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MTK 07-29-2005 08:33 AM

Manuel White's Proving Grounds
[b][url="http://www.the-signal.com/News/ViewStory.asp?storyID=7611"]Manuel White's Proving Grounds[/url]

Andrew Barlam Signal Staff Writer

Manuel White isn’t satisfied.

Being drafted by the Washington Redskins in the fourth round of April’s NFL draft and signing his first professional contract on Wednesday was great, but as he says, “Now what am I gonna do about it?”

Will he make the team? Will he make an impact? Will he have a full and productive career?

For Valencia High’s first-ever NFL rookie, Monday will be his first chance at answering these questions.

That’s when the Redskins start training camp and White’s NFL life gets kicked up a notch.

“I’m really anxious to get my career started and get out there into camp,” says the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher. “I’ve been working out a lot on my own, but I’m looking forward to doing the real thing.”

He’s also looking forward to getting his hands back on the massive Redskins playbook.

White has gotten a glimpse, having already trained with the team in an April rookie camp, and then the team’s organized team activities and mini camp in June, but says he wasn’t allowed to take it home.

“I tried to do a lot of studying while I was there, but it’s almost mind-boggling,” says the recent UCLA graduate. “They move you at such a fast pace. They teach you once and then they expect you to know it.

“They aren’t going to sit around and baby-sit you here, you have to be pretty quick. I’ve messed up a few times, but I think my UCLA coaches prepared me pretty well for this and I’m getting a good sense of it.”

In the Redskins’ rookie camp, White got his first taste of what he might start to expect in practices.

It was also his first attempt playing at H-back, the position the Redskins expect him to play.

“It’s very new,” White says. “I’ve done some aspects of it, but it’s really all brand new for me.”

It’s a position Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs utilized often in his first year back on the sidelines.

Chris Cooley, the incumbent starter, caught 37 passes for 314 yards and six scores as a rookie.

“I have a really good player in front of me right now so I’ll just be doing what I can to learn everything that I can from him every step of the way,” White says. “He was a rookie last year and had a really big year, so I just want to follow in what he did, learn from how he did it so I can do the same things myself.”

White will be asked to use his size — he’s 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds — to help in blocking schemes.

As Cooley’s numbers show, the Gibbs H-back is also asked to produce in the receiving game.

“That’s the difference at H-back — you’re more of a receiver,” White says. “You line up in the slot, sometimes out wide. You have to do a little bit of everything, you have to be smart and pick things up.”

In 2004, with the Bruins, he rushed for 797 yards and eight touchdowns.

White added 20 receptions for 115 yards.

“He can do it,” says Viking head coach Larry Muir, an assistant when White was at Valencia. “If you ever shook his hand, he has large hands. He’s also very skilled and because he played basketball in high school. He’s very coordinated. In his senior year with us, especially toward the end, he made a lot more catches.”

White is also expected to get a chance at goal-line duty.

Starting tailback Clinton Portis managed just five rushing touchdowns in 2004.

“We also feel like he can be a good runner with the ball,” Gibbs said at a press conference after White was selected by the team 120th overall on April 24. “He can be a goal-line guy that knocks people back.”

White got a chance to meet his competition for the first time in May’s organized team activities.

It was in those workouts, where the impact of Monday’s first official training camp practice hit him.

“That was a lot more intense than the rookie camp,” White says. “You’re out there with the best of the best. It’s an honor. It hits you that these are the best players in the world. It’s the big leagues now.”

Says Muir: “Manuel will handle it well. He’ll be really mature, really professional. Manuel will be all business right out of the gate. He’s the most humble guy, even at Valencia, he’d give out credit to all of his teammates — even after games where he’d be running his way through six or seven defenders sometimes.”

Now for White, it’s just a matter of proving he belongs with the professionals.

As the third Redskins pick in 2005, White has a good chance of sticking around the roster into the regular season, but he still isn’t taking anything for granted.

After mini camps in Washington were finished, White continued to train in Los Angeles with a trio of trainers and former UCLA teammate turned Green Bay Packer rookie Craig Bragg, to stay in top shape.

“I won’t be comfortable,” White says. “It’ll be a fight to prove that I belong here first. I’m happy to be there, but I want to go out and dominate. I want to be a weapon for this team and have a big career.”

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