EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are four weeks remaining in this season and the New York Giants are clinging to the slightest of playoff hopes. Namely, they’re not officially eliminated. Coach Pat Shurmur shakes his head as if to indicate "no" when asked Monday if there is a definitive plan to get Kyle Lauletta some game reps this season.
“We’re trying to win every game we play,” Shurmur said, before going into an explanation about how there are multiple approaches available for how to deal with young quarterbacks.
Lauletta is a fourth-round pick who dressed for his first career game on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. He had spent the previous 12 weeks as the third-string quarterback who didn’t dress on game days.
Among the approaches that Shurmur detailed was how the Kansas City Chiefs handled Patrick Mahomes last year. Mahomes, the No. 10 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, played the final week of his rookie season when the game mattered little to the Chiefs. It provided the Chiefs more information heading into the offseason and Mahomes some much-needed experience.
It benefited both parties. Mahomes has proved he’s the real deal this year. Kansas City traded Alex Smith in the offseason in a move that proved to be a slam dunk.
Playing Lauletta in Week 17 if -- and when -- the game means nothing in terms of the playoffs, is one possibility. Throwing him into a game before then or not at all are others.
Shurmur made it clear that Eli Manning is starting this week against the Washington Redskins. There is a “good chance” that Lauletta will again be the backup, one big hit away from his first career action.
After that, we’re all left guessing. Shurmur isn’t going to show his hand. All I know is the Giants would like to get Lauletta some playing time after “mishandling” third-round pick Davis Webb last year during a lost season and having regret months later for never putting him in a game.
They also want to be careful with how they handle Manning, a player for whom they have great respect because of his contributions to the franchise. It makes it a delicate situation for a first-year head coach and a new general manager who has previous ties to said quarterback.
Shurmur has been insistent in recent weeks about playing the quarterback who gives the Giants the best chance to win. It’s likely Manning. But he admitted nobody knows what the gap is between the up-and-down 15-year veteran on the backside of his career and the rookie.
“I don’t know that and you’ll only know that when Lauletta gets in a game,” Shurmur said.
Well, isn’t that the point, or at least part of it? The Giants can learn more about Lauletta if he plays. It’s not going to happen this week after their upset of the Bears. There are opportunities at home against the Titans, on the road against the Colts and back home for the finale against the Cowboys that follow.
Shurmur admitted that there really isn’t anything to be gained by Lauletta when he serves as the backup if he doesn’t play. In the end it’s the equivalent of being the third-string quarterback who stands there on the sideline, only without a uniform.
But having Lauletta as the backup does indicate that he has “made progress” in recent weeks and that the Giants at least trust him enough to play in an NFL game if necessary. And they’ve been evaluating him every day on and off the field.
“Practice field, working with the scout team, how he prepares, what he looks at in his preparation, the interaction we have with him. ‘It’s third-and-5. What play do you like? Just the interaction that you have with a quarterback,’” Shurmur said. “It’s pretty in-depth. And we’re fortunate to have a terrific quarterback room here. Just the things we see here as coaches. That’s just what it is.”
Nothing changed at practice last week. The Giants don’t seem to give their backup many, if any, snaps with the first-team offense. Lauletta and Alex Tanney worked with the scout team. Lauletta said after Sunday’s game he wasn’t told he would jump Tanney on the depth chart until that morning.
It didn’t alter his preparation. He had been preparing as if he would be the starter every week regardless.
“It’s our responsibility to be ready. They’ve told me. ‘Be ready.’ If I’m not ready, that is kind of on me,” Lauletta said.
Shurmur mentioned that the Giants have known all along this would be a process. Lauletta had “a long way to go” coming from a small program. He played at a Football Subdivision school last year.
But the Giants did like what they saw this summer and in the preseason. Lauletta won over many of his teammates with his attitude, instincts and the way he commands the huddle. Behind the scenes, he’s given the Giants more confidence in recent weeks that he could handle playing in a game.
When? Where? How? It will be a pertinent topic the final few weeks of the season, even inside their own building.
“We have all types of discussions behind the scenes. It’s very fluid,” Shurmur said, leaving the door open for a change of heart with his starting quarterback at any moment. “Dave [Gettleman] and I talk throughout the week. Have conversations with [co-owners] John [Mara], Steve [Tisch]. We’re always talking about this team, evaluating, talking about who played well, who needs to play better as we move forward.
“So there is always conversation about what happened, where we’re going -- short- and long-term plans. But, again, I would never share that with anyone."