When Raiders quarterback Derek Carr got injured earlier this season and former Bills first-round pick EJ Manuel was preparing to replace him, offensive coordinator Todd Downing had an interesting thing to say about how Manuel was adapting in Oakland:
“I think he fell back in love with the game,” Downing said. “During training camp, maybe late in OTAs, I was talking to you guys (reporters) and said something along those lines that you could see him passionate about the game again. He just really enjoys coming to work and putting in a hard day’s work. That’s what it takes to be a good quarterback in the league. It’s fun to see him doing that and enjoying himself again.”
The implication was that, somewhere during his time in Buffalo, Manuel fell out of love with football.
Manuel seemed to disagree with that narrative in a story with the Las Vegas Review Journal ahead of his return to Buffalo, where he'll be the backup quarterback this weekend.
“I never lost my love for the game,” Manuel told reporter Michael Gehlken this month. “At the end of the day, I grew up playing this game. I grew up playing basketball and baseball as well. I never lost the love or zeal for the game. I think I might have lost the love for the outside portion that came along with it. People always having something to say, negative or positive, I didn’t like all of that.
“When I was young, I think I held a lot of that onto my chest too much. I don’t know if it was an ego thing where I wanted to prove this or wanted to prove that. But as far as my love for the game, that’s always been the same. That’s always been extremely high.”
The article has an interesting open, discussing how Manuel is at peace now that things that bothered him, such as critical newspaper columns and sports radio shows, have dissipated. It also features a quote from Carr telling Manuel, "you're one of the most talented people I’ve ever been around."
"Manuel seems comfortable," the article says. "That wasn’t always the case."
To be fair, Manuel brought many of his issues on himself with his play. He was a first-round pick in 2013 who started in his rookie season but ranked 28th in completion percentage and 29th in passer rating. Coach Doug Marrone benched him for Kyle Orton four games into the 2014 season and he was beat out by Tyrod Taylor in 2015. He went 6-11 as a starter in four seasons with the Bills, earning a clear distinction as a bust.
Manuel was thought to have a chance to start against the Buffalo after Carr suffered a fracture in his back earlier this season, but Carr made a quick recovery.
"Being around Derek [Carr] and Coach Downing and also a head coach like [Jack] Del Rio, someone who’s always implementing positivity and wants you to just be yourself and have fun — that gives you a lot of confidence when you having a coaching staff and support staff like that," Manuel said. "It makes you enjoy. It makes you want to go out there and make plays for them. As far as my love for the game, that’s always been constant. That never will waver, whether things are good or things are bad."
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