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Former FSU star EJ Manuel sees Senior Bowl as chance to boost NFL draft stock

EJ Manuel is the all-time accuracy leader at Florida State, completing 67.7 percent of his passes.

EJ Manuel is the all-time accuracy leader at Florida State, completing 67.7 percent of his passes.

MOBILE, Ala. — The scenario is familiar: A Florida State quarterback finishes a mixed career, debate ensues about his NFL draft prospects, then he arrives at the Senior Bowl and does nothing but boost his stock.

That worked pretty well for Christian Ponder in 2011, who parlayed an MVP performance in the game into a first-round selection. Soon we'll see how it turns out for his successor, EJ Manuel.

The outgoing Seminoles quarterback on Monday took the first step in trying to convince pro teams he's the man to run their huddles, embracing the challenge in the first day of workouts ahead of Saturday's game.

But there are questions.

Can he read well-disguised NFL coverages? Will he find the consistency that eluded him during his career in Tallahassee? That remains to be seen, which is why this week is so critical.

"It's about proving what you can do," Manuel said. "I think a lot of scouts already know what you can do. They know I can throw. They know I can run. My main thing is to come out here and be consistent every day in practice."

With the draft three months away, there isn't a consensus on Manuel. Some scouts think he can be an effective starting quarterback, while others have doubts.

Either way, Manuel has some key attributes in his favor.

One firm handshake reinforces what is obvious: He is massive, measuring 6 feet, 43/8 inches and 237 pounds at Monday's weigh-in. With broad shoulders and large muscles, his physique resembles 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — whose next game will be the Super Bowl.

"I think my size kind of speaks for itself," Manuel said.

His impressive athleticism won't hurt, either. He is among the most athletic quarterbacks in the country, even if he didn't try to use those skills as a runner much in 2012. Making a greater effort to stay in the pocket, he finished the season with 46 rushes for 186 yards.

But Manuel is not trying to deemphasize his running ability, not with the success of pro quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and others.

"When I watch those guys play on TV, I'm rooting for them because I feel like I'm in the same mold as them," Manuel said. "But it's not that they're just beating guys with their feet. They're throwing the ball great, too. … I just hope I can fall into the same mold."

It's important to note Manuel finished his career as FSU's most accurate passer, completing 67.7 percent of his attempts.

And in a day when many college quarterbacks play exclusively from the shotgun and in spread formations, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher often had Manuel under center and in pro-style formations.

"He's in a good position because he's got a good background," said Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, part of the staff coaching Manuel's South team.

"I'm somewhat familiar with some of the things they do with Coach Fisher from when he was at LSU, and it translates well to the NFL. (Manuel) has got a good background of a really pro-style offense (that includes) the typical stuff that dropback teams do and then the spread stuff you see from the kind of new-age football we're seeing right now."

How much will that help? Can Manuel win over NFL clubs? The answers come later. But they'll be based, in part, on what Manuel does during this crucial week.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.

Senior Bowl

North vs. South, 4 p.m. Saturday, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala. TV: NFL Network

Former FSU star EJ Manuel sees Senior Bowl as chance to boost NFL draft stock 01/21/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 11:12pm]
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