Originally created 09/16/99

Quarterbacks take different paths



FOXBORO, Mass. -- Drew Bledsoe and Peyton Manning took different paths to become the top picks in NFL drafts. Bledsoe spent two years in college, while Manning stayed the full four.

Both decisions appear to be the right ones.

Bledsoe, in his seventh season, is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Manning, in his second season, may not need much more time to be just as good.

"He was definitely more successful in his rookie season than I was. I think he had maybe the best rookie season of any quarterback ever," Bledsoe said Wednesday. "Peyton lookes very good. He progressed very quickly."

Manning's stock could increase even more if he can lead the Indianapolis Colts to a win on the road Sunday against Bledsoe and the New England Patriots.

Last season, Manning set NFL rookie records for completions, attempts, passing yards, touchdown passes and consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.

He started his second season impressively by throwing for 284 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-14 win over Buffalo last Sunday.

This would be Manning's third season if he had decided to leave Tennessee for the NFL after his junior year. Bledsoe, who left Washington State after his sophomore season, was one of the people Manning talked to before making his decision.

"He was in an entirely different situation than I was in where he was coming back to a team that had a chance to win a national championship," Bledsoe said. "At Washington State, we weren't coming back to win a national championship."

So Bledsoe entered the 1993 draft and started 12 games for the Patriots as a rookie. He was picked for the Pro Bowl in his second season.

Manning played his senior year at Tennessee then was chosen first overall in the 1998 draft.

"It was nice to talk to Drew" before deciding to stay in school, Manning said. "The main thing he said is, `just do what you want to do. Do it and don't think twice about it. You're going to struggle your rookie year, no matter what.'

"It was good to talk to Drew, a guy who had been in a similar situation," Manning added. "I did what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a senior in college ... have another year to get more ready for the NFL and I'm glad that I did it."

Manning threw more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26) as the Colts went 3-13 last season, but he took all the team's snaps and got better as the season went on.

"If you're going to play a rookie quarteerback, you've got to be willing to stick with him through all the mistakes and let him play through that stuff," Bledsoe said. "If you put a guy out there and, all of a sudden, he's looking over his shoulder like maybe he's going to be benched at some point, then you get into some real trouble."

Indianapolis coach Jim Mora stuck with Manning, who learned through all his adversity.

"You knew that he was going to be special at some point," Mora said. "So that allowed you to have the patience."

The Colts have 10 new starters and appear considerably stronger than last season, when they finished last in the AFC East. One of them, Edgerrin James, rushed for 112 yards in his NFL debut against the Bills.

"They have to continue to develop the team around" Manning, Bledsoe said. "I've been fortunate enough with the Patriots to have some very good teams around me and if they can continue to develop the players around Peyton, I think he's got all the ability to take them to where they want to be."



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