E.J. Manuel has unique connection with Raiders OC Todd Downing

When E.J. Manuel was weighing his option in free agency, one of the factors that influenced his decision was familiarity.

While the Oakland Raiders are headquartered across the country from the Buffalo Bills, they had a recognizable element that resonated with Manuel. That element was his connection to Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing.

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After signing his contract with the Raiders, Manuel explained how he knows Downing.

"We first worked together in the Senior Bowl," Manuel said of Downing, per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Just from those conversations when I was 21, obviously not knowing what to expect from the NFL and the opportunity that lay ahead of me, just having that trust and that kind of open mode of communication relationship relationship from him back then."

Downing, 36, was hired to replace Bill Musgrave as the team's offensive coordinator this offseason. He spent the last two seasons as Oakland's quarterbacks coach.

Before Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio brought him aboard his staff, Downing spent one season as the quarterbacks coach with the Bills in 2014. He formed a closer relationship with Manuel during that season.

"It was never really more so about football," Manuel said of his relationship with Downing, per Tafur. "It was more so just about me as a person. That's something that is very rare in this business. I was extremely happy for him when he got the offensive coordinator position. When he did call once free agency began and told me that they were interested, for me it was a no-brainer. That's a situation you want. Especially as a quarterback and in my situation, truing to really change the perception of whatever I've gone through in Buffalo and all that kind of stuff. I know the player I can be and so does Coach Downing. That's what I'm excited about."

Downing takes over a Raiders offense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season with an average of 373.3 yards per game. Consistency at the quarterback position will be key to maintaining — or improving upon — those figures from 2016. When starting quarterback Derek Carr went down with a broken fibula late in the year, the entire team fell apart.

Manuel is now set to battle 2016 fourth-round draft pick Connor Cook for the backup job behind Carr. If he can pick up Downing's offense quickly and Carr gets injured again, Manuel may prevent a similar meltdown from repeating itself in 2017.

Follow Kevin Boilard on Twitter: @247KevinBoilard

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