Terrell Manning Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Terrell Manning: Who is this guy?

Terrell Manning during last season’s game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 55-7. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

When Ted Thompson traded up to select Terrell Manning, a standout linebacker for North Carolina State University, in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft, some experts thought he struck gold.

Despite playing just three seasons overall – two as a starter – with the Wolfpack he developed a reputation as a gritty, tough playmaker. He rang up 193 total tackles with 27 stops for a loss while demonstrating some nifty pass rush skills (registering 10 quarterback sacks in his career) despite playing off the line of scrimmage. That’s a boatload of production.

Manning opted to forgo his senior year of eligibility after suffering a few nagging knee injuries earlier in his collegiate career. He didn’t miss any extended playing time while handling a premier position in one of college football’s best power conferences, the ACC.

Perhaps his strongest asset was that he consistently showed excellent form when tackling – a skill that’s highly coveted by Green Bay linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who was himself a superior run-stopper and pass rusher for 15 seasons in the NFL. Manning is a reliable, high-motor, point-of-attack defender who can effectively shed blocks, seal interior running lanes and pursue ball carriers in the backfield. For a Packers defense desperate to add quality, aggressive, assignment-sure defenders, it seemed Manning would be a perfect fit.

Many thought that he would challenge for playing time last year. Manning displayed that much upside. Perhaps the rookie would take reps away from the inconsistent Brad Jones, underwhelming A.J. Hawk or the often-injured Frank Zombo. And maybe make it easier for Thompson to adjust his regular season depth chart in favor of his latest late-round defensive gem.

But something completely out of Manning’s control put those plans on hold.

Late last summer during the onset of his rookie offseason, Terrell Manning felt different. Not about being drafted into the NFL or about his potential role with the Packers. He’d already acknowledged the feelings of nervousness and anticipation and planned to sort them out on the practice field, weight center and film room heading into the fall of 2012.

The six-foot-two 230-pound linebacker had always found a way to rise to the occasion. He did it at North Carolina State despite battling nagging injuries and constant double teams from his opponent each week. He played through pain.

Terrell Manning celebrates a sack on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph

As the summer progressed and the preseason neared, he noticed something. Examinations by team physicians diagnosed Manning with a stomach ache – albeit a severe one – and he was told he’d be fine. But the chronic visits to the restroom, pronounced stomach cramping, diarrhea, dehydration and extreme fatigue continued. And got much worse.

Manning knew something was wrong. Very wrong. He finally drove himself to a local hospital and that’s when he got the news. He wasn’t dealing with a simple stomach ache or nervous anxiety. It was Colitis – a parasitic infection that could be potentially lethal if left untreated.

Most people would find themselves immediately admitted and likely due for a lengthy stay undergoing intensive treatment if they experienced these types of terrible symptoms let alone a confirmed diagnosis. Most people would probably call in sick to work. Or maybe take it a little easier during the course of the day.

Not if you’re Terrell Manning.

Green Bay’s rookie prospect didn’t stay at the hospital overnight after that initial emergency room visit. He didn’t stay for a few hours. Instead he took fluids and drove himself back home. Operating on a few hours of what could best be described as anything but sleep, he showed up at practice, buckled on his shoulder pads, adjusted his helmet, snapped his chin straps and and stepped onto the field.

And played football.

To say that Terrell Manning tried in superhuman fashion to do his job would be an understatement, given his diagnosis. Admittedly, he was not at his best last year but it would be beyond unfair, given what we know now to label him as a bust. Or as apathetic. Of course, in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL, being sluggish, out of position and perhaps a step slow in practices – regardless of the reason – puts a player on the fast track to unemployment.

In yet another testament to his desire, by his own account, he said that if he could walk he could go. That’s pretty impressive stuff. Manning wasn’t about to let a trying bout with Colitis get the upper hand. Not after a career spent fending off doubters, double-teams and injuries. Not after all of that.

So even though the infection sapped him of his strength and cost him a chance to hit the weights and get in valuable work with the defense early last season, he stayed positive. And he kept showing up. Now that he’s back 100 percent healthy and a full participant in the offseason program this year, it’s almost like he’s a new player. Manning, and the coaching staff undoubtedly have to like his chances at cracking the starting lineup this season now that he won’t spend most of his time in the bathroom.

Given the recent departure of Desmond Bishop to greener (some would argue, possibly purple) pastures, many around Green Bay are wondering who on the roster will step up to fill the void and provide valuable depth at linebacker? Even with the departure of Bishop, the unit is particularly strong. Jones, Hawk, Clay Matthews, Jamari Lattimore, Robert Francois, Dezman Moses and Sam Barrington round the group into form. All can be effective playmakers. Each of them certainly can help the defense shed the collective “soft” label that’s been applied by the media after back-to-back disappointing playoff exits, at the hands of the Giants and Forty Niners respectively, the last two years.

Ultimately, Terrell Manning has shown he can overcome adversity, demonstrated a level of toughness foreign to most and above all he persevered. These are all key prerequisites to the Green Bay defense collectively turning things around in 2013. Perhaps Thompson knew all along that Manning would very well be the guy to fill the void. Injury or not, Desmond Bishop couldn’t do much over the course of the last year through no fault of his own. Working against Bishop’s chances to iron down a roster spot were his fairly high salary ($3.4 million) and a devastating injury.  Through it all Thompson watched Manning strap it up despite dropping 20-plus pounds due to dehydration and fatigue. He watched a young man mature. That’s the type of player he covets. The message was made clear with yesterday’s release of Bishop: get on the field no matter what it takes. Or hit the road.

No matter who starts on the inside this year (Jones and Hawk are penciled in currently with the first team) or plays extensively, the strong-willed and recharged Manning will surely have a significant role.

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Tags: Green Bay Linebacker NFL Packers Terrell Manning

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