How 5-star QB Arch Manning and Isidore Newman's offense has evolved over time

Koki Riley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

When five-star quarterback Arch Manning came back from training with his uncle in Denver last summer, Nelson Stewart noticed some changes in his game.

Manning's mechanics were fine-tuned, as his understanding of how to maneuver the pocket and his footwork had improved, among other adjustments.

"(His uncle) was able to really help him in terms of the little nuances of quarterbacking," said Stewart, his football coach at Isidore Newman. "(His) release, loading his shoulder, stepping up prior to the play fake, finishing the throws.

"He loved it. He takes a lot of pride in his work and it was a chance for him to get better."

Manning's uncle wasn't a bad teacher. He is Peyton Manning, the member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two-time Super Bowl champion and five-time NFL MVP. 

But Manning's work with his uncle was not the first step in his growth as a quarterback. He is the No. 1 player in the Class of 2023 and has gone through years of development within Newman's evolving offense to get to that distinction, well before he started training with one of the greatest to ever play his position.

"I think it's kind of been a journey for both of us," Stewart said. "And you know, obviously, thankfully it's not done yet."

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Arch Manning was being developed as a QB in sixth grade 

Stewart first worked with Manning when he was in middle school.

He remembers Manning as one of the only middle school quarterbacks he would work with during the summe because he had a fairly advanced understanding of the position despite his age.

So by the time he got to high school, Manning became the first quarterback in program history to start as a freshman at Newman, something neither Peyton or his uncle Eli Manning, also a two-time Super Bowl champion, accomplished.

"He's been playing since sixth grade," Stewart said. "He had three good years of middle school football, kind of getting ready.

"We put a lot into our middle school (program). We always say they run the foundation of what we do. They always throw vertically, it's spread out a little bit."

Stewart was able to tailor an offense around Manning that was spread out and relatively simple. Newman ran plenty of RPO's (run-pass options) and 10 personnel formations (one running back and zero tight ends).

But the offense also evolved as the season went along, using a tight end more and further incorporating the running game into the playbook. Newman finished Manning's freshman season with a 9-2 record and reached the quarterfinals of the Division III playoffs.

"We were able to build an offense where (we had) some option routes, some money throws, catch and throw types of situations and be able to create a lot of things," Stewart said. "And then as we moved forward, we actually found a tight end in Will Randle who is actually his best friend. About halfway through his freshman year, we started inserting him more and I think that really allowed us to be a little more robust in the run game, more heavy play-action."

The next evolution came as a sophomore, with Newman installing more looks with Manning taking snaps from under center in two-back sets and as a result taking more play-action shots downfield. It was a second element to Newman's offense that was different than the spread system that was already in place.

"That's been fun. He was able to really grow working there," Stewart said. "One of the things (Arch) has always liked was working under center."

The Greenies lost in the Division III semifinal to Lafayette Christian by two touchdowns as Newman was held to seven points.

'We took the next step' in 2021 

So the offense underwent another transformation for Manning's junior year. Stewart gave him more responsibility in reading opposing defensive coverages, deploying a more advanced drop-back and progression passing game.

They also had more designed runs for Manning, who Stewart claims can run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

"I like to think that we took the next step," Stewart said. "(Adding in) some of the things (like) your verticals, your mesh, your crossers. We took everything from signaling to game planning (up a level).

"I'd like to think that it's a pretty robust system."

The result was a strong season for Manning, who threw for 1,913 yards and 26 touchdowns in 10 games. But the year ended with another loss to Lafayette Christian in the state semifinals, falling 49-7 in a game that even Uncle Peyton couldn't have salvaged.

As productive as the Greenies have been since Manning has taken over, the result was a reminder that even this offense and the quarterback aren't perfect. Manning still has room to grow, even as the No. 1 player in the country at the most important position in football.

"I think his best year is going to be his senior year," Stewart said.