The last of the Manning boys is rekindling optimism at Ole Miss
Growing up, Peyton Manning loved to pick on his little brother, Eli, by pinning him down and hitting him in the chest until Eli reeled off the name of every school in the SEC. Last week the Indianapolis Colts' Pro Bowl quarterback visited his younger sibling to tutor him by more conventional means. Sitting in a meeting room in the Ole Miss field house, Peyton studied spring practice video of the Rebels' sophomore quarterback, whom he affectionately calls E.
On one play Eli rolled to his right and threw a short pass to flanker Jamie Armstrong, who was crossing the field in the same direction as Eli. Armstrong had to reach back to make the catch a split second before the cornerback tackled him. It looked as if Eli's pass wasn't accurate, but Peyton knew better. "That's a pretty good throw," Peyton said. "If Eli leads the receiver, the receiver has to stretch, and he gets killed. I tell my receivers, 'If you ever find me throwing the ball there, trust what I see. I don't want you to get hit [hard].' Eli is throwing the ball well."
At 6'5" and 210 pounds, 20-year-old Eli is a thigh pad or so shy of Peyton's size at the same age and has comparable arm strength. Unlike Peyton, Eli, who redshirted in 1999, didn't play much as a college freshman. However, he needed only the fourth quarter of the Music City Bowl in December to get Ole Miss fans thinking about his and Peyton's dad, Archie, who remains the greatest quarterback the Rebels have ever had. With Ole Miss trailing West Virginia 49-16 after three quarters, coach David Cutcliffe sent Eli in to relieve senior Romaro Miller. Eli, who during the regular season had thrown only 33 passes, none for touchdowns, passed for 167 yards and three scores in the next 8:26. He wound up completing 12 of 20 passes with one interception. Never had a 49-38 loss to close a 7-5 season caused such unbridled optimism.
Then again, hopes have soared in Oxford ever since Eli's arrival. While Peyton's spurning of the Rebels five years earlier to play for Tennessee had strained relations between Ole Miss and the Mannings, Eli's signing healed any lingering rift. And on a campus where the posted speed limit is 18 in honor of his father's retired number, Eli found Archie's shadow a haven compared with that cast by his brother in Knoxville. "As a quarterback, Tennessee was the best place for me to go," says Eli, who liked the Vols' multiple offense. "I thought I could deal with [Peyton's legacy]. But when it got down to decision time, I didn't want to sign with Tennessee and be expected to do more than a freshman quarterback is supposed to do."
Eli also turned down Texas and Virginia when Ole Miss hired Cutcliffe, who as the Vols' offensive coordinator had tutored Peyton. In essence, Cutcliffe has been coaching Eli for almost seven years. "I was in eighth grade during Peyton's freshman year at Tennessee," Eli says. "I was going against what my coach was saying, doing things not the way he liked but the way Peyton was telling me." Now that Eli is older and learning the same offense Peyton used to become an All-America, he understands how rare their bond is. "I can call him and talk to him about things that not many others can," Eli says. "He's another quarterback, a brother and a friend. It's made us closer."
Eli is as laid-back as Peyton is intense. Though Ole Miss offered to unretire Archie's number 18 for him, Eli wears jersey number 10, of which he says with a shrug, "That's what they gave me." His reserve has been mistaken for a lack of confidence. "People do expect a vocal leader," Eli says. "It's not my style. Once people see I'm doing my work hard, it earns their respect."
He already has Peyton's.
Henson Stoked For Curtain Call
Senior Drew Henson begins his final spring practice at Michigan on Saturday having only hinted at the potential he brought to Ann Arbor three years ago as a Parade All-America. He spent two seasons backing up quarterback Tom Brady, missed the first three games last season with a broken right foot and then completed 131 of 217 passes, with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, as Michigan tied for first in the Big Ten. It's good that he's 100% healthy again, because the Wolverines' offense already has enough holes to fill.