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January 26, 2013

QB EJ Manuel working to prove NFL worth

MOBILE, Ala. - EJ Manuel, Florida State's career leader in completion percentage, spent this week trying to prove he's accurate. Manuel, the Seminoles' unquestioned leader for two seasons, has scouts asking whether he's fit to lead an NFL offense.

Such is life for a aspiring NFL quarterback at the Senior Bowl.

It's about proving worth once more for Manuel, who caps a week of poking, prodding and evaluation with today's Senior Bowl at Ladd Peebles Stadium (4 p.m. ET, NFL Network).

"It's been good, it's been awesome," Manuel said. "I've done well in every interview I've had and I think every coach has had an opportunity to see what kind of person I am, what kind of character I have and that's the main thing, they want to get to know you and see how much football you know."

Manuel on 2013 QB Battle, playing in FSU offense

One thing was clear to NFL talent evaluators when Manuel arrived on Monday: He passed the eye test, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds during Senior Bowl weigh-in.

"The thing that pops out the quickest is his size. You know, (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben) Roethlisberger is a big quarterback, but I think he's got nothing on Manuel," said Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who is coaching Manuel's South team this week. I mean, he's got super long arms. He looks like a tight end out there, and he's just a really, really big man."

"When you look at him, you say 'Ah, that looks like a quarterback,'" NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. "He has all the tools - you don't have any issues with that."

What teams are watching for, however, is Manuel's ability to be accurate at the next level and his acumen when breaking down a defense through the air. Despite finished his FSU career completing a record 66.9 percent of his passes, there were questions about Manuel's ability to read defenses week in, week out.

"Consistency in my reads," Manuel identified as his focal point for the week. "I know I can make all of the throws, but if you're consistent in your reads - I think that might have been something the scouts had a question about - so I think I've done well this week so far."

After a week of Senior Bowl practice, impressions are mixed. Draft experts at ESPN.com and CBS Sports haven't been overwhelmed with his display of accuracy, with the latter calling him a "wild card" in this draft. Both outlets currently project Manuel to go between the third and fifth rounds.

"I'd like to see him be a little more accurate throwing the football," Davis said, "but you know, here's the thing, we get all hooked on the accuracy. He's got to be this, he's got to be that. Jake Locker is a 54 percent career thrower and was a first round pick. So if people like him, they think they can fix things.

'Noles in Senior Bowl (South Team)
No. 1 LB Vince Williams
No. 3 QB EJ Manuel
No. 18 K Dustin Hopkins
No. 93 DE Everett Dawkins

"I think his upside is big, I don't care what round he gets picked in, someone is getting a quarterback that they'll feel good about developing."

One thing working in Manuel's favor is the re-emergence of the dual-threat quarterback in the league, a trend spearheaded by Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Because of Manuel's ability to run - something he showed best during Wednesday's practice - he has been peppered with comparisons and questions about the NFL's evolution throughout the week.

"I think (NFL teams) like that," Manuel said. "I still view myself as a passer, but I know I can take off and make plays with my feet as well. I think that only adds to the value of what I can bring to the table."

But Manuel's dual threat doesn't guarantee him anything.

"The only question about Russell Wilson was size," one AFC scout said. "With Manuel, we need to know if he can lead an offense."

After a week of work, today is another opportunity to do just that.

"I think I'm going to bring a winning attitude (to the NFL), I know I had that at Florida State," said Manuel. "I think I'll bring the same thing to an NFL team."



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