Thursday, March 27, 2014
Manziel brings unique approach to pro day
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Leave it to Johnny Manziel to do something nobody else has done before.
The former Texas A&M quarterback has basically made his memorable career off doing such things, so why not do it on the day of his biggest job interview to date?
Johnny Manziel impressed onlookers at his pro day Thursday as he tries to become the top pick in the NFL draft.
So Johnny Football did something unique Thursday: He wore shoulder pads and a helmet for his pro day workout in front of 75 NFL personnel who represented 30 different teams at Texas A&M's McFerrin Athletic Center.
"You play the game in football pads," Manziel said afterward. "You play the game in shoulder pads on Sundays, why not come out here and do it?"
His personal quarterback coach, George Whitfield, recalled the conversation that led to Manziel's decision.
"He and I had a discussion about it, about wearing the pads before the combine and his question was 'What do they respect? What do NFL personnel respect?'" Whitfield said. "I told him, 'People respect a challenge. They want a challenging workout, a hard-driving pace,' and he said 'So what more could we do?' I told him, 'Make it more like an interview.' If you're going to Wall Street, you wouldn't wear a T-shirt and shorts on. You'd put a suit on.'
"So we talked about it and he grinned for maybe a minute, finished his sandwich and said, 'Well, that's what we're going to do.'"
Thus, Manziel put on his game-day suit for Thursday's festivities. Well, not exactly -- instead of Aggies maroon and white, Manziel had a black helmet and a black Nike jersey paired with camouflage pants -- but a uniform nonetheless.
It didn't hinder his performance. Out of 66 pass attempts, only two hit the turf and Manziel made myriad throws -- from the pocket, on the run, short, deep, down the sideline and over the middle. Whitfield even brought out the broom that they've used in their San Diego training sessions to prepare for this day, a measure Whitfield uses to simulate chaos created from a pass rush that forces Manziel to move and still complete a pass.
Overall, it appeared to leave an impression on the NFL personnel in attendance, which included eight head coaches and eight general managers.
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"Most guys come out in T-shirts and you don’t play in T-shirts, so coming out made a statement throwing it in pads," Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith told the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
One of Manziel's motivations is proving he's worthy of the first overall pick. Rick Smith, general manager of the Houston Texans, the team that owns that pick, came away pleased with what he witnessed.
"The leadership that he showed, the accuracy that he showed, all those things, I thought it was a good day for him," Smith said. "I don't think that there's anything that we didn't know about him or his game that needed to be answered today. This is just a part of it, but what he did do was impressive."
Manziel said he thought it was an easy decision to perform in a helmet and pads.
"I never understood why that was a trend," Manziel said. "But for me, it was a no-brainer when me and Coach Whitfield talked about it. Treat this as a business day, treat this as a game day. I know each and every one of the guys out here catching balls from me did."
Another unique aspect of Manziel's pro day was his decision to address the NFL personnel on hand personally before the day began. He said he wanted to show his gratitude for their attendance on behalf of himself and those who participated in the workout: former Texas A&M receivers Mike Evans, Travis Labhart and Derel Walker, tight end Nehemiah Hicks, running back Ben Malena and former Baker University receiver Kyle Bolton.
"College Station is a little bit of a tricky spot to get to," Manziel said. "For me to call those guys up, I just wanted to speak on my behalf as well as the six guys behind me and thank them for coming out and anything that they wanted to see after, I'd be more than happy to do that for them. And more than anything, just hope we put on a good show for them and thank you for coming out. We appreciate it and it means a lot to every one of us."
Manziel also had music going throughout his pro day, which isn't unusual at Texas A&M. Coach Kevin Sumlin traditionally plays music at Aggies practices and Manziel had a Drake-heavy playlist running while he performed.
Even former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, were in attendance (both of whom Manziel met the night before), giving a certain gravitas to the entire event.
The past two seasons in Aggieland have been unique and often eventful because of Manziel's presence. After he stormed onto the scene in 2012 and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, there has been a certain buzz surrounding the football program and Manziel's impact on that is immeasurable. Through it all, Manziel has done things his way, with a style and flair that's difficult to replicate.
So it's fitting that on the biggest day of his young pro career, he created a buzz in the way only Johnny Football can.
"[On a scale of 1 to 10] I'd call it an 11," Whitfield said. "I'm proud of him."