Friday, February 21, 2014
Manziel says he's ready to tackle questions
By Jeff Legwold
INDIANAPOLIS -- From the time a scout asked Johnny Manziel on Friday to press his heels against the wall, keep his head level and against a measuring tape, Manziel got a taste of the NFL draft process.
Johnny Manziel can expect to hear plenty about what's wrong with his game at the combine.
NFL decision makers don't care how big a man you were on whatever campus, and they don't care how many trophies you have in tow.
Manziel, who two years ago became the only freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, just may be the most scrutinized and criticized prospect in this draft.
Oh, and, by the way, he measured 5 feet, 11 3/4 inches, and weighed 207 pounds.
He is not what most NFL talent evaluators draw up as the player they want behind center.
Now, Manziel will learn what so many prospects have learned before him, including one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
Peyton Manning came through the combine in 1998, albeit with far less notice, far less coast-to-coast coverage, but under the same critical microscope. In a draft binder from '98, I discovered some of Manning's best comments from that combine, along with a pile of his statistical glory from his career at the University of Tennessee.
"But they're looking for flaws," a 20-something Manning said then. "They're going to invest a lot in you and what kind of player you can be. They don't want to make mistakes. ... They aren't going to tell you how great you are, or at least not all the time."
Here's what Manziel will have to endure in the coming weeks: He isn't tall enough, mature enough, big enough, ready enough to be the face of a franchise. The draft is not, by nature, a positive experience in terms of rose petals and compliments.
A prospect may never be worse, in terms of evaluation, than in the day before the draft and he might never be better, in terms of hope and optimism, than the day the team picks him.
Manziel says he's ready for this, to give answers when the questions come.
"I have an opportunity now to move into a professional phase. This is life. This is a job for me. I'm taking it very seriously," Manziel said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I'm really excited about the future."
Asked about the new round of criticism and scrutiny that has arrived at his doorstep, Manziel said: "I just look forward to showing up all the people who said that I'm just an improviser. I worked extremely hard this year, all around in my game. I'll continue to do that."
But from the moment Manziel's measurements circulated through the stadium Friday morning, a name wasn't far behind in many of the conversations along the way: Russell Wilson.
In a year when a 5-foot-10 5/8 quarterback -- Wilson's measurements from the 2012 combine -- won the Super Bowl with a 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos, Manziel will draw plenty of interest as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Call it the year of the vertically challenged.
Pete Carroll, the Seahawks' coach who made Wilson a third-round pick in 2012 draft, got the inevitable comparisons between Manziel and his own championship quarterback. And Carroll offered a caveat of sorts for those who may be looking to make Wilson's exception the new rule among NFL quarterbacks.
"We've learned Russell is a great football player. ... He's not a great football player because he's 5-foot-10 and a half. He's a great football player," Carroll said.
"Not everybody who's 5-foot-10 and a half can play quarterback."
No, they can't.
2014 NFL Draft
Rd. 1: May 8 Rd. 2-3: May 9 Rd. 4-7: May 10
Radio City Music Hall
New York City
And so it will go for Manziel, with a pile of touchdowns and wins on his resume from the rugged Southeastern Conference. At the time of the '12 draft, Wilson had a consistently higher release point on his throws than Manziel had when anyone last saw him throw in a controlled setting.
Wilson had a far bigger supply of big-school experience as a four-year starter at NC State and Wisconsin combined when he entered the draft. He also had been a professional athlete as a Colorado Rockies minor leaguer and was such a leader in spring practices that his Wisconsin teammates voted him a team captain just after his arrival for his only season in Madison, Wis. He also studied enough and worked hard enough to easily beat out Matt Flynn as a rookie in his first NFL training camp.
Manziel is a double-take athlete, winning big games against SEC defenses loaded with NFL prospects. At times his game is football jazz, unpredictable and improvisational, that often turns out as a classic.
But his best chance to get what he wants in the NFL is not to try to be Wilson, or Brees or any other 6-foot-and-shorter passer who has survived the pre-draft scrutiny to flourish in the league. The list isn't long in the modern NFL and if Manziel's name is called among the first five picks in May -- even by Houston at No. 1 in his home state Texas -- his task isn't any easier.
The clock is now ticking in earnest toward a March 27 pro day in College Station, Texas, where Manziel will have to show he can be enough of a pocket passer to make a team want the rest of the package in the blue-ribbon spot in the first round where many expect him to be taken.
"You can ask my teammates, go back and ask anybody that when we needed to make a play that those guys wanted the ball in my hand," Manziel said. "I think a good example is the Duke game. It wasn't really looking as great as we wanted to in the first half. At halftime, me, Mike [Evans], some of the seniors had to get the troops rallied. ... But the ball would eventually bounce our way.
"I think the guys on my team know I would do anything and everything for them until there's no time left on the clock on or off the field, whatever it may be."