Patrick Mannelly has experienced more Chicago Bears games than any other player in team history. The former long snapper has team-record 245 career games under his belt that isn't expected to be broken anytime soon. He's seen the highs and lows of various NFL seasons, from Super Bowl appearances to bad collapses, spanning 16 years with four coaches.
In short, Mannelly knows what a good locker room should look like and believes this year's Bears would benefit from winning the final few games of the 2022 season.
"It's a culture thing," Mannelly told Bears Wire. "You're going to have Justin Fields back, Jack Sanborn back, Eddie Jackson back, Jaylon Johnson, Jaquan Brisker, Cole Kmet, all of these young guys. They need to make sure what they're doing in-house right now is attacking work like they did in Week 1."
Mannelly believes keeping the same fire they had to start the season will pay dividends going into 2023.
"They have to attack every work week and you can bring that culture into the next week," Mannelly said. "I think coach [Matt] Eberflus can help sell that like Lovie Smith did to us."
He's a big believer in Eberflus' H.I.T.S. principle and sees the players buying in during the coach's first year.
"I love what he's come up with," Mannelly said. "I know some people in Chicago media think is funny or whatever it is and but you're building a standard in that in that in that locker room in that building and it's important for those guys to to uphold that."
Shining a spotlight on college long snappers
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To many, Mannelly is known as one of the best long snappers to ever play the game. He was meticulous with his craft at the professional level for so many years and has worked to help shine a light on the best players at the collegiate level with the Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the best long snapper in college football.
The award was created by Mannelly, NFL agent Kevin Gold, and trainer Chris Rubio back in 2019, with the goal of honoring a position that was once an afterthought but is now a vital piece on a football team.
"At that time, over 90 percent of division one colleges gave a scholarship to a long snapper. It's a full time position," Mannelly said. "It's not a backup center. It's not a backup tight end. We felt like they need to be recognized just like a punter or a kicker does."
Gold and Rubio wanted to name the award after Mannelly himself.
"It's an honor, I was humbled by that," he said.
This year's finalists Matt Hembrough from Oklahoma State, Chris Stoll from Penn State, and Alex Ward from Central Florida, all possess the qualities Mannelly and the voting committee look for in a long snapper.
"Obviously they're super accurate with their field goal snaps and their time is good," Mannelly explained. "And then for me, it becomes a mentality thing. Do you want to go tackle somebody? Do you want to play football? Do you want to go down and be a part of a tackle? I prided myself in that. Being a long snapper, you're a specialist, you have to be perfect in your craft. But I felt like as soon as I snapped, I got to block somebody and then you become a football player. So we kind of see it as a criteria of a mentality."
All three finalists will be honored Saturday, December 10th at a sold-out award dinner at Bernie's Book Bank in Lake Bluff, IL, presented by Zebra Technologies.
To play or sit Justin Fields the rest of the way?
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Mannelly wasn't shy about wanting to see the Bears play to win over the course of their final four games, so it should come as no surprise to hear he isn't a fan of sitting Fields the rest of the way to heal up.
"If he has a boo-boo, you play," Mannelly said. "No one is 100 percent right now and you saw it in the game [against the Green Bay Packers]. There's times he could have scrambled, but it actually helped his development a little bit. He sat in the pocket, behind the line of scrimmage, and delivered the ball to Kmet, delivered to Equanimeous St. Brown. A couple of times he did that."
Mannelly was impressed with Fields' recent play and thinks seeing him sit will have a negative impact off the field as much as it would on it. "If they see you sitting, especially as a quarterback, you're going to be a prima donna, you're going to lose respect in the locker room. You just have to play." Fields missed one game due to a left shoulder separation in Week 12 against the New York Jets.
Fields and the Bears will wait a week to return to action following their late-season bye week, something Mannelly isn't thrilled about.
"I hate it, I can't stand it," he said. "I mean, I guess if you get lucky to be free of injuries, and you're rolling at 7-3 or 8-3, then you're lucky, right? But most teams aren't. Think about training camp, and then the first five or six weeks, that's when you're really broken down. You just kind of get into maintenance mode for the rest of the year. You definitely want a bye at the beginning or the middle of year."
The NFL pushed bye weeks back as late as Week 14 when they added an additional game to the schedule in 2021.
The best Bears-Packers memory hits close to home
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Speaking of the Bears' most recent game against the Packers, Mannelly has had his fair share of the rivalry over the course of his career. He played 31 career games against the Bears' rival, but one game stands out to him as his favorite for a very special reason: The 2005 Christmas game when his daughter was born.
Mannelly's wife gave birth to their daughter on Christmas Eve and he hitched a ride up to Green Bay the next day with the team doctors, just a few hours before kickoff.
"I've never been so tired in my life," he said. "We ended up winning the game, which was amazing. I played the game with her footprints on my forearm, the ink print. I even threw a low snap, but fortunately [Brad] Maynard trapped it up and we made the kick so there was no worry about that. But that's my favorite memory. That was that was an amazing day."
The Bears won the game 24-17 and also clinched the NFC North division title.
What to watch for to end the season
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With four more games to go and outside of Fields, what else is Mannelly looking forward to seeing from the team? How about the development and intrigue of a couple former first-round draft picks?
"I want to see if [tackle] Alex Leatherwood and [wide receiver] N'Keal Harry are any good," he said. "They're first round talents, right? They were drafted where they were whatever. N'Keal Harry leaves the first round Alex Leatherwood early. Does a change of scenery, a new coaching staff help? Does maybe maturity come in I think if you hit on one of those two guys, and they become somewhat of a first round talent of what they were scouted to be, then those are great moves."
Both Leatherwood and Harry have played sparingly in 2022 after being acquired from the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots, respectively this offseason. Leatherwood rotated in at right tackle last week for the first time all year and had success, while Harry made an impressive 49-yard grab on just his fifth catch of the season. The Bears still have Leatherwood under contract for two more years but Harry is a free agent at the end of the year. Perhaps they both get more run, making an argument to be a contributor in 2023.
Story originally appeared on Bears Wire