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Eli Manning lets others make noise as he quietly works to get even better

By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times –

ALBANY, N.Y. — Boring Eli Manning has nothing much new to say.

Manning’s pulse never seems to quicken, no matter what he’s asked.

New York Giants reporters, who have mined him for every interesting angle, greet him with pleasant hellos as he walks past but don’t often scramble to get his thoughts. He won’t fill their notebooks.

Oh, and one more thing: Manning is the best clutch quarterback in football, a guy with two Super Bowl rings and two most-valuable-player awards from those games.

“Life’s good,” Manning said with a smile, standing with a reporter outside the team cafeteria at training camp. “The way it works out now, is if you’re not in the paper much, things are going well. The controversies, those are things that make the headlines. We’re trying to stay out of the headlines. We’re here to work, to win games, to have success, and be on the good side of the paper.”

In that sense, this summer is setting up perfectly for the Giants. The New York spotlight is trained on the Jets, with their locker room squabbles at the end of last season, their trade for Tim Tebow, and their forever-in-the-headlines Coach Rex Ryan.

The rest of the NFC East has taken the attention away from the defending champion Giants too. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick said the Eagles have a chance to be a dynasty. Washington has flipped over rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, with the Redskins cutting off all one-on-one interviews with him.

At the start of training camp in Oxnard, Calif., Dallas owner Jerry Jones implored fans in attendance to “come to (Cowboys Stadium) and watch us beat the New York Giants … OK?”

Manning is too smart to be drawn into a war of words. He caused an overblown stir before last season when he said in a radio interview he considers himself in the same class as Tom Brady. Many scoffed at that, then Manning went on to prove it, beating the Patriots and Brady on the biggest stage for the second time.

Manning carried the Giants on his shoulders last season, tying an NFL record with seven fourth-quarter comebacks and using his cool-under-pressure poise and eye-rubbing accuracy to guide a 9-7 team to another championship. He got precious little help from a last-ranked running game that averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.

The biggest change to the passing game this season is losing Mario Manningham, who caught 39 balls in 12 games. He signed as a free agent with San Francisco, leaving a vacancy at the third receiver spot. The Giants have yet to decide which receiver will fill that role.

This summer, Manning has worked specifically on improving his movement in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield, both of which he improved on last season.

Sean Ryan, who coaches Giants quarterbacks, said Manning is self-motivated and comes to camp with aspects he wants to work on, rather than waiting to be told what needs to be tweaked.

“So you’re not in a position where (you are) having to always point out to him,” Ryan said. “He comes to you with things: ‘Hey, I want to work on this. I know I can get better here.’ Because he’s like that as a player, it makes that the easy part of my job.”

This summer’s radio dust-up wasn’t by Manning but about him. Former Giants receiver Amani Toomer said in July the division’s best quarterback plays in Dallas.

“Tony Romo is probably — if you look at him statistically — he’s probably the best quarterback in the NFC East,” Toomer said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I mean, you look at Eli Manning and what he does in the fourth quarter. But you talk about consistency — talk about 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. That guy (Romo) can play.

“For me, I wanted a guy that is going to throw less interceptions, be more productive, higher completion percentage, I’m going to go with Tony Romo. At crunch time, he’s not going to be as good as Eli, but every other time he’s pretty darn good.”

Rather than feeling slighted or lashing out in anger, Manning responded with humor, later saying he ribbed Toomer about his skills as a Giants receiver while publicly emphasizing they remain good friends.

Manning has learned the value of dodging attention — even if it means being boring — sidestepping it as he would an oncoming pass rusher.

“After you win a championship, it’s fun to be congratulated or celebrated,” he said. “But after a few days of that, it’s kind of like, hey, I need to go back under the radar.”

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