Monday, December 06, 2010

Mario Manningham starring as Giants' top receiver

December 4, 2010


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Mario Manningham put on his sweat pants after practice and quickly pawed through the clothes on the floor in front of his locker looking for a T-shirt.

The longer it took the New York Giants' receiver to find the shirt _ and it was only seconds _ the more concerned he was.

Eli Manning was waiting and Manningham wasn't about to make the Giants quarterback wait long. It's all part of his new role, being the No. 1 receiver in the wake of injuries to Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks.

He needs Manning. Manning needs him for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins (5-6).

"I got a meeting with Eli. I got a meeting with Eli," Manningham said. "I'll be right back."

The third-year pro never returned, which isn't surprising. Manningham has a lot on his plate as the only experienced receiver who has been with the team all season.

Friday's meeting with Manning might be Manningham's most important. It's Manning's meeting. The quarterback sits down with his receivers and tells them what he sees when he watches videotape of the upcoming opponent. If Manning notices a safety cheating on a certain route or a cornerback playing soft, he clues in his receivers.

"It's Eli's input," Nicks said. "I'd be there, if I were playing."

When Manning looks around the room these days, Manningham is the only one who he's used to.

Veteran Derek Hagan was cut in training camp and re-signed three weeks ago, after Smith went down with a partial tear of his pectoral muscle on Nov. 11. Second-year receiver Ramses Barden broke an ankle against Dallas three days later.

Also in the room are Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas, who were signed last week after Nicks suffered a leg injury that required an emergency surgical procedure on his right leg on Nov. 22. Returnman Darius Reynaud is also there.

"It's part of the game we are in," Manningham said. "Injuries come everyday."

Manningham had his first taste of being the No. 1 receiver last week vs. Jacksonville. So far, so good. The former Michigan product caught three passes for 61 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that helped the Giants rally from an 11-point second-half deficit.

And while the Jaguars didn't double team Manningham in the Giants' 24-20 win, they used their safety to provide the cornerback with help.

"I didn't notice anything different," he said.

On his touchdown, Manning found Manningham in a seam between the cornerback and the safety rolling his coverage.

"He is as explosive or dynamic of a guy as we have," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "They key is we're constantly working on consistency with him and that is the area that we are always looking to get better at. But in terms of a guy that you put the ball in his hands and he can do a terrific job running after the catch, he's exceptional."

The Giants have used Manningham a lot on flanker screens and short passes, hoping he will break a tackle.

"I think his explosiveness is one of the important reasons why we're so high up in big plays as an offense," Gilbride said. "And then I think guys feed off the energy, off the personality, as well as off the big plays that he makes."

Smith, who set a franchise record with 107 catches last season, and Nicks, who had team-highs of 62 catches and nine touchdowns before the injury, said any of the wideouts would relish being No. 1.

"I think it is more of a mentality," Nicks said. "If you get the opportunity, you have to want to do it and take advantage of it. In our receiver group, if any of us get the privilege to step up and be a No. 1 receiver, all of us want to do it."

For now, the job belongs to Manningham.

"That's what you want," Smith said. "That's what you are here for."

Nicks hopes to start running next week. Smith said doctors told him his injury features a six-week recovery period. He has been out for three and is doubtful for Sunday.

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