Gus Frerotte has had a long NFL career. In his 15th NFL season, he has seen a lot of players come and go, has played for numerous teams and been asked to play a lot of roles. While he isn't going to be starting Sunday, he might be playing one of the most important roles as the Vikings prepare for the Indianapolis Colts Sunday.
What is that role? For the next few days, Frerotte will pretend to be Peyton Manning – a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer who poses a slew of problems for the Vikings pass defense. The goal is to try to get the Vikings defenders prepared for the machinations he does pre-snap as well as his quick release. It's a job that nobody can do completely, but as close a facsimile as they can create on the practice field.
"We're going to hope to emulate Peyton Manning this week," safety Darren Sharper said. "We're going to have Gus Frerotte trying to do his best Peyton Manning impersonation and get us prepared. It's a tough challenge. So many people have tried to slow down Peyton and not many people have been successful. We hope to be one of those teams that can slow him down. We don't expect to stop him, just slow him down."
It isn't all that unusual that teams that play the Colts have a backup QB try to mimic Manning. Much in the same way teams have used wide receivers or running backs in practice to simulate a scrambler like former Falcons QB Michael Vick or pump in noise to their practice facility to simulate the Metrodome, Manning is a player that demands opposing teams to attempt something to prepare their defenses for what is coming.
"Every team that plays him has someone that goes out and impersonates him," Frerotte said. "It will be interesting to run two-minute type of drills against our defense like he does."
The objective is to get the defense prepared for the types of scenarios Manning will bring into play – strolling behind the offensive line and pointing at spots on the field or individual defenders. Often times, defenses scramble to alter how their personnel is lined up when they hear what sounds like an audible. It can be confusing for those that aren't used to it, so the Vikings want to give the defense a preview of what they can expect on Sunday.
"The plan is to do the types of things he does – taking a lot of time at the line of scrimmage and calling out plays," Frerotte said. "Obviously, you're never going to be exactly the same, but you try to give (the defense) a look that is realistic enough that they can get something out of it."
For the defensive players, Manning presents a challenge like few others. With his quick release, his ability to scan the entire field in an instant and his knack for finding weaknesses in coverage, he keeps defenders on their toes and looking around.
"You have to be ready because he does a lot of tricks," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "He is as dangerous a passer as there is in the league, and with guys like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and (Anthony) Gonzalez, we're going to have be on our game every play."
Manning's numerous pre-snap histrionics are by design. He wants to get certain players thinking that the ball is coming their way – whether it is or not. It's hard to tell what is real and what is fake, but, according to Frerotte, Manning and his receivers are aware of where the ball is likely coming – even though it doesn't always seem that way.
"He knows where he's going to throw on every play, whether it looks like it or not," Frerotte said. "He has a very quick release and knows how to look off defenders. He is great at reading defenses and finding weaknesses and keeping them on their heels. He rarely puts a ball into coverage when you have one of his receivers locked down. He's not going to hold the ball very long and we're going to try to simulate that."
One of Manning's greatest strengths is what players refer to as "dummy calls" – fake audibles designed to get players moving and thinking that something other than what is coming is being called. Frerotte said some teams over-think the process and can end up shooting themselves in the foot. While he is going to simulate the pre-snap movements of Manning, he isn't going to make legitimate play calls.
"I'm going to do that, but I usually just say stupid stuff," Frerotte said. "The defense usually laughs at me. Obviously, you're not going to imitate the right way, but you try to get as close as you can."
The Vikings hope that their attention to detail in practice will have its intended effect, but, according to someone who has faced Manning on more than one occasion, simulation doesn't quite match up with the genuine article.
"We're going to have Gus try to simulate what he does, but there really is no way to duplicate the kind of things Peyton can do," linebacker Ben Leber said. "He's a one-of-a-kind quarterback. It's like preparing for Brett Favre. You know what he can do because you see it on film. But when you play him, you always see something new and different. That's why he's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play this game."
And for three days, Gus Frerotte gets to be Peyton Manning.
Frerotte playing the role of Manning
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