OAKLAND, Calif. -- Eugene Cyril Smith III. One day he will be the answer to a New York Giants trivia question: Who is the quarterback who replaced Eli Manning after 210 consecutive regular-season starts and two Super Bowl wins?
This really seems to be the tipping point with the whole Manning benching. It’s Geno Smith, the former New York Jets quarterback, who is starting for the Giants on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders in place of Manning rather than rookie Davis Webb.
That doesn’t seem to be sitting well with Giants fans, who would rather see their third-round draft pick receive an opportunity over a failed Jet.
It’s not exactly fair to Smith, who hasn’t played a full game in almost three calendar years. He’s done what the Giants have asked this year and impressed them enough that they wanted to get him some game action.
Why? That is the obvious question.
The Giants believe this is a different Geno Smith, and who knows what happens next year? Maybe he's part of the plan. Maybe he's the inexpensive bridge to the quarterback of the future. Everything is up in the air and the Giants want to see exactly what they have, with both Smith and Webb (at a later date).
This version of Smith had most of the season to get accustomed to the Giants' system. Remember, he was thrown into the fire his first two seasons as the Jets' starting quarterback during the Rex Ryan era. Ryan wasn’t exactly known as an offensive expert. The exact opposite, in fact. He was known to make offense an afterthought.
Smith, whose arm talent has never been in question, has also been able to watch and learn this season behind an experienced pro in Manning. They hope he has worn off on the 27-year-old Smith, who came to the Giants partly for that reason.
The team, unlike much of the public, thinks Smith has a chance to succeed. He can move around and make plays and is facing a Raiders defense that has struggled most of the season.
And in the end, the Giants (2-9) needed a change. They are averaging 15.6 points per game this season, and the offense with Manning at the helm had no chance on Thanksgiving against the Redskins. The Giants managed one first down (in the final minutes) in the second half of that game. The immobile Manning working with a poor offensive line has proved to be a toxic mix.
Smith has experienced his fair share of down moments -- remember, he was punched in the jaw by a former Jets teammate, which cost him the starting job -- and now he has a chance at redemption.
“He’s been humbled, and I think when you’ve been humbled, I think your best can come out,” coach Ben McAdoo told the team’s website last week.
If Smith was even the slightest bit nervous this past week, he didn’t show it. He appeared (on the outside) as confident as ever. When I asked him if there were any emotions flowing through him on Friday, Smith smiled and shrugged it off.
“It’s football,” he said with a wide smile. “I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
More on the Eli benching
The room (owners, coaches, executives) was split on whether the Giants should effectively bench Manning this week, according to a source. Ultimately, it was McAdoo’s decision, although it was something ownership ultimately greenlighted.
McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese had been talking about it for weeks. Co-owner John Mara suggested it might be time as well after the Giants were offensively impotent on Thanksgiving and officially eliminated from the postseason over the weekend.
The usually reserved Manning wasn’t happy with the decision. No wonder he vetoed their flawed plan to start and play the first half against the Raiders before giving way to Smith.
The Giants added Eli Apple (hip) to the injury report Friday. He was listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
Apple, who has been inactive the past two contests, is needed with cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Donte Deayon being placed on injured reserve this week. The only other cornerbacks on the roster are veterans Ross Cockrell and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, along with the recently-promoted Brandon Dixon and newly-signed Darryl Morris.
The Giants will only have three cornerbacks active who have played for them this season if Apple is on the field. If he's unable to play or can’t finish Sunday’s game, the Giants will be scrambling.