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Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Players are right, Manziel will be a hit

By Jim Trotter
ESPN.com

There's no certainty with quarterbacks entering the NFL. It's a virtual roll of the dice whether they'll succeed or fail, the outcome often influenced by circumstances beyond their control.

Still, I'm not shocked that nearly seven of every 10 players participating in our poll believe that Johnny Manziel will be a hit with the Browns. Talent knows talent, and Manziel is talented.

The survey, conducted by ESPN.com's NFL Nation reporters, asked 100-plus players: "Yes or no: Johnny Manziel will be a bust." Of the 82 players who answered, 69 percent said Manziel would succeed in the NFL.

Johnny Manziel
A majority of NFL players polled believe Johnny Manziel will be a star but he won't start the season opener against Pittsburgh.

Too often we focus on things that someone can't do rather than illuminate the things that he can do. Does Manziel lack the height that teams desire? Yes. Is he a classic pocket passer? No. Is he attracted to the limelight? Like a moth to a flame.

But Manziel also is a guy who improved each year in college and should do the same in the NFL, in part because he is unwilling to accept failure. He doesn't want to succeed. He needs to succeed. The difference is subtle, yet significant.

I covered Ryan Leaf when he entered the league in 1998 as the No. 2 pick overall. He was brash and outwardly confident, owned a powerful right arm and fit the physical prototype that teams look for. But behind the façade, Leaf lacked the heart to fight through adversity. Failure was acceptable to him. He viewed quitting as a solution, not just an option.

He admitted as much in his second season, when during a confidential conversation he told me he was strongly considering retiring. He had had a disastrous rookie season in which he lost the respect of teammates and the fans, and then lost his starting job. Year 2 wasn't much better. He had shoulder surgery early in the season and, in November, was suspended for four games and docked one week's salary for conduct detrimental to the team. It was then that Leaf told me was leaning toward quitting the game. I was incredulous and filled with questions. Retirement? After only two seasons? Where is your pride? Your fight?

Manziel never would be cool with accepting that someone or something got the better of him. That doesn't guarantee success. Competitive pride is the foundation upon which success is built.

"When people talk about competitiveness, some people evaluate it as wanting to win a game," said George Whitfield, the QB guru who has worked with Manziel. "For Johnny, competitiveness is Me vs. The World, and it's a case of you representing The World, and I'm not losing. ... It doesn't matter if it's Ping Pong in the facility or a game of H-O-R-S-E. He's not going to accept losing. It's about competitiveness pride. No matter how much people look at all the 'stuff' with him, the great predictor of success isn't what you've done but what you've come through -- the fire, the trials, the tribulations, the setbacks."

Whitfield points out that Manziel was lightly recruited out of high school. TCU coach Gary Patterson, according to Manziel, told him: "Not all dreams end with a Division I scholarship." He claims Texas wanted him to be a defensive back, not a quarterback. Texas A&M didn't play him as a true freshman, which caused Manziel to consider transferring. But that would mean that someone or something got the better of him, so he stayed and won the Heisman Trophy the following season.

What got lost amid the parties, selfies and trolling that ensued was Manziel actually had a better sophomore season than he did while winning the Heisman. In the same number of games, he improved from 3,706 yards to 4,114, from 26 touchdowns to 37, from a completion percentage of 68.0 to 69.9, from an average of 8.5 yards per attempt to 9.6. All that doesn't happen if all you're doing is partying or hanging out.

At this point, Manziel is a ball of clay. He has to be molded into a quarterback who can play from under center, who can effectively and efficiently go through read progressions, who can take the gimmies instead of waiting on the big plays. I believe that he'll learn to do all those things, not only because he has a high football IQ, according to Whitfield, but also because it's imperative to him succeeding.

The other thing that bodes well for Manziel is Ray Farmer, the first-year general manager who has an eye for talent and distaste for nonsense. He's a former NFL player with a firm conviction about doing things the right way. He doesn't believe in whims or fads. The word "shortcut" isn't in his dictionary. You earn what you get, which is fine with Manziel, who already has won the respect of his teammates -- and participants in our poll.

NFL Confidential Manziel