By TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With the Super Bowl celebrations over and training camp on the horizon, Eli Manning believes the Giants will have to improve if they want to repeat.
Speaking in a telephone interview with The Associated Press Monday, Manning said he was anxious to get back to work despite an offseason shortened by the Giants' impressive run to a second title in five seasons, culminated by their Super Bowl win over the Patriots in Indianapolis.
Manning was happy the Giants will report to training camp at the University at Albany Thursday without controversy. He even laughed about former teammate Amani Toomer's recent comments that Dallas' Tony Romo was statistically the best quarterback in the NFC East, quipping that he has played with better receivers than Toomer.
"Hopefully, guys have the right mindset and know we have to get better," Manning said from the site of a Gatorade promotion. "We need to make improvements because we have to become a more consistent team.
"If we do, hopefully, we'll have a good shot."
The Giants, who finished 13-7, have question marks on offense despite posting their best season in terms of yards gained. They have holes at right tackle, tight end, backup running back and even at receiver, considering Hakeem Nicks is coming off a broken foot.
"That's why this sport is special," Manning said. "There are new challenges and new guys and different situations you have to overcome. We have some young guys who have to step up."
In April's draft, the Giants selected Virginia Tech RB David Wilson and LSU WR Rueben Randle.
"We have a lot of young guys who don't have a lot of game experience and will have to come in and play for us," Manning said. "We have to get them ready in training camp and preseason games, and get them performing at the level we expect them to, so we can be at our best."
Repeating won't be easy. No one has done it since the Patriots finished off the feat in 2005. The Giants had a shot in 2008-09, but things fell apart after Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg in a New York nightclub in late November.
"It's just hard to win a Super Bowl," Manning said. "It's just difficult. A lot of things have to go your way. You have to be playing at a very high level, guys have to stay healthy. There are a lot obstacles and different things that can go haywire and make it difficult. Other teams are getting better and you lose guys each year in free agency. You have new guys coming in who have to step up at a young age.
"All you can do is work as hard as you can through this offseason to try to become a better player."
Manning also feels it's his responsibility to make sure the offense is making strides and the new players are up to speed.
"You can't worry about the things you can't control," he said. "If someone gets banged up and misses a game, you kind of hope for the best and compete and give it your best shot to make it to the playoffs. Hopefully, we can get hot again in the playoffs."
The key though will be staying healthy, and Manning believes the collective bargaining rules adopted last year to limit practices to once a day during training camp will cut down on nagging injuries that get stressed with two-a-day workouts.
"This is a chance to see which teammates are going to fit in our system and who is going to step up and who is going to be a key player for us," Manning said. "That's the fun part of competition and football and doing this job. I look forward to going to training camp and living in dorm rooms and working hard, but also at night there are always a few pranks going on. This year, with the summer Olympics going on, it will be nice getting a bunch of guys in one room and rooting for our country. The Olympics are an exciting time and a good bonding experience with the team."
It's also a time for Manning to spread the word about eating right, staying hydrated and maintaining the proper electrolyte balance, something he was helping Gatorade to promote. While NFL teams and players have trainers and nutritionists to help them along, Manning admits his message is directed to another audience.
"This message I am giving is obviously for the kids and for people who are working out or outside working or doing things in hot weather, and the importance of staying hydrated," Manning said. "Kids right now playing or practicing sports outside need to know the importance of what they eat and what they drink and the importance of having electrolytes in them throughout the whole day."
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