Raiders’ backup plan at QB is the prospect who never was

ALAMEDA — Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 237 pounds, EJ Manuel, the one-time No. 16 overall pick and current Derek Carr-insurance plan, looks the part of Franchise Quarterback.

He talks it, too.

“You just want to exude leadership. You want to exude confidence,” Manuel said on Wednesday at his news conference at the Oakland Raiders training facility. “And obviously, when you exude confidence, the rest of your teammates have confidence in you as well.”

“It’s a confidence position,” Manuel continued. “If you have it, your teammates will have it as well.”

The Raiders’ Week 5 meeting with the Baltimore Ravens could be Manuel’s first chance to start in the place of Carr, the $125-million man, who was surprisingly listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report — despite his transverse process fracture in his back.

“We do have a number of guys that are questionable and we’ve got time before we tee it up,” head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters on Friday. “So, that will remain a question mark until we make a final decision.”

To go along with all the physical tools and leadership attributes, Manuel was raised to be a future star. Named after his father — EJ is short for Erik Jr. — Manuel credits his family and most notably has dad, Erik Sr., for putting him on the track that led him on the path to becoming the first quarterback selected in the 2013 draft.

“[I’m] definitely proud of my family and where I come from and I think that’s where I get my hard work ethic from,” Manuel said. “Besides any other things that might be coming against me, I’m just always looking forward to working hard and trying to defy the odds.”

With Carr mending his back, the Raiders have publicly rallied around the ex-Buffalo Bills bust, in advance of the matchup with the Ravens.

Amari Cooper, a smile splashed across his face, said Manuel throws a harder pass than the silver and black’s organizational centerpiece. Running back Jalen Richard also pointed out an on-the-field department in which Manuel bests Carr.

“I would say that he’s a little bit more mobile than DC, you can say that,” Richard said as he sat in front of his locker. “[He’s] a little bit more athletic than DC. So, he’ll bring some things to the table that DC won’t be able to.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing was plenty aware of that athleticism even before he was the quarterbacks coach for the Bills in 2014, Manuel’s second NFL season.
After Manuel guided Florida State to the 2013 Orange Bowl title, Downing coached the future Raider in the Senior Bowl.

“It’s pretty obvious to see the physical traits that made him a first-round draft choice,” Downing told reporters on Thursday. “He’s a big, strong guy.”

Since landing with the Bills, those traits, at times, have led Manuel astray. Carr’s possible stand-in has never been known for advancing through his progressions. Instead, Manuel has a habit of locking in on his first read and then taking off if the opening isn’t there.

Decision making has never been his strong suit, either. Now in his fifth season, Manuel has 19 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.

The meeting with the Ravens has the potential to be a soft landing for the interim starter. Like the Raiders, the Ravens have dropped back-to-back games, surrendering a combined 70 points and 798 yards in losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The defense has been putrid against the run, allowing 166 yards on the ground to the Jags and 173 to the Steelers.

In light of those numbers, Downing and staff could be tempted to draw up a game plan that is heavy on the run game and light on Manuel. The quarterback recognizes that this will be a week to lean on his more famous offensive colleague, Marshawn Lynch, who’s underwhelmed with 30 yards on 15 carries over the past two weeks.

“Having playmakers always helps,” Manuel said. “I try to pride myself on making plays as well. That’s the name of the game. In order to win football games in this league you have to be able to make plays whether it’s with your feet, arm or your decision making. I’m just excited.”

While there’s still a chance Carr could make a miraculous return, Manuel is simply focused on the task at hand. And he’s not viewing the situation as the start of his second chance after washing out in Buffalo.

“Not really. I’m looking at it as an opportunity that’s before me right now,” Manuel said. “So, I’m not necessarily looking at a second chance because I’m on the team right now. I want to go out there and help our team win. That’s the main thing I’m looking forward to.”

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