manning said he’s been emphasizing the good that has come from the unit over the last three weeks.

“Last week, under tough circumstances, having lost three receivers at the time, went down and scored 14 points,” he said.

“We’ve been right there in games. We’ve had leads in fourth quarters. We’ve had rallies and, you know, have competed and done some good things. So, it’s not all bad. We just haven’t played well enough to win some games. So, we just have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get a win.”

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 6-5. The Broncos has won the last two meetings against the Giants by a combined score of 87-29, including a 41-23 thumping at MetLife Stadium in 2013. The Giants are 1-4 against the Broncos in regular-season road games. The Giants are 1-0 against the Broncos in the postseason, having won Super Bowl XXV 39-20.

–Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, addressing the absence of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, said the team plans to suspend the veteran cornerback.

The surprising and bizarre sequence of events began during Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. Per a source, Rodgers-Cromartie left the team bench in the second half of the game and headed to the locker room only to return a short while later. It was unclear what triggered Rodgers-Cromartie to leave the bench area.

Rodgers-Cromartie and McAdoo met Tuesday to discuss the defender’s actions at which point McAdoo informed Rodgers-Cromartie that he was going to be made inactive for Sunday’s game against the Broncos. Despite that decision, McAdoo reportedly told Rodgers-Cromartie that he expected him to go through the normal week of preparation as though he was playing Sunday.

Rodgers-Cromartie then showed up for work Wednesday morning but at some point, he left the building after the team held its morning meetings. It was after Rodgers-Cromartie left the building that McAdoo decided to suspend Rodgers-Cromartie.

Rodgers-Cromartie was not on the field for the start of practice and was not listed on the team’s pre-practice injury report. He was added to the injury report after practice with the designation “not injury related.”

“DRC came in yesterday. We had a conversation that was personal upstairs and he came in today. Decided to leave. We will suspend him,” McAdoo said during his Wednesday press briefing.

The head coach then refused to answer any follow-up questions about the incident or the decision. He also ignored a question about whether he was concerned about keeping the locker room together, instead changing the subject to talk about the morning practice and how well it went.

Most of Rodgers-Cromartie’s teammates who were available in the open locker-room period were surprised to hear of the turn of events and politely declined comment, saying they were unaware of the details.

Safety Landon Collins, who saw Rodgers-Cromartie Wednesday morning, said his teammate appeared to be in good spirits when the players began their morning meetings.

Collins, who said that he would “absolutely” welcome Rodgers-Cromartie back, said the players would discuss the odd turn of events.

“Yeah, we’re going to talk about it in this afternoon’s meetings and we’re going to address the issue,” he said. “We need to address it because it’s a big issue and we don’t need no one else separating from the team.”

When asked to clarify what the “big issue” was, Collins referred to Rodgers-Cromartie’s situation, calling him a valuable part of the defense and one of the leaders on the team.

Collins also disputed that the locker room was falling apart, saying, “No, not because of one person leaving the team or because one person made a decision after meeting with a coach. That’s between those two.”

Rodgers-Cromartie told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that he planned to return to the team facility Thursday. It was not known if McAdoo plans to lift Rodgers-Cromartie’s suspension if and when the cornerback does indeed show up or for how long the head coach planned to initially suspend Rodgers-Cromartie.

–With each mounting loss, the frustration within the locker room is harder and harder to miss.

On Tuesday, their first day back to work since their devastating loss to the previously winless Los Angeles Chargers, the locker room, once a source of music, laughter and happiness, was quiet, empty and seemed full of despair.

“Hey, the only way to fix the mood is to get a win,” said quarterback Eli Manning. “Nothing else is going to change it. Nothing else is going to make you feel any better except going out there and getting a ‘W.’ We have to have great preparation. We have to have great energy and enthusiasm. Excited about this opportunity.”

“Guys still have their head held high and we’re looking forward to this week,” said receiver Sterling Shepard, who will likely miss Sunday’s game while he nurses a sprained ankle. “We’ve got to get things going on the right track. It’s been tough sledding for us so far, so we’d like to see things turn around here.”

That’s been the message every week, though, yet every week, the Giants seem to find another way to lose.

Manning, who opined that the mood in the locker room was “good,” might be one of a small handful of players who still sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The truth is that the players really have no choice but to keep on plugging, but if what they’re doing just doesn’t produce the desired results, it’s probably fair to wonder how long until the entire locker room starts counting down the days until the end of this miserable season.

For now, the players seem to be focused on getting ready for a huge task Sunday night when they visit the Broncos and their top-ranked defense. The Giants will have to do so without four-fifths of their original receiving corps: Odell Beckham Jr., Dwayne Harris and Brandon Marshall are on injured reserve, and Shepard.

