NAPA, Calif. -- EJ Manuel was surrounded by a gaggle of reporters after Sunday’s training camp practice when a familiar voice called out from, oh, about a slant pass away.
“Who’s your best friend?” the voice asked.
Such is life now for Manuel, a former first-round draft pick who washed out with the Buffalo Bills after four seasons and is looking to reinvent himself as a backup quarterback to Carr.
The fact that his position coach in Buffalo in 2014 is now the Raiders' offensive coordinator in Todd Downing gave Manuel comfort, and Downing said Manuel is having fun.
“I don’t care what the profession is, I think you can tell when somebody enjoys what they’re doing,” Downing said. “I can’t speak to the past couple of years for EJ, but I know he’s enjoying himself now. When you enjoy what you do for a living, you can show up each day with the right attitude and approach. He’s certainly done that each day, found a way to get better every day.
“As he gets more and more comfortable with our system, he’s able to use his footwork, the proper technique, the proper drops, the proper eye placement on zone defenders to help him be more confident in where he’s going with the football. We anticipate EJ continuing the growing trend that we’ve seen.”
After being selected by the Bills 16th overall -- the first QB taken in 2013 -- Manuel started all 10 games he played in as a rookie, going 4-6. A year later, he played in only five games, starting four and going 2-2, before starting a combined three games and losing all three over the next two seasons and losing his job to Tyrod Taylor.
In 28 career games, Manuel has passed for 3,502 yards with 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while completing 58.3 percent of his attempts.
Manuel, though, insisted he never was really “shook” by his situation.
“Any time you go through what I’ve gone through, obviously it’s going to upset you and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “But that’s in the past and that’s a different team. I’m on this team now and my focus is moving forward, each and every day coming out with the same attitude to get better, not take anything for granted.”
Rather than showing flashes of good play, Manuel said he is looking for consistency in his play as he competes with Connor Cook to be Carr’s backup.
“You have to be consistent,” Manuel said. “The coach has to know what he’s going to get from you. He has to know that you’re going to make consistent, smart decisions. I just want to be consistent, man. Enjoy the ride.”
He has changed his focus from flipping perceptions of himself to being a good teammate.
“My focus is now on the team," Manuel said. "Anything that I can do personally, which is working hard every day, coming out, doing extra, answering any questions that D.C. or Connor might have, or however I can help the room get better, we all just improve. Because we all have to have growth.
“This is a team sport. As good as Derek has to be, we all have to be good, too. Because whenever that time comes, we might have to answer the bell.”
Cook discovered that last January when, in just his second game dressing, he was tabbed to start the Raiders’ first playoff game since the 2002 season over a dinged-up Matt McGloin, with Carr home with a broken right fibula.
And as Manuel said, despite the appearance that he is getting most of the reps with the second-team offense, Cook will also get those snaps in camp.
“We have a great team, especially offensively,” Manuel said. “But Derek’s the quarterback, so this is his show. And however I can help him, assist him, that’s what I’m here to do.”
Spoken like a true best friend, right?