Stronger and healthier Manning looks to secure top reserve linebacker spot for the Packers in 2013
By Worldwide Weston Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – Mornings always were the most difficult part of Terrell Manning’s day during training camp last summer.
The constant aches, churning stomach and bouts with insomnia all paled in comparison to when the Green Bay Packers’ rookie inside linebacker needed to pry himself out of bed each day and back onto the practice field.
For months an undiagnosed parasite wreaked havoc on Manning’s body, robbing him of his energy and nearly 20 pounds from his 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame.
Often undernourished and deprived of sleep, Manning didn’t say a word all while skeptics pondered if he had a future with the Packers after the team surrendered three picks to take him in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
It finally got to a point Manning couldn’t take anymore. Early one morning last August, he finally admitted himself to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with colitis, an inflammation of his colon due to the parasite.
With the regular season drawing near, the damage to his chances of being a significant contributor was largely done. But the Packers stuck by him and eventually his potential began to show.
“Every day I had to fight,” Manning said. “Every day I had to fight to get up out of that bed without enough sleep and still go out and practice, and stay focused in meetings after practice, and go out and do it again for the whole duration of camp.”
In those quiet weeks of agony, Manning learned a valuable lesson in determination. While his body withered to 218 pounds, Manning’s mind grew stronger. As his health improved, so did his contribution.
Manning, 23, never played a down of defense in 2012, but slowly developed a niche on special teams. Active for only five regular-season games, Manning played 39 of his 83 total snaps in the Packers’ two playoff games while established veterans D.J. Williams and Frank Zombo sat as healthy scratches.
Now in his second year with a full offseason of weight training, Manning is hoping his luck changes along with his physique in 2013.
Back to a healthy and muscular 235 pounds, Manning spent his offseason at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix. There he worked out three times a day at exercises tailor-made for him — a much-different program than the one Manning was on midway through last season when he was just throwing on whatever weight he could.
“I would say I never really got to where I wanted to be because the weight I was putting on … it wasn’t really the best weight,” Manning said. “So I didn’t look any bigger. When I stepped onto the scale, it wasn’t good weight — it was fat to be honest with you. This offseason, I dedicated a lot to correctional movements and trying to get my weight back and muscle instead of fat. It was hard.”
After not feeling 100 percent at really any point last season, Manning has flashed the natural instincts and athleticism during this year’s offseason program that inspired the Packers to trade up and take him 163rd overall in last year’s draft.
Now, he’s in the conversation for the top reserve spot at inside linebacker behind A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, especially after Monday’s release of veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop.
In their decision to part ways with both Bishop and undersized third-year linebacker D.J. Smith this offseason, the Packers made a commitment to not only Hawk and Jones, but the inexperienced reserves behind them.
For the most part, it’s an unproven group with Manning, special-team standouts Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois, and seventh-round rookie Sam Barrington the leading candidates. The three returning players combined for 800 snaps last season, but only eight of those came on defense.
That’s typically the way the Packers have conducted their business in recent years. Aside from Hawk, a fifth-overall selection in 2006, the team has primarily forged its inside linebackers through late-round and undrafted projections.
They did it with Bishop, a sixth-round pick in 2007 who blossomed into the team’s leading tackler in 2011, and they hope to do the same with Manning.
“You’re starting to see some of the assets that we saw in him coming out of college and he’s been able to display (those),” Packers inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “He’s been a good run player. He’s done some good stuff on the blitz, he’s athletic, he can run, so he’s going to continue that progress of just growing.
“It’s going to be great to see him get into the pads in training camp and really see him against a different opponent rather than our offense. So I’m excited for that. Hopefully, he just continues upward and onward.”
The competition figures to be fierce in training camp at the position, but that’s far from Manning’s focus.
Right now, Manning wants to prove there’s more to him than the small sample size that was his rookie season, littered with illness, sleepless nights and forgettable practices.
After everything he’s been through, Manning really just wants to play football again.
“Everything to me is all about me. Obviously, I look to learn from those guys, but I really don’t take anybody as a threat.
“I say that not to offend anyone, by any means. It’s just that right now the system I’m in is all about focusing on me and executing my responsibility and learning every day. From there, I think the coaches will see I can also play just as well as these other guys, too.”
Full story here