Despite the injuries and the current environment, the team’s only chance is to throw itself into its week of preparation and hope for the best.

“I mean, you’ve just got to keep plugging,” Shepard said. “You’re playing for guys next to you and you’ve got to know that now you’re playing for those guys that are hurt. Those guys that wish they were out there every week and fighting with their brothers too. So, now you’ve got guys having to step up and go do it for those guys.”

Manning believes that the team has taken a step in the right direction toward getting their minds right.

“I thought, obviously, everybody is upset about another tough loss and coming down to the fourth quarter and not getting that win,” he said. “But, I think once you get back into the locker room, into the meeting rooms, you start preparing for the next team. The excitement gets up about the opportunities and you see how you’re going to move the ball and score some points.”

And right now, scoring enough points to actually win a game would be the best thing for this team.

–Receiver Tavarres King has been around long enough to know that the business side of the NFL isn’t always fair.

After having a promising training camp that ended abruptly thanks to a sprained ankle, King became expendable and was sent packing after the second week of the season.

While he bounced around looking for another opportunity, his journey has led him right back where he started, albeit under less than ideal circumstances.

“Under the circumstances, it kind of sucks,” King said of his return to the Giants, which came because of season-ending injuries suffered by receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris. “I feel bad for my brothers, but it feels good to be back home.”

The 27-year-old King began his NFL career with the Broncos in 2013, but never made it out of camp. He then went to the Panthers that year, but didn’t play in any games for them.

In 2014, he began the year with the Panthers, before going to the Jaguars. He finished that season with the Bucs, for whom he played two games, catching two balls for 13 yards.

In 2015, the former college quarterback found a home with the Giants, first as a member of their practice squad in 2015 before appearing in seven games for New York last season, catching two balls for 50 yards, including a 44-yard catch against Washington in the regular-season finale.

Despite an injury-filled training camp this summer, King made the 53-man roster but was cut after the Week 2 game when the Giants needed his roster spot to shore up the depth at linebacker.

King, who was at his New Jersey apartment this weekend and watched the Giants’ receivers fall to injuries, chuckled when asked how quickly hiss phone rang after the game.

“Just a little bit after the game,” he said with a smile. “Kind of after they figured out what was going on with everybody.”

King said he is “1,000 percent” ready to go, and that he’s not bitter that he was cast aside by the Giants earlier this year.

“I mean, it is part of the business, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “Obviously, I would have loved to play in that game, be a part of that game, but we had some issues I think at linebacker so we had to make some tough decisions, but that is part of the business.”

Now that he’s back, King is going to be counted on to be a part of the Giants’ version of the replacements, a group that in addition to Roger Lewis, the only receiver to escape the injury bug Sunday, also includes rookie Travis Rudolph and first-year receiver Ed Eagan.

“I feel like I can play the game at a high level,” King said. “I feel like I’m just coming off a really good start to camp and when I was practicing, I was practicing really well so I feel good about what I was doing. I’m very confident in myself.”

That confidence is also fueled by the work he did at Revive Sports in New Jersey during his time away from the game to keep his skills sharp.

He said, “Man, everything. Just running routes with some quarterbacks. I got a buddy that played quarterback in college. Running routes with him, doing some rehab on the ankle. Nothing different. Just being TK.”

In addition to staying sharp with his skills, King said he still has a pretty good grasp on the playbook to where he’s confident he can hit the ground running this Sunday against the Broncos, an opportunity he’s very much looking forward to.

“It’s extremely important to have the opportunity to showcase what I can do and not just that, but to help this team in any way that I can,” he said. “Get things rolling, bring some energy, bring some explosiveness.”

And hopefully contribute to the team’s first win of 2017.

NOTES: WR Sterling Shepard (ankle) is currently in a walking boot and is unable to practice. The Giants have listed Shepard as day-to-day, but it’s unlikely that he will be available to play Sunday night against the Broncos. … CB Eli Apple, who was benched for three defensive series last week and who complained about being unfairly targeted and opined that the culture had to change, told reporters Tuesday that he was uncertain as to whether he would be back in the starting lineup Sunday. … DE Olivier Vernon (ankle) remains unable to practice. Vernon was initially injured in Week 3; he aggravated his injury in Week 4 and has not been able to practice since. … C Weston Richburg (concussion) is making progress in the protocol, but has still not been cleared to return to light drills. … S Landon Collins (ankle) was not present at the start of practice Wednesday and didn’t practice. Collins told reporters that he believes he’ll be good to go on Sunday. … LB Jonathan Casillas (neck) did not practice Wednesday. Casillas suffered a burner last week. … RB Paul Perkins (ribs) did not practice Wednesday and is potentially facing missing his second straight game.

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