- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Will he play or won't he?
If it sounds like we've been here before with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, it's because we have, but this is the first time the Heisman Trophy winner's playing status is in doubt because of an injury. Manziel apparently hurt his throwing shoulder in a 45-41 loss to Auburn on Saturday, and while he left briefly, he returned to finish the final 9:06 of the game and complete 9 of 10 passes for 102 yards and also rushed for a touchdown.
Manziel continues his efforts to get healthy enough to play in Saturday's game against visiting Vanderbilt, but it might be worth asking whether Manziel should try to play.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has declined to offer specifics on what exactly ails the Heisman Trophy winner, but based on the way Manziel's right shoulder was driven into the turf and his reaction in the moments that followed, it appears safe to assume his throwing arm won’t be fully healthy.
It's no secret that Manziel has hopes of playing in the NFL. Many have speculated that he could enter the draft after this season and he has admitted on many occasions that he'll consider it but won't make that decision until the time comes.
So does continuing to play harm his future? One NFL personnel executive, when asked how pro scouts might view a quarterback playing through a shoulder injury, said it depends on what the prognosis of the injury is.
"You take all of that in and weigh everything," the executive said. "It all comes down to the doctor's report on the shoulder. Then based on the severity of it, is it recommended to do surgery? If he plays on it, is he going to hurt it worse or anything like that?"
If surgery is recommended, the executive said it's better not to wait, at least in the NFL's eyes.
"I think any time you injure a shoulder or joint or something like that, if it needs surgery, you might as well go get it done now," the executive said.
If Manziel needed surgery but postponed it until after the season and his recovery was hindered by pre-draft preparation -- again, assuming Manziel declares for the 2014 NFL draft -- that could hurt him in some team's eyes.
"That part will hurt him some [if he were to do that]," the executive said. "Before anyone drafts him, they want to see him throw the football. Based on that information, it's hard to trust somebody if you haven't seen them throw. You want to know that shoulder's well and all that kind of stuff."
But clearly, the Aggies are foremost in Manziel's mind and are his first priority right now. While Sumlin or other coaches on the staff have not indicated how much Manziel has practiced this week, a source within the program indicated on Wednesday that Manziel is making an effort to do what he's able to when it comes to throwing the ball.
Teammates noticed that he did everything he could on Saturday after suffering the injury to come back into the ballgame. He could be seen on the sideline struggling to throw a football and wincing while trying to make throws before receiving treatment from the Texas A&M training staff.
Once he did, he was able to throw. Manziel’s injury is very familiar to that of former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who suffered a shoulder injury in his first career start in 2008.
Johnson recalls not being able to throw initially but being able to return and finish the game. Johnson said his injury was a Grade 2 AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder, which he suffered in the second quarter of a 41-23 loss to Miami on Sept. 20, 2008.
"It hurt like hell and you come out with a dead arm kind of," Johnson said. "But my adrenaline and because the pads are strapped on, you can throw again. So I was like, 'Oh, I'm fine.' As soon as the game ended, I took my pads off and I guess the pads were almost like a breakthrough. It swelled up and I couldn't throw.”
Johnson said the key with a shoulder injury is ensuring the range of motion is there. As long as it is, the player can throw. But obviously, there is still some risk.
"The issue comes, every time you get a hit on that shoulder again, all the same things that happened last week come back,” Johnson said. “That's the main issue with what I was going through and what he's going through. ... I feel like Johnny is tough and he can probably take the pounding. As long as he has the flexibility to throw the ball, I think he's a tough enough kid to where he can deal with that it's going to hurt like hell every time he lands on that shoulder."
Manziel’s return to the game earned him even more respect from his teammates. Senior receiver Travis Labhart, who made a diving catch on an out route during Manziel's first drive back in the game, said that Manziel told him afterward that he was in pain as he made that throw.
"He's outstanding," Labhart said. "Just his tenacity and his guts to go out there and help his team win and be a great leader, he's phenomenal."
Sumlin earlier this month called Manziel "one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," and considering that Sumlin has been around Drew Brees at Purdue, Sam Bradford at Oklahoma and Case Keenum at Houston, that's saying something.
So if Manziel can play, it's reasonable to surmise that he will play. But "should he," is still a different question.
2dSam Khan Jr.
5dSam Khan Jr.