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Thursday, August 16, 2012
Can Manziel move live up to Sumlin's QB decisions?

By Sam Khan Jr.

In his first year as head coach at Houston, Kevin Sumlin had a decision to make.

He had two quarterbacks, both of which had received significant playing time the year before, fighting for the starting job. The season before Sumlin's arrival, quarterbacks Blake Joseph and Case Keenum split time under then-head coach Art Briles.

But that's not Sumlin's style. He's a one-quarterback guy all the way. He declared a competition between the two and when the dust settled, Keenum won the job. The rest is history -- literally -- as Keenum went on to set eight NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision career records and taking the Cougars into the national rankings in two separate seasons, including a 13-1 mark in 2011.

Johnny Manziel
Redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel shined during Texas A&M's scrimmage over the weekend.
In this, his first year at Texas A&M, Sumlin again declared open competition for the starting quarterback job. This time, there were no candidates with extensive playing experience and only one of the four candidates -- Jameill Showers -- had even played in a game for the Aggies.

The four-way battle that began in spring practice came to a conclusion on Wednesday when Sumlin declared redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel the starter for Texas A&M's season opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30 in Shreveport, La.

Manziel won a competition that included Showers and Matt Joeckel, both redshirt sophomores, and true freshman Matt Davis.

Things changed quickly in fewer than two weeks -- or at least it appeared that way.

Showers, who was Ryan Tannehill's backup last season, appeared to have the inside track to win the job coming into fall camp. In the first few days of workouts, Showers was the one taking first-team repetitions when the Aggies went into team drills.

But this week and since the Aggies' scrimmage on Saturday, the roles have reversed with Manziel lining up with the ones and Showers with the twos. Sumlin continued to remind reporters that he never declared a starter and that the competition was wide open, and that proved true with Wednesday's announcement.

In the Aggies' first full scrimmage of fall training camp, Manziel shined. He showed a grasp of the offense, quick decision-making, a capable arm and the ability to extend plays with his feet, getting him outside the pocket to throw on the run or simply run the ball himself.

Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid-style offense, will require Manziel to get the ball out quickly to playmakers whether at receiver or in the backfield. But his athleticism will be an asset as it was for Keenum at Houston, who had a knack for buying extra time in the pocket or stepping out of the pocket to throw or run.

The biggest challenge for Manziel (and any quarterback that operates in this system) will be running the offense at the pace which Sumlin and Kingsbury prefer. The coaches want the offense run at breakneck speed and the responsibility won't solely rely on Manziel. Center Patrick Lewis will carry much of that as well as he'll be required to get to the ball spot before the referees set it and point the protection for the other linemen and running backs before Manziel calls for the snap.

The traits that Kingsbury wants to see in his quarterback include leadership, intelligence and accuracy.

"Leadership is huge, intelligence is big," Kingsbury said earlier this month. "(You've) got to be accurate in this offense. Got to get it to your playmakers and get us in the right plays."

Sumlin's history with quarterback competitions is brief but it has yielded solid results. The aforementioned Keenum became a record-setter. Sumlin was also on the Oklahoma staff as co-offensive coordinator in 2007 when Sam Bradford won a three-way battle for the Sooners' starting quarterback job that season. Bradford was then a redshirt freshman who beat out junior Joey Halzle, and true freshman Keith Nichol for the job. Bradford went on to win a Heisman Trophy and was the no. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft and is now the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.

Could Sumlin's decision again play significant dividends as it did for Houston with Keenum? Could Wednesday mark the beginning of an era for another great quarterback in this offense? Only time will tell if Manziel is ready to succeed and put up the kind of numbers -- both statistically and in the win column -- that have been compiled by quarterbacks Sumlin has previously been involved with. But everyone has to start somewhere and Manziel's chance will come in just more than two weeks when the Aggies take the field at Independence Stadium.