From Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
Johnny Football was out trying to shill sell the “real” Johnny Manziel on Friday at the NFL Combine.
Manziel has been doing that in meetings with NFL teams and he moved his platform to the media room where an overflow crowd showed up to see what the former Heisman Trophy winner had to say.
“Johnny Manziel is just a guy; I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people,” he said. “People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, but I’m really still a small-town kid. Sometimes you get caught up in certain things, but at the same time continuing to learn and continuing to adapt to everything that’s going on in my life. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but continuing to be who I’ve always been is a big thing for me.”
The exploits of Johnny Football on the field are well known from his two years as the starting quarterback at Texas A&M. His play was good enough to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy, making him the first freshman or redshirt freshman to ever win the honor.
But there remain questions on whether Manziel’s skills and physical prowess are good enough for him to become a productive and successful NFL quarterback.
“I feel like I play the game with a lot of heart and a lot of passion that really is unrivaled,” Manziel said. “It’s the way I was brought up, the way that I was taught from when I started playing competitive football in high school. My coach, Julius Scott at Kerrville High, it didn’t matter who you were, what kind of player you were, he treated everybody the same and really taught me no matter what the situation was, fight until the very end and don’t show any weakness.”
Manziel’s ability to improvise and throw while he’s running with the ball and running away from the pass rush are legendary in Texas, but translating that to the more pocket passing style of the NFL is another thing. That’s why he’s so happy that quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have successfully blazed the trail recently for mobility from the passer.
“Being able to evade a first wave of pass rush and really extend the play just a little bit; to be able to move the pocket and do some things like that it really opens the playbook up a little bit more,” Manziel said. “At the same times there are guys who are sitting back in the pocket and doing everything from there that are still some of the greatest in the game. The young guys who are doing that, the guys that I enjoy watching, I think they’re really doing a good job for some of the mobile quarterbacks in college right now and get away from the pass rush.”
Stumbles off the field brought Manziel a lot of attention between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. There wasn’t a party or opportunity to make some money that he seemed to miss. Johnny Football became Johnny Party and when all the smoke cleared, A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin asked him to seek some help in dealing with the situation and demands on him.
He said rumors that he sought counseling for alcohol use and anger management were not true.
“Coach Sumlin kind of came to me and said they have an in-house guy that he wanted me to sit down and meet with him,” Manziel said. “I was more than willing to learn whatever I could from him. Those continued throughout the next couple years. I had a great relationship with him. It was really nothing more than that.”
And Manziel said his decision to give up playing at the college level also means giving up the party-animal attitude.
“I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past,” he said. “This is a job now. There are guy’s families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line. For me it’s nothing, it won’t be a hard thing to kick. I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team.”
Manziel has already said he would not throw the ball during his visit to the Combine, preferring instead to do so in private workouts for teams. It’s not that unusual for a quarterback to save his arm for a smaller stage, but the decision has drawn criticism within and outside of the NFL.
“I’ve told every team if they want to work me out privately, any throw they want to see me make at my pro day, any interview, any question they want to ask me, I’m more than willing to do that,” Manziel said. “I’ll be in a situation March 27 where I’ll have Mike Evans and a group of receivers that I’ve very comfortable with, very familiar with that I want to give those guys an opportunity to go and show what they can showcase as well.
“(It was) an extremely hard decision for me not to throw here. I’m an extremely competitive person. It’s something that my agent really kind of advised me on, but at the same time, I’m telling these teams anything they want to see, anything they want to hear from me, I’m more than willing.”