Manningham Vows to Leave Past Behind Him

Before the very first practice of rookie mini-camp, Tom Coughlin made sure that of all the young players set to take the field for the first time he specifically stopped by to speak with Mario Manningham.

There was nothing happenstance about what Manningham called "a long talk'' with his new head coach. This was not the first chat involving Coughlin and the speed receiver out of Michigan and it most certainly will not be the last.

"I'm sure we will continue,'' Coughlin said.

There's more to the Giants selection of Manningham in the third round of the NFL Draft than mere talent addition. Based on his college résumé and pure ability, Manningham should have gone earlier in the draft, possibly late in the first round and undeniably sometime in the second. The drop in perceived value was based on the dreaded "character issue'' stigma that stuck to Manningham like Velcro and it's up to him to rip it away in order to hit the ground running on his professional football career.

"I don't think I'm a risky pick,'' insisted Manningham, revealing an opinion not shared by many NFL executives. "I don't think that's the issue. The past is the past. I let [the Giants] know what was going on and stuff, evidently they believed in me just like I believe in me.''

Belief only goes so far. The Giants are serious about turning Manningham loose as an offensive weapon but are leaving nothing to chance.

Manningham was arrested in April of 2007 when he was one of three men in a car police pulled over and found Vicodin in his possession and marijuana in the possession of another passenger. Manningham was cleared of possible felony charges but the following October was suspended for a game against Eastern Michigan.

This past February at the NFL Combine workouts, Manningham denied ever testing positive for marijuana while at Michigan but subsequently sent a letter to all NFL teams admitting he "wasn't straightforward,'' and that he indeed tested positive twice. He apologized for being "nervous and scared.''

Many teams took Manningham off their draft boards. The Giants interviewed him at the Combine and took an even closer, more personal look during their pre-draft visit with him at Giants Stadium.

"He has assured me he's learned from his mistakes,'' Coughlin said. "You're always concerned but you also hope as the individual matures and looks at what he has to gain and what he has to lose that he makes some serious decisions about his life.''

The Giants are willing to nurture Manningham but insist they will not coddle him. Sounding more like a high school principal than an NFL general manager, Jerry Reese laid down the law, making one thing abundantly clear:

Don't mess up.

Reese knew as soon as word came down that he gave his approval for the selection of Manningham in the third round, the focus of attention would not be on Manningham the athlete but on Manningham the person. Sure enough, the questions came fast and furious and never once strayed to the value or talent of the player.

"If you are screwing up, we are not going to spend a lot of time on you," Reese said, explaining the message he conveyed to Manningham. "You are on a short leash. If you come in here and do the wrong things, we are not going to tolerate that. We don't think he will do that."

Reese last year rolled the dice with running back Ahmad Bradshaw – who also came aboard with character concerns bases on two college arrests – but the outlay was less significant. Bradshaw was taken in the seventh round and thus far more expendable than a third-rounder. Bradshaw toed the line as a rookie and is entrenched on the roster. The Giants hope Manningham's past problems are more a result of immaturity and not indicative of a bad actor.

Manningham also reportedly produced a woefully low score of six on the Wonderlic test given to NFL prospects but Reese said, "He has good football intelligence so we don't think that is an issue.''

It is easy to see why the Giants are attracted to the player. He played three seasons at Michigan and finished fourth in school history with 27 touchdown catches, fifth with 2,310 receiving yards and ninth with 137 receptions. Twenty of those 27 touchdowns were more than 20 yards long. Last season as a junior, he struck gold with career highs in receptions (72), yardage (1,174) and touchdowns (12).

This is supposed to be the speedy deep threat the attack lacks, the ingredient the Giants thought they were getting in Sinorice Moss. Manningham in his first mini-camp showed some nifty moves but in his third workout took a wrong step on a route and strained his hip flexor, putting him out of action for the final practice session.

Still, Coughlin said Manningham in his brief time on the field showed "A couple of flashes with the quickness-type thing.''

Manningham admitted he felt "all kind of emotions'' and smiled when informed that Coughlin singled him out for praise. "I made a lot of mistakes out there,'' he said. "If he said I showed some flashes I guess I did. This is my first day, you know I'm going to make mistakes. Your first day you're not just gonna get it Johnny on the dot. Every practice I'm going to get better, though.''

Other than his sessions with the media, Manningham said no one ever mentioned the troubles he's experienced. He hopes to keep it that way.

"That don't really concern me because it happened and when it's all said and done, what are we out here doing?'' Manningham said. "We ain't out here talking about that stuff, we're out here to play football.''

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