While the four quarterbacks hoping to replace him have been the talk of the spring in Tallahassee, EJ Manuel has created a good bit of buzz himself. The former FSU quarterback impressed at the Senior Bowl, combine and in pre-draft workouts -- and on ESPN's "Sports Science." He has met with the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, has personal workouts scheduled with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, and he figures to be among the first quarterbacks selected in this month's NFL draft.
We caught up with Manuel last week to talk about the process of preparing for the NFL, his relationship with Jimbo Fisher and his thoughts on the quarterbacks aiming to seize his old job.
NoleNation: You've certainly made the rounds the past few weeks. What has the process been like for you?
Manuel: I've been traveling, been to a lot of different airports, and having an opportunity to meet with coaches even more. I went up to Buffalo and had a really good time. My main thing, though, is to continue to stick to my skills as far as throwing the ball, working out. When I got back from the airport, I pretty much went from the airport to the gym and got my work in. I don't want that to get misconstrued. I know I have to stay tight with my football skills, because after [the draft] it's all business.
NN: What has surprised you the most about this whole process?
Manuel: The biggest surprise of this whole process is that you've got to enjoy it. Sometimes when you look at it, some guys are overwhelmed by the situation, because if you go out there and don't do well, you're not going to get drafted. It's either go hard or go home. To me, I really just have been taking advantage of the opportunity and trying to impress the opinions that really matter -- the GMs, the coaches, the quarterback coaches -- impress those guys and give off my personality to them.
NN: For higher profile players, particularly quarterbacks, NFL teams really poke and prod and look for any potential weaknesses. Is it tough to hear a lot of criticism like that?
Manuel: It's not tough for me, because playing with Coach Fisher, being that he was very demanding and perfectionist as a coach, having that in my mind, it wasn't hard. Any time somebody was critiquing me, I was so used to it from getting it at Florida State. I really think it's helped me, because I'm probably my worst critic anyway. If someone said something negative, I embrace it, because I want to get better. I want to be the best, and I feel like I am the best. You watch film with these coaches and they're going to show you the good and the bad, and when they do show bad, I really try to take advantage of it so I can get better and fix it.
NN: During your time at FSU, you and Coach Fisher had your share of heated conversations, but also had a lot of success together over five years. What was that relationship like?
Manuel: The relationship has been great. I trusted Coach Fisher. That's why I wanted to come here and play for him. I really wanted to come in and learn under Jimbo and be in his offensive system, which is a pro style. I think the fact that I had so many multiples in my game, he started implementing some different things -- the spread, the option, the zone option -- and that made our offense even more threatening. But since I've been out of college, I'll hear from him. He'll call me and tell me I'm doing a great job, gives me a lot of confidence, let me know he's proud. And I thank him for the tough love, because I needed it. It was never that he disliked any of his players. It's that he cares and wants you to be better. And that I'm on this level now, there's no room for error, and the way I've been coached in college, that's going to be great for me when I get to the NFL, because I can't make any mistakes.
NN: You mentioned working in Fisher's pro-style offense. It seems like a lot of NFL teams are intrigued by your potential in the read option that's all the rage now, but have you found that your knowledge of a traditional NFL offense has helped you when you get into these meeting rooms and interviews with coaches and GMs?
Manuel: That's where I've really shown a lot of what I can do for these teams. It's not that they were surprised, but I think it answered any questions as far as intelligence goes, what I know about football. A lot of things at the NFL level, at Florida State is even more complex. The verbiage and game play at the NFL level is a lot different, but as far as the way we learned and how much we installed in the offense, it was similar if not more than what they do in the league. It helped me out a lot, and I learned football, learned coverage, learned to diagram plays and speak football lingo -- that's weighed pretty well for me in the last couple months.
NN: You're going to be in New York for the draft. Have you thought about what that will be like? Will you be nervously waiting to hear your name called?
Manuel: I'm not worried about it, sweating it out. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. The whole process has been fun. I was looking forward to moving on into this next level. When I got the call from [the NFL] saying they wanted me to come to New York, I took a day to talk it over with my family, but it was a no-brainer for us. Now I'm just going to go out there and enjoy it, and whether I go first or second round, I'm going to be happy.
NN: At the end of last season, you talked openly about your mom's battle with cancer. How is she doing now?
Manuel: She's doing a lot better. She started working again two weeks ago. Her hair's growing back, she's gaining her weight back. She's back to my old mom. Even when she was sick, she was in great spirits, but now, I can just tell it's a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. I'm just really proud and happy for her.
Manuel: Most definitely, but even when she wasn't able to come, I still felt like my mom was still there. She was praying for me. Even when my mom wasn't there, I understood. I knew she was doing what she had to do to get better. Football is a special part of my life, but having my mom for a lot longer, that's what's really important to me. I'm just happy she'll be there -- my whole family, my mom, my dad, my sister, my grandmothers, they'll all be in New York, and we'll be happy. We're going to enjoy it.
NN: You can't escape without at least one question about the quarterback battle at FSU. Are you paying attention to how it's going, and how intrigued are you to find out who wins the job?
Manuel: Yeah, I still talk to those guys. Jameis [Winston] is kind of like my little brother anyway, so I'm keeping in touch with him quite a bit. I'm looking forward to seeing how it's going to play out. Even when we were in the season last fall, guys were champing at the bit. The spring has started up, we've got the competition started, and I think it'll be interesting to see who comes out as the starter in the fall. ... I think whoever ends up the starter is going to be the right guy, and Jimbo knows best to make that decision.