Old friends don't underestimate Eli

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> The myth, the legend, the first pick of the draft, out of Ole Miss, presenting Mr. Eli Manning.<br><br> Hello, Pittsburgh?<br><br> ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The myth, the legend, the 0-4 starting rookie quarterback of the New York Giants put Pittsburgh reporters to sleep yesterday. He was, well, a typical rookie. He was timid, quiet, dull.

"He doesn't say much," said Keydrick Vincent. "He's a b-o-o-o-o-ring guy."

Vincent needn't have been on hand for Wednesday's conference call to know that. He played with Manning for two years at Ole Miss. Loved him. Couldn't say enough about him. Hoped the Steelers would find a way to draft him. But Vincent, the Steelers' right guard, understands Manning doesn't bowl anyone over with his personality.

So, how can a quarterback be so withdrawn?

"It's one of them things," Vincent said. "It's hard to explain, but you just know he knows what he's going to do. He's a leader. He's not one of them big rah-rah guys, but you can have confidence in him and his abilities. You might hear him say, 'We need to pick it up,' but he's not going to stand up in a team meeting."

Vincent, of course, saw first-hand that Manning can play the game, so it's easy for him to look past Manning's soft-spoken nature. Vincent spent two years at Old Miss with Manning, one while Manning was a starter, and Vincent quickly grew to believe in him. Once Vincent joined the Steelers, he continued his Eli rap to whomever would listen.

Yet Vincent hasn't seen Manning's current struggles. Manning has a passer rating of 33.8, a completion percentage of 38.2 and the aforementioned goose egg in the win column.

How, Vincent was asked, can the veterans with the Giants believe in this timid young quarterback?

"See, what a lot of people fail to understand is that in college, his brother played under Coach (David) Cutcliffe; Coach Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee; then Cutcliffe came to Mississippi. I guarantee you Eli knew that offense before he even touched down at Mississippi, so his success was bound to be greater. See what I'm saying? With the Giants, there's no way he's going to pick up the offense right away."

Then again, Ben Roethlisberger picked up the pro game rather easily, hasn't he?

"Ben freelanced," Vincent said with a laugh. "No. Ben has a running game. It's just one of those things."

The Giants, though, have paved the way for their running back, Tiki Barber, to gain 1,238 yards with a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.

"That's right," Vincent said. "But they don't have The Train."

And, of course, "The Train" is the 6-foot-5, 325-pounder playing right guard for the Steelers.

"Look," Vincent said. "You've gotta crawl before you walk. Now, he is going bad right now, but the payoff is great with that kid. I mean, that's a man. He's got that fire. I just hope it ain't this week."

Coming off a 4-for-18 performance last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, it's unlikely Manning will pull his game together quickly enough to upset the 12-1 Steelers. After all, Manning passed for only 27 yards last week and threw two interceptions. He was yanked in the fourth quarter, but regained his job Monday by edict of Giants Coach Tom Coughlin.

"Don't underestimate him, never," Vincent said. "To tell you the truth, I think their coach is doing the right thing. I think the kid's gotta play."

And it won't hurt his fragile, perhaps even timid, psyche?

"He's not fragile like that," Vincent said. "He has that kind of demeanor but he's not. It's crazy. It's like he can be so dead. It's crazy. He's going to get it done, though. Like I said, I just hope it's not this week."


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