Peyton Manning doesn’t want to coach the Tennessee football players he is working out with this week.
Nope, Manning’s goal when he’s on Tennessee’s campus is to feel like the young Vol he once was.
“I really try to treat them . . . like we are teammates,” the Indianapolis Colts quarterback said this week. “I’ll certainly answer any questions. But I‘ll just get in the middle of them and work out.
“I certainly don’t come in and try to coach them. I just try to be a resource. I really get great joy out of it. I look forward to it every year.”
Manning will be working with UT’s skill players, including quarterbacks Matt Simms and Tyler Bray.
Simms came out of spring practice as the starter, but competition has resumed during summer workouts and will be ramped up during preseason camp in August.
“There will be competition,” Manning said. “I can certainly relate to that. Usually you feel like if someone can get the edge as a young player, they can kind of keep that job.”
Winning the starting job is just part of the process. Soon thereafter, whoever is named the starter best hope for some good fortune to set up their UT career.
“I do think a kid’s first experience needs to be somewhat positive,” Manning said.
Manning remembers his first positive moment. In his first start, against a stout Washington State defense, a blown call wiped off what should have been an interception on one of Manning’s first pass attempts of the game.
With a good break behind him, Manning’s confidence grew.
“We got that win in my first start,” he said. “That just did wonders for me.”
Goal Oriented: Manning had high hopes when he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
“When I got there, coming from here (in Knoxville) where football is so important, it was a change for me,” Manning said. “When you got up there, you realize that it was basketball first, car racing second. I guess football was third, somewhere in there.
“But now, if you ask anybody, I think they’d tell you that Indianapolis is a football town first. That’s hard to do. We feel like we have turned that place into a football town and a football state. That was always my goal.”
Now, Manning has another goal in mind.
“My goal when I first got drafted by the Colts was to play my whole career there,” he said. “I certainly hope that’s still the way it’s going to end up being.”
The Colts seem to feel the same way, suggesting publicly that a contract in the works will make Manning the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Former Vol Updates: Manning has spoken out publicly about other players, but not often.
“At all costs, you try to keep everything in house if you can,” Manning said. “That’s the best way to get it solved.”
That has not been the case with the Washington Redskins and former UT defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who is reportedly demanding a trade because he doesn’t want to play nose guard in Washington’s new 3-4 defense. Some Redskins have spoken out publicly against Haynesworth.
Manning spoke highly when asked about former UT safety Eric Berry, who was selected with the fifth pick in the NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, whom the Colts play this season.
“When he has a chance to hit me on a safety blitz, I hope he goes easy on me and remembers how nice I was to him,” Manning said. “It seems like all of (the former Vols in the NFL) haven’t always remembered that.”
Manning has seen former UT offensive lineman Jacques McClendon up close. The Colts selected McClendon in the fourth round of April’s draft.
“Finally got another Tennessee Volunteer in camp,” Manning said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s playing center and playing guard for us.”
Dooley Noted: Through various brief discussions, Manning said he believes first-year UT head coach Derek Dooley understands the significance of the Tennessee job.
That didn’t seem to be the case with Dooley’s predecessor, Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin, who faces severe NCAA sanctions for violations committed under former USC head coach Pete Carroll.
“I’m sure there weren’t many tears shed here in Knoxville and I can understand that,” Manning said.
Like Dooley, Manning can understand the SEC transition of traditions. Manning’s father, Archie Manning, was a legendary quarterback at Ole Miss. Dooley’s father, Vince Dooley, coached at Georgia for 25 seasons and won a national championship.
Manning said he actually saw Vince Dooley don a UT cap in support of his son.
“It took my dad about a year to put one on,” Manning joked.
No Pain in the Neck: Manning said he’s recovered from the neck surgery he had in March.
Despite being in his 13th NFL season, Manning, 34, said he still feels young.
“I do feel good. I think every year, as any player gets older, it becomes a little more of challenge,” he said. “You have to work even harder to stay in good shape and keep yourself healthy.”
Home Front: Manning, who is from Louisiana, said he has kept track of the oil spill that threatens to mar the coastline surrounding the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s certainly been disappointing. Just as the city was beginning to recover from (Hurricane) Katrina, this happens,” Manning said, referring to New Orleans. “It’s just another test of wills.
Manning said he and his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, are evaluating ways they can help in the oil spill recovery.
“This is a problem that, unfortunately, is going to be around for some time,” he said.