Work in Sports
Couch hopes to follow pattern set by Manning
"I think I can make the jump," Couch said after the Browns' combined practice and light scrimmage with the Colts at Columbus Crew Stadium on Saturday. "I don't know if I can do as good as Peyton did. He had a great year last year. But I think I'm going to be a lot better quarterback this year.
"I've got a lot better talent around me. The receivers are doing a great job. The offensive line is better. We've got Errict Rhett in the backfield running the ball for us. I think I'm going to be a better player just because of that."
Manning and Couch spoke on the bus ride to Columbus on Friday. The two compared notes on what they're going through in a league that can be particularly harsh for young quarterbacks.
The Colts went from 3-13 Manning's rookie year to become one of the best teams in the NFL last season. Manning's numbers improved across the board. He threw 42 fewer passes (533) yet completed five more (331), passing for 400 more yards (4,135). He threw 26 TD passes each year, but his interceptions dropped from 28 as a rookie to 15 last season.
"The game slows down for you in your second year, you start to make better decisions," Manning said. "You start to throw the ball away maybe a little bit instead of taking the sack and throwing the interception. You kind of learn that a punt is not a bad play -- sometimes defenses are good and they stop you. Those are some of the things I learned. I made better decisions and we scored more points."
So dramatic was the improvement that it even shocked Manning.
"Last year caught everybody by surprise, including us -- and especially me," Manning said. "I knew we'd be better, I didn't think 13-3. I've tried to tell our fans, don't get used to 13-3 -- that 10-6 is OK as long as you get into the playoffs."
Couch completed 56 percent of his passes for 2,447 yards and 15 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in his rookie season. But the Browns were just 2-14.
Indianapolis coach Jim Mora said teams don't improve unless their quarterbacks do.
"That's the most important position on your football team in this business," he said. "Both of those guys are good football players now but they both have a lot of upside ahead of them and a lot of years ahead of them."
Couch said he needs to get rid of the ball quicker and must learn to rely more on an improved supporting cast. He said he's working hard on making the improvement between his ears that will result in more wins.
"Once you get out there and you play and you get to go through a full season as a starting quarterback, you learn a lot more and make better decisions," Couch said. "You can always make better decisions."
Manning and Couch have been friends since their college days, Manning at Tennessee and Couch at Kentucky. Despite being on opposing sides at times, they stayed in contact with each other.
Manning said it's too soon to put this group in that class.
"That's kind of what people are starting to say, but I think for us individually, it's too much for us to put that pressure on ourselves. That's the goal, to have a career like Elway and Marino or Young or [Troy] Aikman," Manning said. "That's what a young player would like to go after.
"What I mean by that is, to be good every single year. Not to have a great second year and all of a sudden drop off, but to just consistently play good football."
It's a mark of how fast and far Manning has come that Couch isn't shooting to be the next Elway or Young so much as to pull himself up to the same level as his friend.
"It's a pretty neat feeling. I never thought I'd be at this point. I'm hoping to get to where those guys were. That's my goal," Couch said. "I'm working toward it. Hopefully I can get to where Peyton is one day."