- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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If you really want to get Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel riled (other than giving him a parking ticket), tell him that opposing defenses are going to be more prepared for him and the Aggies this season.
“It’s like they didn’t know what we had five games into the season last year,” Manziel said. “There was plenty of game tape by that time.
“Besides, I’d say we’re going to change a few things, too.”
What won’t change is Manziel’s ability to break down defenses with his penchant for escaping and either turning on the jets for big gains or finding open receivers down the field.
As last season wore on, he got increasingly better at the latter.
Always an extraordinary athlete, Manziel took his game to another level when he started looking to pass as much as he looked to run after breaking some poor defensive end’s ankles and scrambling his way out of a seemingly impossible jam.
It was obvious in his first SEC game -- and first college game -- against Florida a year ago that Manziel was a little more one-dimensional. The Gators closed off his running lanes and shut him down in the second half. Manziel finished with just 32 passing yards in the second half of the Aggies’ 20-17 loss.
But from there, Manziel blossomed on his way to setting records and becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
He shattered Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense with 5,116 yards. He accounted for 47 touchdowns (26 passing and 21 rushing) and saved some of his best performances for the biggest stages.
In the 29-24 win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Manziel rolled up 345 yards of total offense and threw a decisive 24-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy in the fourth quarter.
And in the 41-13 destruction of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Manziel was even better. He exploded for 516 yards of total offense and passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more.
In other words, the more he played (and the more people saw him play), the better he was.
That’s the scary part for those defenses that will line up against him this season. He's going to be more experienced, more seasoned and better able to adapt to what defenses are trying to do to him.
Sure, Manziel will have the burden of being the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and continuing to deal with the spotlight that goes hand-in-hand with winning that award. No sophomore has ever had to go through this.
Honestly, Manziel’s biggest challenge might be staying off his Twitter account.
The best thing for him will be getting back onto the field and playing again. That’s the spotlight Manziel craves, and it’s where he can try to establish himself as one of the game’s all-time greats with another season comparable to his first one in College Station.
And yes, he’ll try to be ready for anything opposing defenses might throw at him.