ALAMEDA, Calif. — EJ Manuel entered the NFL four years ago surrounded by the hype of being a first-round quarterback expected to boost the hopes of a struggling franchise.
He lost his starting job with the Buffalo Bills in his second year, spent most of the past two seasons on the bench and now is looking for a fresh start to his career as a backup after signing a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders on Monday.
"It definitely made me grow up extremely fast," Manuel said of his experience in Buffalo.
"Being on a team that all everyone talked about was making the playoffs, that was always on our minds and that's still something we were never able to accomplish, but for me at least, I think it's definitely made me a much harder person as far as the things I've gone through, the things that mentally I know I can deal with and still persevere."
After being taken 16th overall in the 2013 draft, Manuel started 10 games as a rookie, completing 58.8 per cent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He then was benched after winning two of his first four starts the following season and made just three starts in his final two seasons with the Bills. In 28 games, Manuel has completed 58.3 per cent of his passes with 19 TDs, 15 interceptions and a 77.5 passer rating.
"Sometimes young guys continue to get a chance to grow and fight through those growing pains and I just wasn't afforded that opportunity," he said. "I just kind of had to roll with it and just keep rolling."
It was a relationship he struck up in that 2014 season with his quarterbacks coach at the time that led to this chance to come to Oakland to compete with Connor Cook to be Derek Carr's backup.
Todd Downing left the Bills after that season and spent the past two seasons grooming Carr as quarterbacks coach in Oakland. He kept in touch with Manuel during that time. After getting promoted to offensive co-ordinator this off-season, he went after his old pupil.
"When he did call once free agency began and told me that they were interested, for me it was a no-brainer," Manuel said. "That's a situation you want. Especially as a quarterback and in my situation, trying to really change the perception of whatever I've gone through in Buffalo and all that kind of stuff. I know the player I can be and so does coach Downing. That's what I'm excited about."
The Raiders also signed free-agent linebacker Jelani Jenkins on Monday and brought back long snapper Jon Condo for an 11th season.
Jenkins started 34 games with Miami the past four years. He had 219 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and five passes defenced.
He struggled with injuries last season, playing just nine games, but will be counted on to compete to fill the void of departed free agent weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith.
The Raiders are looking for improved coverage skills at that position.
"It's something I've had to do even since my time in college," Jenkins said. "I've been on teams with a lot of great tight ends and running backs. So I've had to cover them every day in practice. I think that helps."
Condo is the second-longest tenured Raiders player. He was signed to the practice squad in 2006 and has played all but three games since the start of the 2007 season. Only kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been with Oakland longer, having been drafted in 2000.
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL