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Todd Downing Talks EJ Manuel: "I Think He Fell Back In Love With The Game"

They first met in 2013.

One, a young position coach headed into his third season in Buffalo, the other, a dynamic quarterback coming off a dominant Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois, the fourth bowl win of his college career.

Todd Downing and EJ Manuel crossed paths once again a year later in Buffalo, where Downing helped mentor a young Manuel, who found the end zone in all four starts he made in 2014.

At the end of the year, Downing headed west, accepting a position with the Oakland Raiders, and then, two years later, in March of 2017, Manuel re-joined him, signing with the Silver and Black as a free agent.

Manuel signed with the Silver and Black with the understanding that he'd fight for the right to backup Derek Carr, but after winning the No. 2 job, and with Carr on the mend, recovering from a transverse process fracture, the former Buffalo Bill is poised to make his first start as a Raider this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

And while having the second quarterback on the depth chart handle the responsibilities of the No. 1 guy is never an ideal situation, Manuel's familiarity with both Downing and center Rodney Hudson will serve him well as he makes his first start in Silver and Black.

"It helps a lot," said Manuel. "Knowing 'Hud' [Hudson] since I was 18 years old at Florida State and obviously knowing TD [Downing] since the draft process and everything. It's been awesome for me. Not just in this instance, but since I've been here as a Raider. Having familiar faces around and obviously, my teammates accepting me and bringing me on board as well. There's not too much unfamiliarity. I think we're ready to go."

"I've known EJ for a long time," added Downing. "It's pretty obvious to see his physical traits that made him a first-round draft choice. He's a big, strong guy. He can whip the ball all over the yard. I love his zest for the game. I knew that that was still in him when I supported us bringing him in here. He's a guy that's always hungry to learn and get better. He's done exactly that since he got here."

After spending the first four seasons of his career in Buffalo – making 17 starts in the process – Manuel found himself in search of a new football home this offseason, and while he isn't looking at his time in Oakland as a second chance, Downing has certainly seen a marked change in No. 3 since they first crossed paths.

"I think he fell back in love with the game," Downing explained. "During training camp, maybe late in OTAs, I was talking to you guys and said something along those lines that you could see him passionate about the game again. He just really enjoys coming to work and putting in a hard day's work. That's what it takes to be a good quarterback in the league. It's fun to see him doing that and enjoying himself again."

If the Raiders want to climb back above .500, and beat a very good Baltimore Ravens team this weekend, they'll need Manuel to be on his game, and while there will certainly be a lot of pressure resting squarely on the shoulders of the Florida State Seminole, the veteran quarterback is approaching this week just as he does when he's backing up Carr.

"You never want to be blindsided," Manuel explained. "That's the last thing, as a backup, you never want to be blindsided going into a game. My preparation for this game hasn't changed at all. Like I said, I still show up at the same time, still go home at the same time. Crossing all my T's, dotting all my I's like I have since my career started."

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