GREEN BAY, Wis. — Terrell Manning was told not to worry. Multiple visits to the Green Bay Packers’ training room during the 2012 preseason revealed that the rookie inside linebacker simply had a stomach ache.
Weeks went by with Manning sleeping less than two hours per day, spending most of his nights confined to the restroom. When his pain reached an excruciating level, Manning decided he had enough and drove to the hospital at 4 a.m.
It was at a Green Bay hospital early that August morning that doctors realized this was far from a stomach ache. Manning was actually suffering from colitis, an inflammation of his colon caused by a parasitic infection.
“It was pretty bad,” Manning said. “I was scared. I was terrified because I didn’t know what was happening. A young guy; I’ve been healthy all my life. It was scary. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Three hours after checking into the hospital and being diagnosed, Manning was told he could check out and head home. But Manning didn’t stay home for long. He went to the team’s practice that same day. No, not to observe from the sideline. He threw on his helmet and pads and went through drills just like the rest of his teammates.
“Most of the coaches knew (about my diagnosis),” Manning said. “My coach (Winston Moss) knew about it because I obviously had to warn him, because he was one of my biggest advocates. We had extra study time and I was seeing him the most, so I wanted to keep him abreast of what was happening. I wouldn’t say everybody (on the coaching staff) knew, but most of them did.”
The discovery that it was colitis certainly wasn’t good news for Manning, but it was at least an explanation as to why he’d been feeling so sick in recent weeks. He had lost nearly 20 pounds in one month, dropping as low as 218 pounds.
The Packers traded three draft picks in order to move up and select Manning in the fifth round, adding what they hoped would be a physical linebacker for their defense. Instead, Green Bay’s coaching staff saw an underweight, sluggish rookie who wasn’t making plays in training camp practices.
There was, of course, a good explanation for Manning’s string of poor on-field performances.
“I knew something was wrong from the beginning,” Manning said. “As soon as I touched down (in Green Bay), I was a little slower. My reaction time was down. My weight started shooting down. Then I started seeing blood. From there, I knew something was really wrong and I knew it wasn’t me. I never really thought it was me anyway.
“I had a lot of reporters who came to me and were like, ‘You’re not making plays.’ And in the back of my mind, I laughed on the inside. But I didn’t want to put it out there (that it was due to a medical condition). I wanted the coaches to be able to release something like that because, to me, there’s no excuses.”
That’s right. The then-22-year-old who admitted to being “panicked” about his health wouldn’t use his drastic weight loss or his sleepless nights as an excuse for his lack of playmaking moments.
“I’m in the NFL and everybody says that stands for ‘Not For Long,'” Manning said. “I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, ‘This is my burden here. I made it this far and now I’m not going to be able to play. I’m going to be out with something big.’ On top of that, in the back of my mind, once I realized I had the energy, it’s not like I couldn’t get up to go out and practice.
“There’s no excuse for missing practice. To me, if I’m here, they drafted me and they want to see me play. I didn’t have an excuse for not going out there.
“If I can walk, I can go.”
Manning appeared in seven games last season, playing only on special teams. His best game was in Green Bay’s playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings when he recorded two tackles. Had Manning been healthy, that type of overall statistical production would have been far below expectations. But these weren’t normal circumstances.
“I would definitely say that I’m blessed to make it through it,” Manning said. “I’m still able to do what I do, because obviously I love the game. I think everybody was able to tell that from what I went through. So I’m blessed. I wouldn’t put a negative outturn on my rookie season. I would say I progressed at the end of the year. But at the end of the day, the key word is blessed. I’m blessed right now.”
Manning has fully recovered from his illness and is back up to 235 pounds, which is exactly the weight that the Packers want him to be at. It’s likely that Green Bay will be parting ways with starting inside linebacker Desmond Bishop before training camp, which would help Manning move at least one more spot up the depth chart.
“I’m going to build off last year,” Manning said. “I’m fighting for a position right now and so you go up the ladder. Right now, that ladder starts with me on special teams and I’m happy to go out there and compete for (special teams coordinator Shawn) Slocum. I’ll lay it on the line for him.”
Contributing on special teams is fine and all, but general manager Ted Thompson didn’t defy his typical draft-day strategy and give up three picks to bring in a small-role player. That’s why Manning knows that earning snaps on defense this year needs to be a goal that he achieves.
“Everybody hopes to have snaps on defense, especially a young guy like myself,” Manning said. “But at some point in time that young card doesn’t play out for so long. You’ve got to go out there and be a man and prove it. Prove it to the world and show what you’ve got, including the coaches.”
Manning has already proven that even an emergency trip to the hospital isn’t enough to keep him from practicing a few hours later. Now he wants to show the Packers what his rookie season might have looked like had it not been for his bout with colitis.
“I was hired to do a job and I’m continuing to fight for a job this year,” Manning said. “I can’t take it for granted. I have to take every day a step at a time, progress every day, learn as much as possible from the guys that surround me in my defense and just keep fighting.”