New York Giants Training Camp Battle 2017: Backup quarterback

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Quarterback Geno Smith
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Quarterback Geno Smith /

Among the New York Giants  training camp battles to watch in 2017, the battle for backup quarterback will be among the most interesting.

If there is one word that has seemed to stop the New York Giants organization dead in their tracks, it is “change”. Up until last year’s offseason spending spree, Jerry Reese and Co. demonstrated the practice of little-to-no roster changes on a yearly basis. Times have most definitely changed in East Rutherford within the span of only a year. But will that sentiment return and hold true for the 2017 backup quarterback battle?

The Giants’ third-round selection, Davis Webb, is impressive and, as I previously made mention of, there is zero doubt in my mind that he will be Eli Manning’’s backup by year’s end. As great as it would be to see him immediately step into that role, it is highly unlikely to occur. Right now, the focus will be on the battle between Geno Smith and Josh Johnson.

Johnson has been quite the journeyman in the NFL, starting his career in Tampa Bay and spending some time with teams across the nation including the 49ers and Bills. His role with the Giants last year was not large by any means as he strictly served the role he was brought in for: giving depth at quarterback. Johnson never really lived up to the hype around his name in the NFL and last spent decent time on the field in 2011 with the Bucs, when he still played second fiddle to Josh Freeman.

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While Johnson might not have the most impressive resume in the world, he has already spent a year with the Giants. He knows the offense and the players around him and would be able to immediately pick up where Manning left off if there would be an injury in terms of the mental aspects. Johnson would be the safe pick. The Giants have been lucky to have such a work horse at quarterback who rarely gets hurt despite the number of hits he’s taken. With that being said, why not stick with what has worked in the past?

On the other hand, the Giants have a more established NFL quarterback in Geno Smith fighting for the position as well. Similar to Johnson, Smith never fully lived up to his hype either in the NFL. In his best season as a starter for the Jets, Smith threw for 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, 2,525 yards and had a passer rating of 77.5. One can only speculate as to whether or not his poor performance was due to the Jets system or inflated expectations. The fact of the matter is that he was a starter in the league for two years and put up much better numbers than Josh Johnson did with the Bucs.

However, there is concern with Smith elsewhere. Few have forgotten the incident in which he was punched in the face over a gambling debt by IK Enemkpali. The incident was bad enough on the surface, but the fact that not many of his teammates stuck up for him afterward spoke volumes. According to the New York Post, a source close to the situation said:

"“Hopefully, this is a wake-up call for him.”"

That showed that his teammates did not view him in the most positive light and they certainly did not see him as the leader in the locker room.

Smith’s issues in the locker room perhaps go back to his days at West Virginia. Although they did not come out and say the words, many of them implied that they felt that the locker room was more united and contained more leadership following Smith’s departure. At the time, WVU’s junior offensive lineman Quinton Spain noted the team’s unity and lack thereof the year prior (per ESPN):

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"“What’s different this year is we’re more a team. There ain’t no I’s; we don’t depend on nobody. We just depend on all of us at once as a team. So I think this year will be better than last year. There wasn’t no team. I could say there was a team early, but once we started losing we saw the I’s come up, so it just hurt the team worse.”"

No, Spain did not name drop Smith, but he was not the only one who was conveniently outspoken about this after Smith was drafted. With all of this being said and done in the past, it appears as if all of this has humbled Smith. He seems eager to get started on what many consider to be his second shot at relevancy in the NFL. This is a huge chance for Smith and his tarnished reputation in the league, but the concern is still there that he can easily slip back into his old ways.

Smith’s character issues overshadow my concern over his 2016 ACL tear, especially since there has actually been good news coming out of this offseason that Smith has supposedly been looking good in his rehab after missing most of last year. Giants fans won’t know until we actually see him in action throughout the preseason, but let’s air on the side of positivity for the time being.

The quarterback question the Giants face this offseason is simple, yet complicated: Do they go with the safe pick and stick with Johnson or take a risk on Smith? There is really nothing wrong with heading down either path, as both methods have proven effective for the Giants at different times in their storied history. However, right now, the question is more important than it has ever been due to Manning’s age. Giants fans have lucked out that he is so durable for his age, but is 2017 the year that the “chinks in his armor” begin to show?

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The battle between Smith and Johnson will be an important one to watch in training camp. In the end, I do not think it’s going to matter because Webb will overtake that position before the end of the year. Of the three, he’s the only viable option to be Manning’s successor for Big Blue.