Thursday, March 27, 2014
Manziel makes mundane extraordinary
By Tania Ganguli
Johnny Manziel took the unconventional step of wearing a helmet and pads in his pro day workout.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The metal door in the far corner of Texas A&M's practice bubble rolled up to allow two golf carts in at 11:07 a.m., still 15 minutes before the first incomplete pass Johnny Manziel threw. One carried former President George H.W. Bush, his wife, Barbara Bush, and a little dog, and as it rolled through a crowd of 75 NFL employees there to study one very polarizing quarterback, the spectacle traveled with it.
"They do things a little differently in Texas," Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said.
Even Manziel paused to notice.
"He turned back and said, ‘Oh that's the president,'" said George Whitfield, Manziel's private quarterback coach.
Then it was right back to business amid the cacophony, part of which he invited as a way to inject energy into his workout. Afterward, Manziel didn't quite remember the moment.
"I'm not sure, I was kind of trying to go 65-for-65," said Manziel, who met the former president the night before.
It was a pro day unlike any other, a circus some said, and when you're headed to the NFL, it's important to know you can handle a circus.
"I don't think you can name another person who's gone through college and been through some of the things that I have," Manziel said. "I'm well-prepared for that."
He entered to a sound track -- Drake, a nod to his rapper friend -- then called the scouts, general managers, coaches and executives to huddle around him so he could thank them for coming.
He started his workout without the music before he asked for it back on, but quietly to energize him. (The music was uncensored until the Bushes arrived, at which point some edited versions of the songs started playing.) He wore shoulder pads and a helmet, the brain child of a conversation with Whitfield before the combine. He asked Whitfield what NFL teams respect. A challenge, Whitfield told him, so he put on shoulder pads and a matte black helmet.
It was the first chance for league officials to see up close what they'd seen on film and at games during the season. Manziel didn't throw at the NFL combine, and he didn't throw at Texas A&M's pro day earlier this month.
"If it wasn't important, I wouldn't be here," said Texans coach Bill O'Brien, evaluating for what could be the first overall pick. "Believe me, I got my youngest son reading at Mass today in his Catholic school in Houston, so I'm missing that to come here. If it wasn't important, I wouldn't be here."
Manziel excelled in every type of throw he tried. He played from under center to show the footwork he thought the 30 teams in attendance wanted to see. He completed all but three passes, though only one was a bad throw on his part. And he threw a deep touchdown pass to very talented former Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans that ended the workout.
"BOOM!" Manziel shouted, before running downfield to catch Evans and leap into a hip bump.
The team personnel in attendance were nearly unanimous in their praise. Nearly. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who will meet with Manziel individually, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the workout was "different" and called it a "sideshow."
Manziel's flair can be both positive and negative at once. Some see it as confidence, others see it as a distraction. On one hand, he brings with him a spectacle. On the other hand, the NFL is a big spectacle in itself and any player hoping to succeed within that spectacle has to be able to handle that. Manziel certainly can. Through all his off-field foibles, he remained a spectacularly exciting and effective college football player.
On one hand, he wants to show teams a side of him that isn't generally part of his narrative.
"I'm taking it extremely serious, I'm extremely dedicated, extremely committed to this process moving forward," Manziel said. "I want to go into this and show these teams that who I am as a person and who I am in the football facilities that not everybody gets to see."
But on the other hand, the energy and electricity that comes with his usual narrative was a major positive for Texas A&M.
In that sense, he showed exactly who he was during a pro day extravaganza unlike any other. He took what's normally a sterile and stripped-down event and turned it into, well, an event. It's what Johnny Football does.