Undrafted out of college, offensive lineman Phillipkeith Manley latched on with the Falcons and became an instant star last year. But he showed up at his first organized workout this week clearly 30-50 pounds overweight.
ATLANTA — Phillipkeith Manley, the big guy with two first names crunched into one, was one of the surprise stories of last season.
The Falcons signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo and he impressed the coaches with his physical brand of smash-mouth blocking once they put on the pads.
But instead of competing for the starting right guard spot during OTAs on Wednesday, Manley, who returned to the offseason program overweight, is in a fight with himself to retain a spot in the NFL.
Manley, who wouldn’t reveal his weight when asked by reporters, is listed at 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds. He clearly weighs at least 30 pounds more than his listed weight.
He’s spending extra time with the strength-and-conditioning trainers in the Falcons’ athletic-performance department and is consulting with a nutritionist to try to save his once-promising career.
“He’s really coming around as far as that aspect of it,” offensive line coach Paul Dunn said. “He needs to get himself to where he’s working not only in competition with some of the other players, but he’s also working in competition with himself to get himself down to a good playing weight.”
Manley knows that he has placed himself in a tough situation.
“I came in a little bit heavier than I did last year,” Manley said. “I’ve already lost about 20 pounds or so. I’m still confident. I feel like I’m in great shape right now, and I’m going to get out there and keep working.”
He wouldn’t say how much weight he needs to lose.
“I really don’t have a number,” Manley said. “I just want to come out and feel like I’m in great shape and be able to move. I will just keep working out over the rest of the summer.”
Manley was considered the dark horse to win the starting job at right guard. Garrett Reynolds is the incumbent and is battling mainly Mike Johnson for the position.
The Falcons aren’t ruling out Manley, but he’s lining up at left guard behind Justin Blalock after spending some time at tackle during the coaching sessions that preceded OTAs. The team appears ready to let Manley work his way back into shape and see if he can compete in training camp and in exhibition games.
The question about him last season was whether he was tough enough to survive and thrive in NFL trenches after playing in the Mid-American Conference.
“He showed good athleticism,” Dunn said. “Last year when we put the pads on, it was a situation where he was able to show some of his toughness. That was always the thing out there on Phillip. It was just what kind of competition they played in the (MAC) and just how tough he was. He certainly proved that by making the 53-man roster and moving forward.”
Now, the question is whether he can control his weight and rebound.
“It’s been tough,” Manley said. “Since I’ve been back here, I’ve been working out pretty hard. I’ve been doing some extra work. I’ve been trying to get in the sauna more and stay in shape. I have to be in better shape than I was last year.”
Manley, 23, was a two-year starter at Toledo. In 2011, he anchored a line that paved the way for the team’s 2,777 yards rushing.
Manley’s battling style of blocking helped him make the initial 53-man roster last season, but he was waived Sept. 8 to make room for wide receiver Drew Davis after Tim Toone suffered a hamstring injury. Manley was signed to the practice squad Sept. 11 and promoted to the 53-man roster Nov. 6. Manley believes he can fight his way back onto the roster.
“I feel confident in my abilities right now,” Manley said. “I think I have a great shot at making the team again. I just have to get out here and keep working, continue to learn the plays and execute every day.”
He’s ready for the climb.
“I feel like there’s always going to be competition,” Manley said. “This is the NFL. We always bring in good people, and that breeds good competition. I feel like my chances of making the team are about the same as they were last year. I just have to step it up and keep working hard.”