Peyton, Eli Manning turn to Duke's Cutcliffe - again

lkeeley@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2013 

— Peyton and Eli Manning wanted a review of quarterback fundamentals before returning to their NFL teams. So David Cutcliffe organized his own minicamp and told the Mannings to invite a few of their teammates.

“It’s a good beginning crash course in football,” Eli said. “It’s good to come back to the person who has been watching me throw for 15 years now.”

Cutcliffe was Peyton’s offensive coordinator while he was at Tennessee and the head coach while Eli was at Ole Miss. Peyton, now in his second season with the Denver Broncos, invited receivers Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas to train with him at Duke. Eli brought Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Louis Murphy from the New York Giants.

Those guys – along with Duke alum and current Cincinnati Bengal Vinny Rey as well as Conner Vernon, Desmond Scott, Jackson Anderson, Jordon Byas and Tony Foster – went through two practices Tuesday and Wednesday and a lighter session Thursday, running routes and polishing their technique.

NFL rules limit the contact players have with their team’s coaches and facilities during the offseason. That made coming to Duke, where there’s privacy and a familiar face, more attractive.

“It’s been a great place to work, and coach Cutcliffe has been a great coach and host,” Peyton said. “The equipment staff, training staff and video staff, these guys, obviously their first priority is Duke spring practice, and so they’re working overtime. And the weight room staff, them stretching us, it’s really been positive stuff.”

Eli spent time in Durham two years ago, and Peyton spent a considerable amount of time at Duke last offseason while he recovered from the neck injury that cost him the 2011 season.

Peyton had said he and Eli wanted to be coached like they were college freshmen again.

“It was a mistake on his part, be careful what you ask for,” Cutcliffe said with a laugh. “Peyton clearly understands, like most great athletes, if you’re not careful, the smallest things are what go after you’ve played a great length of time. The fundamentals have to be retooled.”

Peyton arrived Monday night, and he and Vernon, who recently completed his Duke career as the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, worked out for about 90 minutes with Cutcliffe.

It wasn’t the first time the two had thrown together – Vernon caught a few passes from him last year in between recovering from an ankle injury and Duke’s spring practice. Peyton came away from the week thinking Vernon would be a valuable addition to any NFL roster.

“What an unbelievable career he’s had here,” Peyton said. “It can be an anxious time for a player getting ready for pro football and the draft. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, different people say different things, but the hay is in the barn for him. He’s done everything that you can possibly do.

“NFL teams are funny. You could have 30 teams not really like you, but one team likes you, and that’s all you need to know.”

When practices were done, Peyton and Eli went with Cutcliffe back to his house, where they stayed for the week. It was a rare moment for the brothers to be together and to go back in time to work with the man who helped set the foundation for their successful pro careers.

Cutcliffe joked that he’s known Eli since he was going to the theater to see the Lion King. Eli laughed, remembering when he was 13 and Peyton was a freshman at Tennessee.

“He’s always a great source to have,” Eli said of Cutcliffe, “someone to talk to who is going to tell you the truth and not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear to keep improving.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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