The start of what the New York Giants hope will be a productive relationship between veteran quarterback Eli Manning and newly signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall will occur at Duke next week.
As he’s done since 2013, Manning and a few of his wide receivers will come to Duke for four days of practices at Duke’s indoor practice facility.
It’s a chance to build chemistry, both on the field and off, during a downtime of the NFL of calendar prior to the beginning of the team’s offseason workouts on April 17.
“The benefits for them are great as they come in here and get a great, private opportunity to work,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday.
Cutcliffe oversees the workouts, which began out of his strong relationship with the Manning brothers. Cutcliffe was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator during Peyton Manning’s college career and coached his brother, Eli, as Mississippi’s head coach.
When Peyton Manning was an active player, he brought his Denver receivers to town for the practices. Since his retirement last year, it’s been Eli Manning’s show.
“I just enjoy my time with Eli,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s something that’s celebrating five years of being together in college. At the same time, what a gifted player and person. Not only am I working with Eli and these phenomenal receivers, our players are affected as well.”
The NFL players not only conduct their practice sessions twice a day in the closed Pascal Field House, but they also use Duke’s other football facilities for conditioning and rehabilitation.
That will allow Duke’s current players to rub shoulders with players like Manning, Marshall and receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
“It’s a golden opportunity for us,” Cutcliffe said. “One of our receivers can ask Odell Beckham questions.”
There’s a larger lesson for the Blue Devils as well.
“The benefits for us are phenomenal,” Cutcliffe said. “They see the quality of work ethic. This is the offseason. What they see is a commitment to excellence from these NFL players. They see that greatness is not an accident. That impresses the young people.”
Cutcliffe will work with the Giants players on the field during the private practices. They’ll work on the field around two and a half hours per day, split over two sessions.
In between there’s time for treatment, rehab and strength work.
“What those guys are doing is creating the proper chemistry and the proper timing to get more prepared for OTAs,” Cutcliffe said. “We work on all types of throws in all areas of the field.”
Marshall, who signed with the Giants on March 8 after playing with the New York Jets last season, told the New York Daily News he’s looking forward to meeting Manning face-to-face for the first time at Duke.
“We’re going to throw and watch film,” Marshall said. “It’s just a jump-start on chemistry building and coming together and learning the offense for me. I think for me personally it’s about getting a jump-start on learning the offense and what they are expecting of me.”
Cutcliffe works with Manning to ensure his footwork and throwing motion are as solid as ever. After all, he’s coached him since he was a teenager.
The players also spend time together socially when they aren’t at Duke.
NCAA rules don’t allow Duke’s current players to work with the NFL players on the field with Cutcliffe or his staff present.
Some of Duke’s players who have completed their eligibility can take part, though. That gives players who are prepping for next month’s draft a unique opportunity to work with current NFL players.
Back in 2014, for example, former Duke running back Juwan Thompson caught passes from Peyton Manning. Thompson went undrafted, but the Broncos signed him to a free agent deal.
He not only made the team in training camp, he became the first undrafted rookie in eight years to score more than one touchdown in game when he had two against San Diego on Oct. 23, 2014.
Thompson has since played in 30 career NFL games with Denver and was part of the Broncos’ Super Bowl championship team in 2015.