Manuel completed 29 of 42 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns Monday, leading the first-team offense like a seasoned veteran. His 69 percent completion percentage on the day also matches his totals from his performances the past two years as a fill-in for injured starter Christian Ponder.
"I like the way E.J. managed the team," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He was really in control, making good decisions. Looked like he belonged and was in charge of everything.
"You feel very comfortable with him in charge of your unit. I liked his poise and presence on the field today."
Manuel's day was impressive considering he was working behind a patchwork offensive line: gone, of course, are seniors Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, but starting tackles Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko are also out for the spring with injuries.
So Manuel instead told his young linemen to hold their man for 1.5 seconds, and he would make a quick read and release the ball. He did just that, finding Bert Reed twice for touchdowns and fullback Lonnie Pryor on a short touchdown pass.
"I feel like it's easy now," Manuel said. "Not to say that my defense isn't good but I know what I'm supposed to be looking at, and I can recognize it quick, like pre-snap. (Quarterbacks) coach (Dameyune) Craig has really helped me with that, as well as coach Fisher. I'm seeing the right things, and I'm making the correct decisions so far."
FSU's backup quarterbacks are still learning to make the right decisions. Both had their moments but neither jumped ahead in the competition — Will Secord completed 5 of 15 passes for 42 yards, and Clint Trickett completed 5 of 13 passes for 33 yards with two interceptions.
Trickett, the son of FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, enrolled early last spring and admitted at times he was lost with the playbook last season. But now he feels more comfortable with Fisher's system and is challenging Secord for the No. 2 spot.
"I look at it as competing against the defense," Trickett said. "If you're doing good against the defense, you're doing good against the other guy. It's just trying to do your best."
Secord, a redshirt sophomore who could be the first left-hander to play at FSU in more than 40 years, has only had one chance to show FSU fans his arm.
He completed 12 of 23 passes for 115 yards in last year's spring game and then watched the 2010 season from the sideline as Ponder and Manuel took all of the snaps.
Secord said he is making progress this spring as he gets additional reps with the second-team offense.
"I'm starting to get to the point where I can get details and stuff more than I was last year," Secord said. "I know the basics of everything, so now I can kind of take it and break it into little pieces and work on the small stuff."
The competition will surely go on throughout the spring and August practices, possibly even into the fall. Fisher would clearly like one to emerge over the other, but with injuries always a threat, he wants to have both ready to play.
"You definitely want one of them to jump out there," said Fisher, who may start to see that in FSU's second spring scrimmage Saturday. "I'd look to see both of them really so you can say you have two guys who can play, but definitely one of them needs to because you're one injury away from playing."