Interview: EJ Manuel consulted other QBs in decision to assert himself as a Bills leader

BILLS

My photo of EJ Manuel prior to Buffalo’s September win against Baltimore.

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As the last of his knee injuries healed this off-season, EJ Manuel considered what he needed to do most to improve in Year 2.

After he sought — and got — big-name advice, the Buffalo Bills quarterback resolved to assume a much more pronounced leadership role on the team.

He said as much last week at his first news conference of the year, and elaborated in an interview this week.

“The biggest thing I want to improve on is becoming more of a leader, taking more command of this offence,” Manuel said by phone from Orchard Park, N.Y., during Week 2 of the Bills’ voluntary team off-season training regime.

“That’s a broad statement but I really mean it.”

Manuel said he came to that conclusion, in part, after seeking out NFL quarterbacks farther down the path of success. Namely Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Oh, and an all-pro defensive back to boot.

In his injury-plagued rookie season Manuel started 10 games. He finished nine, won four and did enough to win one or two others.

“As a rookie I thought I did pretty well,” Manuel said. “But I know there is a lot more I need to get better at. Regardless of what anybody else says or thinks, I know personally there is a lot more I can do out there on the football field.”

His ups and downs were extreme. In September he authored a game-ending, 80-yard winning drive with no timeouts to beat Carolina, which finished 12-4. Truly clutch play. And into a November gale he thrashed the New York Jets by completing several decisive deep passes in a 37-14 win. But in three ugly losses — at the Jets, Steelers and Bucs — he was awful.

In that regard Manuel was not unlike many first-year quarterbacks, even the eventual superstars.

His momentum-disrupting knee injuries didn’t help.

In mid-August Manuel tore the meniscus in his left knee and missed the last three weeks of camp. In October he sprained the LCL in his right knee at Cleveland and missed four games. And in a mid-December win at Jacksonville he sprained his left knee, which finished his season.

But after arthroscopic “clean-up” surgery on the left knee in January, Manuel said he healed quickly, is “100%” now and hasn’t missed a team workout rep.

As for those chats with other QBs …

“I’ve always kept in close contact with (fellow coastal Virginia native) Russell Wilson,” Manuel said. “Russell is just a great person — spiritually and physically as a player. I’ve asked him a lot of questions about all this.

“I also met Drew Brees during Super Bowl week and asked him a lot of questions. And RG3, I keep in touch with him. He had to deal with a knee injury, so I also asked him rehab to make sure I’m staying on top of my game and doing the right thing.”

Manuel worked out in Florida for about two months with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, before Kaepernick’s alleged incident with two other NFLers and a woman at a Miami hotel that prompted a continuing police investigation.

Of the workout maven Kaepernick, Manuel said he saw “how he grinds and what he does to prepare himself for another season.”

Manuel also consulted with all-pro Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor.

“He’s actually from my hometown, so I’ve known Kam since I was 11 or 12,” Manuel said. “He and I have talked a lot this off-season, not just about football but also about life.

“The thing about Kam is he gives you a vantage point from a defender, as far as what he’s thinking on his side of the ball. He’s like the quarterback on defence.”

Manuel already has exhibited a more pronounced leadership role. He and some Bills receivers and running backs gathered on their own in California, and Florida, to better familiarize themselves with the playbook.

Manuel had a second motive.

“We got more cohesive off the field. I think of the things we did together, like going out to eat, and waking up early together to work out … The great teams I’ve been on — whether in college or in high school — it was because we were tight.

“On the field, I think we’re now better able to understand what each other is thinking when we get to the line of scrimmage. I was trying to help those guys realize, ‘Hey, this is what I’m looking at when we get into a certain coverage with this certain play.’ And so when they have the quarterback’s vantage point, I think that will help them even more when they run their routes.”

Manuel cited the following examples of how he intends to “call the shots” more on the field during the season:

“Ya know, tell (wide receiver) Stevie (Johnson), ‘Hey, Stevie, I want you to cut right here at this yard marker.’ Or tell E-Wood (centre Eric Wood), ‘Let’s change this protection so I can make sure I can get the ball down to Stevie or Woody,’ or any other of the great receivers we have. Or tell (running back) C.J. (Spiller), ‘Hey, you’ve got that guy in protection.’ All those types of things.

“That’s what the great quarterbacks do in this league. You know, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson — all those guys. That’s why they win. So the biggest thing I wanted to do is educate myself so I can be prepared to do that. Knowledge is power.”

 


If EJ’s stock rises …

As EJ Manuel’s financial fortunes rise, so can yours.

A San Francisco brokerage firm, Fantex, will soon sell shares in the Buffalo Bills quarterback on the New York stock market, according to ESPN Buffalo’s Mike Rodak.

The 24-year-old Manuel has become one of the first pro athletes to receive an up-front payment from Fantex, for a percentage of his future income.

“Investors can begin reserving shares of Fantex’s Manuel stock on May 5,” Rodak reported.

Shares will sell for $10 apiece.

 

 

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