Inside Slant: Vikings-Manziel? Hmm

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
10:45
AM ET
History, prior association and a semi-sensational quote tell us one thing. The mock drafts Insider are telling us another Insider. Whom to believe when it comes to projecting the likelihood the Minnesota Vikings would select Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel if he is available at No. 8 next month?

There is no telling what is truly going on inside the heads of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, two of the three most important people involved in the decision. (The third, general manager Rick Spielman, has pledged to draft players who match the sensibilities of his coaching staff.) We can, however, say this with confidence: Manziel would represent a stylistic departure from the offense played on the teams Zimmer and Turner have coached throughout their combined 49 NFL seasons.

As the chart shows, Zimmer and Turner almost exclusively have played with tall, traditional pocket passers. Only one of them, Quincy Carter on Zimmer's 2003 Dallas Cowboys, has rushed for as much as 200 yards in a 16-game season.

As assistant coaches on many of those teams, Zimmer and Turner had limited influence on the personnel decisions that brought those quarterbacks. But the list represents a near-linear thread of similar players who have informed a lifetime of values, experience and familiarity -- one Manziel would at minimum upend if he were the Vikings' selection.

The closest match from either coach's history is Doug Flutie, a 5-foot-10 scrambler who started for the San Diego Chargers in 2001 when Turner was their offensive coordinator. Yet even that comparison is limited. Flutie was 39 at the time, and although he was still nimble enough to scramble for 192 yards, Turner nevertheless had him throw a career-high 521 passes as part of his well-defined downfield passing scheme.

Another mobile quarterback, Jay Fiedler, had his per-game rushing totals with the Miami Dolphins in 2002-03 drop by 58 percent under Turner compared to the two seasons before Turner's arrival.

Manziel, of course, was at his best in college when scrambling outside the pocket. It's true that he has a strong arm -- stronger than Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater or Central Florida's Blake Bortles, according to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay -- and there is near-unanimous agreement he won't stay healthy if he runs as often in the NFL.

But if you're going to run a three-digit pocket offense like Turner's, one modeled after the "Air Coryell" system the Chargers ran with Dan Fouts, are you going to be naturally drawn to Manziel? What is Manziel going to look like if you've seen your offense run mostly by Troy Aikman (6.2 yards rushing per career game), Philip Rivers (3.1), Jim Everett (3.8) and Gus Frerotte (2.1)?

That's a question only Turner can answer. But if you're among those who think he'll endorse Manziel, then you must believe he sees him in the same light as those traditional pocket throwers -- or that he is planning a sharp left turn in his scheme and play-calling ideas as he approaches his 62nd birthday next month. Tweaking schemes to fit players is a popular NFL mantra, but is it reasonable to expect it from Turner?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M quarterback who rushed for 1,410 yards in 2012, could see less action outside of the pocket in the NFL.
As for Zimmer, it's true he has spent his career on the defensive side of the ball. He has had little role in choosing quarterbacks and no hand in coaching them. We can't know the details of his personal philosophy on offense, but the three quarterbacks he has seen most frequently start for his teams are Aikman, Andy Dalton (9.5 yards rushing per game) and Carson Palmer (2.7). At the very least, he has almost no personal experience with a quarterback of Manziel's skill set.

To this point, his most important public statement about offense has been the hiring of Turner -- whom he coached with on the Cowboys staff in the early 1990s and who is well-equipped to implement and run a scheme while Zimmer directs his attention elsewhere. When you combine his alliance with Turner with his recent comments about Manziel, you get a sturdy encapsulation of his set of personal and professional values.

In media interviews, Zimmer derisively referred to Manziel's pro day -- which was set to blaring music and included a visit by former President George H.W. Bush -- as a sideshow. Elaborating, Zimmer said it was important to know if Manziel is "going to conform to typically what the NFL is or what everyone else has done before him, including what the great players in the game have done before him? Or is he going to try to be the celebrity man guy that he was maybe a year and a half ago?"

Many have assumed Zimmer was pulling the old Jedi mind trick, attempting to cast public doubt about his interest in a player he secretly hopes to draft. I wonder if that's a case of overthinking about a man who grinded for nearly four decades to get his first head-coaching gig at age 57. After working so long to get this job, will he hinge its success on a player who appears out of his comfort zone?

In total, then, here is a franchise with a coach whose no-nonsense values already have flared. His offensive coordinator has made a successful career out of running the same offense, with a certain type of quarterback, and his general manager doesn't seem likely to impose an unpopular choice. I can't say for sure the Vikings will pass on Manziel at No. 8, but this is one instance where it isn't difficult to come up with a long and relatively formidable list of reasons why they might be inclined to look elsewhere.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD