Work in progress
In a world of cameras, Manziel works to hit his on-field talent ceiling
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 00:09
Ever since Texas A&M’s 29-24 upset of top-ranked Alabama last season, the world has changed dramatically for Johnny Manziel.
One Heisman Trophy, some celebrity hangouts and an alleged unscrupulous offseason later, the sophomore quarterback has come under a barrage of criticism with seemingly no end in sight.
Manziel’s high-school coach and mentor Mark Smith, who currently runs 5-A Texas powerhouse Judson, said the 20-year-old puts no thought toward what anyone outside the A&M locker room thinks, only concerning himself with his teammates’ opinions.
“[Manziel] isn’t worried about what the people outside of the building think, he’s worried what the people that he dresses with on the inside of the building think,” Smith said. “The bottom line is: Johnny is who he is and that’s who he’s going to be.”
Since the moment Manziel first took to Kyle Field during A&M’s season opener against Florida last season, the dual-threat quarterback has been forced to adapt his style of play and football strategy.
On the field, Manziel’s transformation has been well documented, with each stat line showing increased consistency and overall improvement despite the challenge of the opponent.
Over the course of A&M’s first six games last season, Manziel threw the ball efficiently yet erratically, ranging from a 173 yard performance against Florida to 395 yards versus Louisiana Tech.
However, the second half of the regular season and an impressive Cotton Bowl performance proved more consistent, with Manziel throwing for more than 250 yards in each matchup, ranging from Alabama’s 253 yards to Missouri’s 372 yards.
The decrease in fluctuations did not go unnoticed among the A&M coaching staff, as head coach Kevin Sumlin said Manziel’s maturity played a vital role in his escalated performance.
“I think it’s well documented as a player, just looking at the last six games as opposed to the first six games last year, that there’s no question he’s a different quarterback,” Sumlin said at Tuesday’s press conference. “A lot of that has to do with his maturity, but a lot of that has to do with [the coaching staff’s] understanding of him, as in what he can and what he can’t do and what are his strengths and what are his weaknesses.”
Sumlin said a key factor in developing Manziel’s pass game was pushing the redshirt freshman to avoid his tendency to scramble, which overwhelmed Manziel during early stretches of the season.
Due to the young starter’s strength in running the ball, Sumlin said the coaching staff explained to Manziel the need to develop his weaker passing game in order to create a more dual-threat mentality.
“The way I approach it with players, not just with quarterbacks but also with a lot of guys, is that ‘Whatever you do best, people are going to try and take that away from you,’” Sumlin said. “It takes a mature guy to sit down and say, ‘Here’s where I’m not very good, here’s where I need to get better, can you help me with this?’ That’s how you become a better player, a more rounded player, and because of that you can have success in different facets.”
Under new quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital, Manziel has worked specifically on remaining in the pocket rather than escaping into open space down field, a stat line that has shown up throughout A&M’s first two games of the season.
Against Rice and Sam Houston State combined, Manziel has rushed for 55 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown. At the same time last season, the quarterback had already carried the ball 30 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns, a stark contrast to this year’s numbers.
When asked about his preference in terms of throwing the ball more than 40 times against the Bearkats versus only seven carries, Manziel simply replied he “preferred scoring more points.”
Even Manziel’s wide receivers have noticed the rapid development of their quarterback’s abilities in the passing game. Junior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy said Manziel has matured as a passer, especially in terms of holding his position within the pocket, but has also retained his patented scrambling potential.
“[Manziel] has come a long way,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, he’s a unique quarterback, and what he does makes him who he is. With that said, he’s really been focusing on trying to let everybody see that he’s maturing as a quarterback and that he can stay in the pocket and make passes. We all know he can do that, but being mobile is what makes him, him — and he’s going to keep doing that.”