Vikings: Zimmer, Manziel and 'sideshows'
April, 1, 2014
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Good afternoon from Minnesota Vikings blog headquarters, where we're back at full speed today after a few days off for vacation -- although you could call it a working trip, if you're inclined to think the need for an update on the Vikings' odds of winning Super Bowl XLIX was worth a trip out west.
(For the record, the sportsbook at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas improved the Vikings' odds from 60-1 to 30-1 last week. See? It was a productive visit.)
Anyway, while we were gone, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had his pro day, before more than 75 NFL personnel (and one former president). He wore a helmet and shoulder pads, he hit receivers with Drake tracks as a backdrop and he left Vikings coach Mike Zimmer nonplussed with the "sideshow" that accompanied the workout.
We'd caution strongly against making any sweeping assumptions based on Zimmer's comments, since subterfuge is the name of the game between now and next month's NFL draft. In effect, all Zimmer did was point out the obvious -- that Manziel's off-the-field exploits merit extra scrutiny from NFL teams before the draft. The Vikings, and every other team considering Manziel, will have to decipher how much of the Johnny Football spectacle will follow Manziel to the next level, and they'll have to assess how much of it they're willing to tolerate. Manziel seemed to know it at the NFL scouting combine in February, when he took great pains to distance himself from his celebrity persona, though some of the decisions he made for his pro day showed he's still going to buck NFL convention at times.
That's not to say Manziel can't succeed with some brashness; in fact, he's probably been successful to this point because of it. If that spills into a lack of focus, or reveals Manziel to be an unbridled quarterback who won't work within the structure of a NFL offense, that's a different problem, and Zimmer doesn't seem like one who will tolerate a feckless quarterback.
Consider what Zimmer told reporters last week at the NFL owners meetings when talking about picking a quarterback: "For me, it's the character of the guy. Will this guy lead our football team? I want to make sure that the guy we bring in has the athletic ability but I also want him to have my persona. Because him and I are going to be tied together, whoever we draft. I don't want him to be a completely different personality from me if I can help it. I want this guy to be a leader and a guy who wants to take a bunch a guys and make a great franchise. "
If that's his metric, and one of Zimmer's main jobs in picking a quarterback is evaluating his leadership skills, you can bet he's going to pay extra attention to the Johnny Football side of Manziel. If the former Heisman Trophy winner is available to the Vikings with the No. 8 pick next month, they will have had to decide whether they're comfortable with Manziel, and all that comes with him. His pro day decisions could have been his way of showing NFL teams he can succeed under a big spotlight, as Manziel seemed to be signaling last week.
It's premature at this point to assume Zimmer would or wouldn't want to work with Manziel based on the "flags" he's seen with the quarterback, but it seems like a safe bet the Vikings won't take Manziel unless Zimmer has decided it's the right circumstance to accept all the pomp that comes with him.