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Peyton Manning lived it; "Bryce will benefit" from his rookie season

Peyton Manning, Bryce Young

ORLANDO, Fla.—The league's best players milled about, reminiscing over the season, taking good-natured jabs at the results of wins and losses, and holding something that slightly resembled a football practice if one squinted and tiled their head just right. The annual Pro Bowl games, hosted in Orlando this week, are more schoolyard than NFL, but still pull together some of the most talented faces in the league. And in the midst of them all stood Peyton Manning.

It's understandable Manning would be tapped as the coach for the AFC squad (his brother Eli is the NFC coach). Manning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a two-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time league MVP, and a 10-time All-Pro.

But after his rookie season, the majority of the NFL world was ready to write off the former number-one overall pick. The Heisman finalist led the Indianapolis Colts to a 3-13 record and tossed 26 touchdowns but 28 interceptions; the latter was an infamous record that stood for nearly 25 years.

Manning finished that 1998 rookie season with his career-worst numbers across the board, including completion percentage (56.7), total yards (3739), interception percentage (4.9), total touchdowns, yards per attempt (6.5), and yards per game (233.7) in what would be a 17-year career.

It's why, of anyone on the Pro Bowl field this weekend, Manning not only has some sympathy for all Panthers quarterback Bryce Young went through his rookie season, but he also actually gets it.

"Bryce will benefit from that," Manning said of Young's 2-14 rookie season.

The No. 1 overall pick and Heisman winner finished with a 59.8 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 179.8 yards per game, and a 73.7 passer rating last season.

But the only way to it is through it, and while the philosophy of sitting quarterbacks to learn for a while gains more popularity, Manning sees the value in playing oneself out of a bad year. It's what he believes helped him, and it's what he believes, in the end, will benefit Young.

"His experience is just going to help this year," Manning continued of Young. "I know it wasn't easy, but my rookie year was tough, won three games with 28 picks. But it's better being in there struggling than being on the sideline watching.

"So, I think he will benefit from that, learning the speed of the game. Look, Bryce played at the highest level of competition, playing in Alabama, but there's still an adjustment. I think he's—you can figure out what you can do and what you can't do, and he'll benefit from that and be better for it."

Peyton Manning, Bryce Young

Young went through multiple play-caller changes his rookie season, as head coach Frank Reich began the year on the headset, passed it to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown after six games, took them back after three games, and then Brown called them again after Reich was fired two games later. Now the Panthers will bring in new head coach Dave Canales, who will call the plays on offense. It's yet another change for Young, but the promise of consistency is vital.

"I think that's a great combination for Bryce because it'll be the same system every year," Manning said of the marriage with Canales. "Dave did a great job with Baker (Mayfield) in Tampa last year. I know he's going to bring a great system to Bryce."

On the other side of the field during Friday's Pro Bowl practice was Tua Tagovailoa. The Miami Dolphins quarterback may not have been the first overall pick in his draft, but he was fifth overall, a draft spot that signals the same hope for a franchise-changing quarterback.

Tua, like others around him, as a rookie posted what is to date his worst record, completion percentage, yards per game, and fewest touchdowns. Now following his fourth season and attending his first Pro Bowl, hindsight allows him to see what can cause a rookie season to go so array, not only for him but for Young as well.

Bryce Young, Tua Tagovailoa

"I think what people end up doing is they put too much on him when it's a team sport, you know," Tagovailoa said. "It takes everyone, so Bryce can't do it alone. And at a young age, I know he's already realized that because he's continuing to play his game regardless of what the score looks like. And he's been balling."

Tagovailoa played with Young at Alabama. He's seen the passer up close, as he grew from a California high school kid, into a National Champion.

"He's capable of doing any and everything that any quarterback in this league does," Tagovailoa said. "He throws with anticipation, throws with timing, has good footwork in the pocket. Just the only thing that he lacks, just like me, would just be size just to see over defenders. But outside of that, he has all the intangibles."

To the 6-1 Tagovailoa's point, Canales has worked with two quarterbacks in the past who are also 6-1 or shorter; Mayfield, who is listed at 6-1, and Russell Wilson at 5-11. What he might do for Young, at 5-10, is something to watch. Whether that comes by getting the ball out quicker, moving the pocket, or a combination of the two though, the most important aspect, according to Manning, is simply to keep him upright. Young tied a franchise record by taking 62 sacks this year, the sixth-highest total in league history.

Bryce Young

"I think just not getting hit a ton and having good guys up front and a good system that protects you is my number one thing," Manning said. "You can't learn a lot if you're on the ground, getting hit all the time. I don't care how tough you are or how athletic you are, it just doesn't work. So, a good system that protects the quarterback and has the answers for him to throw to."

One thing already working in Young's favor? A good defense. That side of the ball finished fourth overall in the NFL last season. With many of the starters potentially set to return, it could be just what Young needs to make the sophomore jump.

"I mean, a great defense is probably the number one thing," Manning said of the biggest factor for a young quarterback. "A good defense where he doesn't have to force things and make bad decisions."

Young's NFL career is still in its infancy. There is much to come and even more to learn, and whether it mirrors the career of one of the greatest to play the game is still to be seen. But the blueprint is there for Bryce Young to become all he's capable of, written by the people who've lived it themselves.

Take a look at photos from Dan Morgan and Dave Canales' introductory press conference.

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