Chris Manhertz felt good when he was able to write down that he had one year of pro experience on a questionnaire handed out by the Saints last week.
There were zeros next to the sections labeled “high school” and “college,” but he was able to scratch a line in the column that counts.
The number means a lot. It means that Manhertz is no longer a rookie. It means that he survived a season and is back for another one. It means that the former basketball player has now been playing the sport for a year.
“It’s a complete (turnaround) as far as my understanding of the game,” Manhertz said. “I pretty much jumped in. Having this offseason, knowing how everything goes, how everything works, having an understanding of that, I was better prepared this time around.”
Manhertz took part in last weekend’s rookie minicamp. Things felt a lot different from this time last year when he was working out with the Buffalo Bills.
He wasn’t stopping to think about how to run a route or remember concepts from the first playbook. He was able to go out on the field and play. It made sense. Instead of fumbling through things, he was able to play and let his athletic ability shine through with fewer complications.
It felt good. It also looked good.
“He had a pretty good practice (at rookie camp),” coach Sean Payton said. “It is a process for him, and yet he has been working hard at it. This camp is a good opportunity for guys like him that are eligible even though they are already with us just to receive those added reps, and he is receiving reps, plenty of them early on. I think he is a lot further along and will continue to push to develop him at a fast rate.”
Manhertz used the offseason to work on his game, refining various aspects, both physical and mental.
He spent five weeks in California working out and training with some acquaintances. Then he went to Arizona for a week to work on his blocking.
This is an aspect of the game Manhertz embraced early on, going against the stereotype that former basketball players lack the desire to mix it up in the trenches. But even with a willing attitude, he knew he could improve in this aspect, so he linked up Scott Peters, who served as an interior offensive lineman for the Eagles, Giants, 49ers, Panthers and Cardinals from 2002-2009.
“I was with him twice per day for about a week just working on technique,” Manhertz said. “I think it’s really starting to show, the work I put in.”
After spending a season in New Orleans and having a whole offseason to prepare to play football, Manhertz feels like things are now finally slowing down for him. He says this was the biggest difference when he stepped on the field over the weekend.
Along with having a better understanding of the playbook, he’s also starting to recognize better what the defense is trying to accomplish.
That’s a big difference from last season. The mental aspect wasn’t progressing as quickly for him as the physical stuff. So, he worked at it. Here, too, he’s feeling the benefits of the work he put in.
“The majority of it was mental for me, schemes, playbook, reading coverages,” he said. “By no means am I perfect with that, but I got a lot better with it, and it’s starting to really slow down for me.
“A lot of film study has helped me with that. Reading the safeties, reading the linebackers, knowing Cover 2, Cover 3, all the different type of coverages and how to adjust to that.”
There’s a lot to be done still. Manhertz is going to have to battle if he wants to make the 53-man roster. It looks like Coby Fleener, Michael Hoomanwanui and Josh Hill will all have spots.
If there is another spot for a fourth tight end, the competition for it will be tough. Along with Manhertz, ReShaun Allen and Jack Tabb, who flashed in camp last year before suffering a torn ACL, will also be competition for roster spots.
Manhertz wants the job.
“That’s always the goal,” Manhertz said. “That’s not going to waver. That’s my goal.”
No one could have envisioned this for Manhertz when he was playing basketball at Canisius College a little more than a year ago. Now he’s here. A football player — and one who will be given a shot to make an NFL roster
That line means he no longer has to be referred to as a former basketball player.