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Senior College Football Columnist

The development of EJ Manuel and why the 'Noles may finally live up to the hype

Manuel, with coach Jimbo Fisher, said he thinks completing 70 percent of his passes in 2012 is a realistic goal. (Getty Images)

I had a chance to spend the day out at the Elite 11 QB here in California. It's always been one of my favorite events. I've been going to it for a decade. It's just a fun, spirited deal with some really cool camaraderie among the young QBs and the older guys working the camp as counselors.

On Friday night, I caught up with FSU QB EJ Manuel. In the spring he spent a week refining his mechanics with George Whitfield, the noted San Diego-based quarterback coach. Whitfield told me earlier Friday how impressed he was with Manuel's development, noting the improvement in the 6-5, 240-pounder's weight transfer. Manuel had a tendency to under-stride, Whitfield said. That was a focus for the duo in April and has been something the Noles QB has worked diligently on his own to remedy.

Manuel said he spent four or five hours each day on his mechanics to better his weight transfer and finish by bringing his shoulder through. He was proud of the improvement he's made.

“The weight transfer with me was big,” he said. “I noticed in my film I wasn't doing that. I would throw and not step as much as I could. I have a lot of power in my legs. Once I started doing that, I've been ripping the ball, 40, 50 yards on a line down the field. I've been throwing it great here.

“My delivery has gotten a lot more fluid, a lot more consistent and that's where the accuracy will come from. I was pretty accurate last year around 63 or 64 percent. (It was actually 65 percent.) Now that I've been working very hard on this stuff this summer, it should get even better.”

Manuel said he thought hitting on at least 70 percent of his passes in 2012 was a realistic goal, especially with the receivers FSU has and the system he plays in.

Manuel is one of the more impressive college players you'd ever meet. He has a presence about him where you come away convinced that he'd be a success at whatever he attempted. We spoke about his maturation process as a leader quite a bit. He was candid about the growth he's made in the past year and what else is different about him in 2012.

“Now I have no problem, not necessarily telling someone what to do, but just giving them advice,” he said. “Whereas last year, even within myself, I had to prove myself, 'O.K., I can do this. I can be the full-time starter of this humungous program.'

"Now that I've had a year under my belt, had some success, I'm looking forward to this year. I've worked extremely hard this off-season. That's given me even more confidence from knowing that I have worked so hard.”

Manuel has heard plenty about the Noles' rep for underachieving of late. What are the biggest things they need to finally live up to the hype?

“Two things: If we stay healthy, and if we stay consistent. Being ranked high is great but it doesn't matter. We need to keep a level head. We can't play great one week and then come back and be dragging and lose to some smaller team that you shouldn't lose to.”

RANDOM STUFF

Manuel on freshman QB Jameis Winston: “He's doing really well. He calls himself my little brother and I've accepted that 100 percent. I like him a lot. I liked him when I was out here (last year when Winston was an Elite 11 QB.) Great kid. Great personality. He's not a punk. Some guys are prima donnas and get soft when they come into a new environment, but he blended right in with us.”

On the Nole who is creating a buzz inside the team in summer workouts and is ready to breakout as a national name: “Kelvin Benjamin (a 6-6, 250-pound redshirt freshman receiver). He's bigger than me. He's huge. He can run. He really goes up for the ball. He's gonna be a huge threat in Red Zone for us.”

On the defense: “Man, we're like 3-deep at every position. Our D-Line is gonna be Kuh-RAZY!”

 
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