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
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.
Michigan, 9-3 a year ago, must replace All-America wideout David
Terrell, tailback Anthony (A-Train) Thomas and four starting
linemen, including All-America guard Steve Hutchinson. Given
those losses the 6'4", 218-pound Henson may be hard-pressed to
approach the efficiency with which he finished last season. In
victories over Ohio State and Auburn, he completed 29 of 45
passes for 597 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
"You go into your last spring with more focus," says Henson, who
welcomes the challenge of carrying the bulk of the offensive
load. "I don't want to look back and say I could have put more
time in. Now I've got to establish my leadership."
Toward that end Henson, a third baseman in the Cincinnati Reds'
organization, will shorten his baseball season this summer. Each
of the last three years he has left his minor league team on Aug.
1 to go to Ann Arbor. This summer he plans to return in mid-July
to get an earlier jump on summer passing drills. There's one
small problem: Henson hasn't told the Reds yet. "That's something
we'll have to discuss," he says. "I want to be fully prepared for
my final [football] season. Two weeks of baseball isn't going to
make a difference [in a possible major league career] one way or
Colorado's Olympic Hopeful
Bloom Excels at Wideout, Moguls
Colorado recruit Jeremy Bloom may be the first Division I-A
player who's also a world-ranked freestyle skier. The 5'9",
160-pound, all-state wideout from Loveland, Colo., finished third
in the moguls at the U.S. Freestyle Championship in Waterville
Valley, N.H., last Friday, only five days after placing 10th at
the world championships in Jamsa, Finland. He is a top candidate
to make the 2002 U.S. Olympic team. "A lot of people told me it
was stupid to play high school football and be on the U.S. ski
team," Bloom says. "My coaches on the ski team think it's cool.
So do the coaches at Colorado, I think."
Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett confirms that they do. "I'd say 20
percent of our guys ski or snowboard," Barnett says. "You can't
bring them to Colorado and not expect them to ski. I don't even
recall a [player missing a game because of a] skiing injury. Now
we may have had somebody get hurt [skiing] and tell us, 'I
slipped on ice in front of the dorm.'"
The Buffaloes are short on good receivers, and Barnett says that
Bloom, who averaged 23.3 yards per catch for 4A state champion
Loveland High last season, could help them this fall. Trouble is,
if Bloom is named, as expected, to the U.S. ski team this spring,
he'll likely ask to be redshirted so that he can continue to
compete for an Olympic spot. By the time he rejoins the team, he
could be the first Olympic gold medalist to suit up for Colorado
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES After his Peyton-like bowl work, Eli was the Rebels' No. 1 quarterback in spring drills.