If it turns out Eli Manning’s arm strength actually improves this season — even at age 38 and about to begin his 16th NFL season — then credit former Mets and Yankees pitcher Al Leiter with a major assist in steering the Giants quarterback in the direction of Mickey Brueckner.
Leiter has urged Manning in recent years to work with Brueckner, whose Chatham, New Jersey-based company Annex Sports Performance Center works with athletes, particularly overhand throwers, to improve their strength and agility. Manning finally took Leiter up on the suggestion in January and believes the months-long program in the offseason is paying off.
“I’ve trained Al’s son, Jack, for the last three years, so Al and I have built up a good relationship,” Brueckner told Newsday Tuesday. “Around the new year, when Eli was speaking with Al about his offseason training program, Al pushed Eli to me knowing I had worked with Jack. Eli and I started training together in mid-January and went through the first week of [Organized Team Activities].”
A handful of other NFL quarterbacks, including Patriots star Tom Brady, have worked with former major-league pitcher Tom House, who has specialized in examining the passers’ throwing motion. But Brueckner’s program, while also stressing technique, focuses on increasing strength not only in the arm, but throughout the body.
“Tom House stresses biomechanics and the throwing motion,” said Brueckner, 36, a former pitcher at Arizona State University who underwent two Tommy John surgeries and developed a passion for helping other pitchers avoid similar problems. “For me, I address those things when needed. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t think his issues were from a mechanical standpoint. His flexibility and mobility were very good. But based on my experience, he needed a lot more strength and stability in his upper body.
“It was providing more strength and power. Create more power behind throwing the football, giving him a bigger adaptive reserve, so he could execute throws at a lower intensity but still manage to keep the longevity throughout the season.”
It was all new to Manning, who had been involved in more traditional offseason workouts throughout his career with the Giants.
“The biggest thing he had never done before is having a specific throwing program that would ramp up and get him ready for OTAs,” Brueckner said. “A lot of the arm-care stuff was a little new, but the biggest change was providing a true arm care and throwing program, following the laws of progressive overload. That was pretty important.”
They worked together for about seven weeks.
“We gradually built up arm strength, throwing volume, distance,” Brueckner said. “Started doing more specific high-intensity throwing that he would use in throwing to receivers.”
Manning has noticed a major difference.
“Throwing the ball well, and the arm’s staying strong three, four days after practice,” Manning said.
Brueckner said Manning told him his arm felt much better after the quarterback worked out with his receivers for a few days before the start of OTAs.
“Every week before OTAs, he brings his receivers out, they do route running, throws passes and moves his feet in the pocket,” Brueckner said. “He’ll let it air out three days in a row, and he said that [in the past], after those three days, his joints would be sore, and his arm would be sore. This year, he said he had no soreness whatsoever, which was pretty telling.”
Manning believes the program will be beneficial — and at just the right time. He knows his days as the Giants’ starter are numbered now that the team has first-round pick Daniel Jones.
Brueckner believes more quarterbacks would benefit from similar regimens.
“Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and I was surprised in my conversations with Eli learning about what these teams are giving their guys,” Brueckner said. “I don’t think they’re putting guys at a detriment, but to me, it’s like you’re leaving so much on the table in terms of performance. I would hope this is starting a trend of being more conscious of what specific type of training they’re providing.”
Manning has two Super Bowl MVP’s to his credit. Now he’s about to find out whether he’ll be a trendsetter for the next generation of quarterbacks.