How Al Leiter led Eli Manning to Mickey Brueckner in quest for a stronger arm

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The man influential in Eli Manning’s quest for a stronger arm had never crossed paths with the quarterback of the New York Giants until a two-time All-Star pitcher and New Jersey baseball legend suggested they meet.

Mickey Brueckner was approached by former big-leaguer Al Leiter about training the two-time Super Bowl MVP, and even with a clientele previously headlined by World Series champions and MLB draft picks, there was no hesitation on making it happen.

Leiter and Manning are friends, and when the latter talked about the need to not only build up strength in his right arm at age 38, but maintain it, Brueckner’s name came up.

“Guess it was around the middle of January when Al brought up the idea of training Eli Manning, and whether I thought I could help him,” Brueckner told and USA TODAY NETWORK Northeast by phone Tuesday.

“I trained Al’s son, Jack, for the last three years [Jack Leiter was drafted by the New York Yankees, but will head on scholarship to Vanderbilt], so we had a great relationship there. I know Al and Eli are friends, and when Eli called me, he told me he wanted to build up arm strength and work on a plan to get there.

“I don’t think I would’ve gotten together if I didn’t think I could help him, but we did, and I think Eli is happy with the results.”

Eli Manning is shown at Giants practice, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Photo: Kevin R. Wexler/

MADDEN NFL 20: Meet the video game’s broadcast team

FOR REAL: Historically bad QB ‘growing on’ Jon Gruden

4th & MONDAY: Our NFL newsletter always brings the blitz

Manning is entering his 16th NFL season, and he and Brueckner worked for nearly four months together, both at Brueckner’s training facility — the ANNEX Performance Center in Chatham — and at local football fields in Chatham and Summit.

This isn’t the first time Manning embraced baseball-specific training to help his arm. In 2015, at the age of 34, Manning began thinking about his longevity, researching what he needed to do in terms of care and in-season training.

His time with Brueckner has taken that to another level, and with the presence of rookie Daniel Jones as his successor, all the more likely sooner rather than later if the Giants don’t win, Manning has embraced the personal challenge of showing he can still play. 

“I feel better,” Manning said. “I feel stronger.”

Brueckner, 36, is a graduate of Seton Hall Prep High School and was offered a scholarship to play baseball at Seton Hall University. Halfway through his sophomore year in college, he transferred to Arizona State University, but stopped playing after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries. That’s when he turned to kinesiology with a concentration in arm care and arm health, returning home to open the Annex Performance Center, and the rest is history.

“I was super excited for the opportunity,” Brueckner said. “I’ve worked with World Series champions, Cy Young award winners, things like that, so I’ve worked with some pretty high-level athletes, but what was most intriguing to me was that I felt like I could really help Eli based on my skill set with throwers.” 

Not just a baseball guy

Brueckner doesn’t consider himself solely a baseball guy, although that’s how Manning referred to him during his news conference before Tuesday’s practice.

“My purview is overhand throwers, so that applies to quarterbacks,” Brueckner said. “To be honest, I don’t think quarterbacks are trained the way they should be to build and maintain strength in the shoulder, so that’s what the focus is. His main priority was building arm strength.”

The plan Brueckner set up for Manning included weight training — targeting the shoulder and the lower body — aimed at not only strengthening his right arm, but adding some additional mobility in the pocket, which has never been his strong suit.

They’d work together at least four times a week until OTAs (organized team activities) began in May. 

Building arm strength

The training program was designed to manage stress on Manning’s arm while building arm strength — “much like I would with a pitcher,” Brueckner said — with focus on the rotator cuff and the scapular muscles through general movement patterns and volume over the course of their work.

“The only days he wouldn’t be with me is if he was traveling,” Brueckner said. “So we were together four to five days a week, and we’d do everything. We’d do our general warmup and movement prep. We’d throw. We’d do his speed agility and we’d lift every day.”

Brueckner points to a three-day stretch in April when Manning brought several teammates, including Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, and another with whom he won a Super Bowl (Hakeem Nicks) to a workout in Summit.

Afterward, Manning acknowledged the results.

“I feel like it’s paid off,” Manning said. “I’m throwing the ball well, and arm is staying strong and I’m not losing anything. In training camp, sometimes you’d have four practices in a row, and you’re not used to that; you can see your arm getting tired. But still feeling strong.”

Work is paying off at camp

Manning has been sharp, completing 41 of 55 passes exclusively against the first-team defense, so this is nowhere close to an on-field competition with Jones for the starting job right now, as expected. He’s connected a ton with Cody Latimer and Rhett Ellison, but Jones has taken more downfield shots and hit on more with regularity.

That does not mean Manning has lacked juice. Rather, his accuracy has been better this camp than in the recent past. Might just be that confidence in his fastball has returned.

“I think he’s really throwing the ball well,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “When he came back for OTAs, we saw it. Some of it was physical, some of it was how he trained. You ask the quarterbacks to get better every day and train and do all of the right things, and along the way, they sort of find their way. Eli’s done that every year.”

His best throw in Tuesday’s practice was a perfectly-placed ball over the outstretched arms of linebacker Kareem Martin on an out route to Bennie Fowler. Evan Engram also made his quarterback look good with a spectacular one-handed grab in red zone drills.

“I think my motivation is more a desire to win, it’s the desire to chase that feeling of winning games,” Manning said. “What that feels like in the locker room, what it feels like to get on a hot streak and win four or five in a row. The excitement, the attitude, winning a playoff game, and getting that feeling of winning a championship, and the feelings you get to experience when you go through those scenarios. So I think that’s kind of more of the motivation than trying to prove someone else wrong, that’s more of the personal motivation.”

Brueckner sensed that motivation from the start, which is why he had confidence that Manning would do everything he asked in order to get to where they wanted to go.

“I think when things started to click, probably right around those workouts with his guys [in Summit], it was almost like, we can see it, you see the work,” Brueckner said. “I’m eager to see what this does for his play, because I know Eli accomplished what we set out to do. Now it’s about going out, showing his arm is what he wanted it to be and having success.” 

Follow’s Art Stapleton on Twitter @art_stapleton.

If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.