(USAT Sports Images)
MOBILE, Ala. -- It's tough enough to raise your draft stock at an All-Star week under the best of circumstances, but former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is doing so through Senior Bowl week with a lot on his mind back at home. While Manuel is looking good on the field and appearing poised in media sessions, his mother, Jackie, has been recovering from her final round of chemotherapy in a fight against breast cancer. Jackie Manuel was diagnosed before the 2012 college football season, and her son spent that season alternating between worrying about his mom and putting together a pretty impressive season for the Seminoles. Manuel told Alex Marvez of SIRIUS NFL Radio that his mother will undergo surgery on Feb. 1, and that he will spend a few days with her before resuming his training.
Right now, the train is moving too fast for Manuel to stop for too long.
In his senior season, Manuel completed 263 of 387 passes for 3,397 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He added 310 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on 103 carries, leading his team to a 12-2 record, and a win over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. That was the last shot for Manuel to show what he could do in a college game, and he took advantage, completing 26 of 38 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown, and adding another touchdown on the ground. He finished his collegiate career with the ACC's all-time best yards per attempt total (8.6) and the conference's third-best all-time completion percentage (66.9 percent).
Still, the questions remain. Manuel has always been known to be athletic and have a rocket arm, but decision-making has been an issue at times. Can he see and read the entire field at the NFL level -- even in an NFL that is more predisposed than ever to take a shot on a not-quite-developed mobile quarterback with all the raw tools, and mold him into what they need? Those who wonder about his ability to process information at NFL speed point to the Seminoles' 37-26 loss to Florida on November 24. Manuel threw three picks and looked all too ordinary. Those who believe that Manuel will be able to take things to the next level point to an NFL that now accepts and develops athletic quarterback prospects, meets them halfway in a playbook sense, and reaps the rewards sooner than later.
It all came together during the Wednesday South team practice, and Manuel looked a cut above fellow quarterbacks Landry Jones and Tyler Wilson. He made several throws across his body with accuracy and velocity, and showed nice touch on a deep seam throw. Add in his ability to run boot action and read option packages, and Manuel starts to look a bit more like the kind of player the right kind of team could build an offense around.
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who is running the offense for the South team this week, has been impressed.
"He's in a good position because he's got a good background," Linehan said this week. "I'm somewhat familiar with some of the things they do with Coach [Jimbo] Fisher from when he was at LSU, and it translates well to the NFL. [Manuel] has got a good background of a really pro-style offense -- the typical stuff that drop-back teams do, and then the spread stuff you see from the kind of new-age football we're seeing right now."
Manuel ran the offense out of a no-huddle about 70 percent of the time by his own estimation last season, and he almost went West to play for Oregon's Chip Kelly, who runs it better than anyone else these days. Catching up with Kelly, who now coaches the Philadelphia Eagles, was a good experience for Manuel.
“It was awesome just to see him again,” Manuel said this week. “I've known him for five years and was really happy to see the success he had as a coach. I'm sure he'll do the same in the NFL.”
So, why not Oregon out of Bayside High in Virginia Beach?
"I wanted to, but it was far away," he said. "And Coach Fisher was the main person I wanted to play for. But I was very intrigued by Coach Kelly, and Mike Bellotti before him. It was a great program with great uniforms -- that's something I liked as well."
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told CBS Sports this week that there's something to like about Manuel, as well. “You're talking about someone who had a lot of success in his conference and in his career. He's a really good kid. We're just starting the evaluation process and this is part of it at the Senior Bowl.”
"It's been good," Manuel said of the interview process, which is just as important -- if not more so -- than what happens on the field. "I think I've done well in every interview I've had. The coaches get a feel for what kind of person I am, and the kind of character I have, and that's the main thing. They just want to get to know you, and see how much football you know."
When I asked Manuel about his ability to throw from the pocket and be more than just a run-around guy, he certainly sounded confident. "I threw for over 3,000 yards this last season, with the highest [completion] percentage in the history of Florida State. I've done some good things there, and I think it will carry over well to the NFL. We would always get to the line in 13-14 seconds, and then I could declare my mikes [linebackers] and get my sight adjustments, and things like that, preparing for the blitz."
Certainly, Manuel is aware of the NFL successes of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson -- quarterbacks who have come into the NFL in the last two seasons and found success in the right offenses, and with the right coaches.
"Very -- yes, sir," he said to me. "That's definitely something I know I can do, but I feel that I can also sit back in the pocket and allow my receivers to make plays, as well."
All it takes is one team to take the chance. So far this week, EJ Manuel hasn't done much to hurt himself in the eyes of the NFL -- even when his mind is also on what his mom's going through back in Virginia Beach.
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