New York Giants coach Joe Judge's first impression of Daniel Jones was a good one. That means something, considering that the only starting quarterback Judge has watched work in the NFL is Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest of all time.
It was also weeks -- months even -- after he was hired in January before Judge publicly uttered the name of his quarterback. That prompted some to wonder whether the Giants were still committed to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
"Would the Giants really think of drafting another quarterback this year with the No. 4 overall pick?" was a popular question during pre-draft Q&As with fans this spring.
The answer was consistently "No!" The Giants were sold on Jones after a rookie season in which he flashed enough to convince the decision-makers -- Judge included, from afar -- that he is a quarterback the team could build around.
The only thing really keeping Judge from talking freely about Jones was a lack of firsthand information. He had no more of an evaluation on Jones than the rest of the league. He had never worked with him, had barely spoken to him and still has never seen him on the practice field. Judge's opinion was based strictly on tape.
Most of that has changed now. Judge had an opportunity to work with Jones this spring, albeit during an unprecedented remote offseason program.
"I watched the tape, and as far as working with him as a player, he's had a really productive, really good spring," Judge told ESPN in a wide-ranging interview this week. "He's really taken a leadership role, which is good to see."
This was never more apparent than when some Giants got together for players-only workouts in Texas the past few weeks. These were spearheaded by Jones, according to multiple sources.
Organizing the workouts was viewed as a big step in his growth.
"He's our leader," one player recently told ESPN.
This was always going to be an important spring for Jones. A new coaching staff meant learning a new offense for the second time in two seasons. And even though Jones started most of last season, it's now officially his team -- without Eli Manning lurking (admittedly awkwardly) in the background.
With that comes more responsibility, which Jones has already accepted. He has been more forceful, more front and center.
Maybe it's that he feels more comfortable in his second season and as the unequivocal starter. Maybe the lines of communication are open wider than in the past and he realizes the demands on him are greater.
The results have been positive, whatever the reason.
"He was fun to work with this spring. And I'm very encouraged by him," Judge said. "There is a lot more to him personality-wise. He's really stepped out and emerged ... He comes in really urgent. He's competitive."
These are the things that aren't always visible to outsiders. Jones has been regularly compared to his predecessor -- he might as well be the fourth Manning brother -- and for good reason.
Both Manning (from Louisiana) and Jones (from North Carolina) come off publicly as shy Southerners with aw-shucks personalities. Neither seems fazed by attention or news conferences, and neither seems to get too high or low in the huddle. They both seem to say and do the right things.
Only behind closed doors was Manning more of a sarcastic jokester. He got in his zingers. Jones is more fiery and outspoken than most realize.
"I've never been the loudest guy," Jones said last year when asked to describe his personality. "But I wouldn't describe myself as shy or waiting around for other people."
That has never been more apparent than this offseason. When Jones talks, his teammates listen.
"Look, you can tell the guys respect him," Judge said. "I'm very interested and anxious to get him on the field and start working. I think our entire quarterback room as a whole has done a really, really good job this spring."
That missing piece of the evaluation remains, though the Giants' staff hopes to see the players on the field for the first time in late July at the start of training camp. However, even that is not set, with the league still in limbo because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the meantime, Jones has been offered the opportunity to provide input for the offense being installed by coordinator Jason Garrett. The Giants have designed a scheme that will highlight the strengths of their players, most notably Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. Jones is seen as a rhythm passer who throws well downfield and on the move. Barkley is a dynamic runner who can be unstoppable when he gets outside into open space.
This is now their team. The Giants are counting on these players and planning to build around them.
"I had some great conversations with Daniel," Judge said. "He's not afraid to tell you things that are a tough conversation. He's not afraid to tell you what he thinks, which is the way you gotta be."
Those conversations have at least provided Judge enough information that he's willing to publicly utter his quarterback's name -- baby steps.