Former Teammates: Eli Manning Can Still Play at a High Level

POMONA, NY–Fort those who believe that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is in his twilight years, the men who know him best, namely his former teammates from the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl championship teams—say they still see a quarterback capable of playing at that high level if he has the right personnel around him.

“I laugh when people that say Eli can’t play,” said Shaun O’Hara, who was Manning’s center for the first six years of his career including the 2007 Super Bowl season.

“I know he can play. I know he can throw the rock, and I know that he’s still got that fire. He just wants to get better. That’s what you love about him.”

O’Hara didn’t hold back in his criticism of the former Giants management regime, led by Jerry Reese. He noted that the Giants simply didn’t put enough talent around Manning.

“They’ve wasted the last few years of Eli’s career, they’ve wasted his prime,” O’Hara said. “It’s been hard to sit and watch that happen.”

“I agree with him,” added former defensive end Justin Tuck, who won two Super Bowl championships with Manning under center. “We all know what Eli can do when he is healthy and when he has comparable athletes around him. I don’t think he had those. Anything other than that, you are just lying to yourself.”

Among the things that Manning has been missing during his prime years has been a running game, which hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2012 when Ahmad Bradshaw accomplished that feat.

Though the Giants did add some solid receiving weapons in receivers OB and Sterling Shepard, and tight end Evan Engram, the team became too dependent on the passing game to get the job done. Since 2014, Manning has attempted at least 598 pass attempts in three of the last four seasons, an inordinate amount considering that as he gets older, one would think the pass attempts would be reduced.

Last season, Manning, who started and played in 15 games, attempted just 571 passes; had he played in the one game in which he was benched, he might have easily stayed on pace with his previous years’ pass attempts.

Then there has been the matter of Manning’s offensive line, which has been shaky to say the least.

Under Reese’s regime, the Giants didn’t restock the offensive line talent with premium picks until 2013 with now former first-round pick Justin Pugh, arriving on the scene well after the Super Bowl XLII offensive line of Kareem McKenzie, David Diehl, Rich Seubert, O’Hara and Chris Snee started to decline.

While Reese would go on to add Weston Richburg and Ereck Flowers with premium picks, it’s worth noting that Pugh and Richburg didn’t get second contract from the team while the Giants also declined to pick up the option year on Flowers’ rookie deal after he struggled to solidify his hold on the starting left tackle spot.

The Giants, instead, spent several daft picks on Day 3 offensive linemen such as James Brewer, Mitch Petrus, and Eric Herman, guys who never panned out.

They were then forced to stock the offensive line via free agency, a risky proposition that didn’t exactly pan out when guys like David Baas and Geoff Schwartz battled injuries that ultimately ended their time with the Giants, while guys such as Andrew Whitworth (now with the Rams) who could have helped upgrade the line, were passed over by Reese.

As a result of the missteps by the team, Manning has been forced to play behind countless offensive line combinations, that partly due to injury but mostly due to a lack of depth that has contributed to the unit’s inability to establish the cohesiveness of 2007 championship line.

Both O’Hara and Tuck like the direction that new general manager Dave Gettleman has taken with rebuilding the team.

That direction has consisted of improving the running game, whose centerpiece is expected to be Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall draft pick this year, and an upgraded offensive line consisting of left tackle Nate Solder, who comes over the from the Patriots, guard Patrick Omameh, whom O’Hara noted was an “under the radar” but solid signing, and rookie guard Will Hernandez, whom Tuck described as  a “steal.”

“I’m glad to see that they found a way to correct it,” O’Hara said of the Giants missteps that have created so much doubt about Manning’s ability to play the game at a high level.