Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer 18d

'He fell back in love with the game,' Raiders OC says of EJ Manuel

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There’s familiarity between EJ Manuel and Todd Downing.

The Oakland Raiders are hoping that comfort level between quarterback and offensive coordinator pays off Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

They first met at the Senior Bowl in January 2013, Manuel coming out of Florida State and Downing, then Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach, serving on the South team coaching staff.

The Buffalo Bills made Manuel the first quarterback selected in the 2013 draft, and Downing arrived as Manuel's position coach for the 2014 season before moving on to be Oakland's QBs coach in 2015.

“It’s pretty obvious to see his physical traits that made him a first-round draft choice,” Downing, who was promoted to Raiders offensive coordinator this spring, said this week of the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Manuel.

“He’s a big, strong guy. He can whip the ball all over the yard. I love his zest for the game. I knew that that was still in him when I supported us bringing him in here. He’s a guy that’s always hungry to learn and get better. He’s done exactly that since he got here.”

After four years in Buffalo, during which he lost the starting job to Tyrod Taylor, Manuel signed as a free agent this offseason with the Raiders. He beat out Connor Cook in the preseason to be Derek Carr's backup.

Manuel has played in 29 NFL games, and is 6-11 as a starter. His most recent victory came Sept. 14, 2014.

And yet, the 27-year-old has approached every game as if he were the starter.

“I treat it the same way because ... we could be walking out of the tunnel before the game and something could happen to the starter and you have to go play,” Manuel said. “You never want to be blindsided. That’s the last thing, as a backup, you never want to be blindsided going into a game. My preparation for this game hasn’t changed at all.

“I still show up at the same time, still go home at the same time. Crossing all my t’s, dotting all my i’s like I have since my career started.”

With Downing playing a role.

Much has been made of Manuel taking over for Carr for potentially two to six weeks even though Carr, who suffered a transverse process fracture in his back Sunday, practiced in a limited fashion Thursday.

“You just want to exude leadership,” Manuel said. “You want to exude confidence. Obviously, when you exude confidence, your teammates have confidence in you as well. It’s a confidence position. If you have it, your teammates will have it as well.”

Manuel has downplayed talk of this run as Oakland’s starting quarterback being a second chance.

Still, Downing sees a refreshed Manuel.

“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 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.”

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