EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s become a cliché in the NFL that young quarterbacks are supposed to make their biggest leap as they head into their third year in the league. By then teams expect to be able to figure out whether they really have found their franchise quarterback or not.
But the most important thing for Daniel Jones may not be that he’s heading into his third NFL season. The key might be that he’s heading into his second year in Jason Garrett’s offense. And for the first time, his coaches are seeing signs that the Giants quarterback really knows what he’s doing in that scheme.
“When he came back you could tell, he came back a more polished version of himself from Year 1,” said Giants quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski. “Our meetings are quicker. He goes through things a lot faster. It allows us to move ahead quicker to get to some details of things.”
It’s not that Jones didn’t know what he was doing last season. It’s that he was still processing what he was supposed to do on any given play. To put it simply, he was still thinking when the best, most polished quarterbacks would’ve been reacting. That might only mean a split-second difference, but it can be the difference between a play working or not.
But when Jones returned after the offseason to get back to work in the spring, Schuplinski could tell right away that his prized pupil wasn’t thinking as much anymore.
“I would say it’s pretty dramatic from this point last year to this point this year, having a full year in the system,” Schuplinski said. “He’s always been pretty good about picking things up, but last year at this point we probably had a couple of practices under our belt and that was it. There were probably a few learning things still going on.”
That’s an oft-forgotten truth about Jones’ disappointing second season. Not only was he learning his second offensive scheme in his second year in the league, but he was doing it without the benefit of an in-person offseason program thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was reduced to virtual learning until training camp opened, and it obvious that installing a playbook virtually was just not the same.
Now, with a year of experience, Schuplinski said “We can probably move ahead a little bit faster and focus on more of the details.” It will allow the coaches to make the offense more complex and, they hope, more effective. And it won’t just affect Jones. It’ll affect all the returning offensive players from last year.
“I think anytime you’re exposed to something more -- hopefully, again, if you go about it the right way -- you’re going to respond more favorably to that next experience,” said Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. “All those guys who have been around and have a year under their belt in this system, and now you come back the next year and ‘Oh, I remember that. I understand what you’re saying. I’ve been in that situation before.’”
And no one seems to be doing that more than Jones.
“He seems to be going through the process a lot faster,” Schuplinski said. “Everything’s hitting his brain a lot faster. He’s understanding the concepts of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The hope is that a faster process will make it all come together for Jones. Quicker decisions should lead to more completions and a more potent offense. And if he’s no longer uncertain about where to go with the ball, he won’t hold onto it as long which should cut down on the fumbles and interceptions.
Because as far as the Giants are concerned, Jones has all the tools to be an elite quarterback. They just needed his brain to catch up.
“First of all, he’s got a good physical skill set,” Schuplinski said. “He’s a big guy, he’s strong, he’s got a good arm, he’s really smart. That’s a good start. But the thing I really admire most about him is he’s so darn driven to get everything right. It’s really important to him.”
The result, they hope, is the quarterback the Giants hoped to see when they drafted him sixth overall in 2019.
“He’s very capable of handling things and thinking at a high level, it’s just a matter of speeding up that process,” Schuplinski said. “I think he’s done a nice job of that. And it’s really important to him. He wants to be good. The best guys I’ve been around have that inner drive and desire.”