COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Johnny threw, and then Johnny spoke.
In between he put on a show. Of course.
He did it with flair. Of course.
Johnny Football was throwing, at last, and if a Pro Day can live up to hype, this one did just that.
Eight NFL head coaches. Eight general managers. Representatives from 30 of 32 teams, seventy-five total. This was the scene at the Texas A&M University McFerrin Athletic Complex Thursday morning for the Pro Day of quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Actually, strike that: Eight NFL GMs? Eight head guys?
That was only part of the scene in College Station, and make no mistake:
This was definitely a scene.
Manziel, a.k.a., Johnny Football, is nothing if not a showman, and at his much-anticipated Pro Day Thursday – perhaps THE most-anticipated one-day event of the 2014 pre-draft schedule – he indeed put on a show, a show that actually began before he even threw.
Media from Texas and around the nation crammed into the end zone/red zone of one end of the indoor facility, and NFL Network, ESPN and jaguars.com went live leading to his throwing session.
It wasn’t just media cramming, either. Former President George H.W. Bush attended. His wife Barbara did, too. So did their dog. (You read right.)
“They do things a little differently in Texas, which is a good thing,” Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith said, adding, “Johnny has a little flair.”
Yeah, just a little.
Manziel opted not to run the 40-yard dash Thursday, standing on his combine time of 4.68 seconds, but those gathered – a group that included Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, General Manager David Caldwell, Senior Vice President of Technology and Analytics Tony Khan and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch – didn’t make the trip to see him run the 40.
They came to see Johnny throw.
He hadn’t thrown at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, or in the Texas A&M Pro Day earlier this month, so this was the NFL’s one chance to see it en masse.
But before they saw that, they saw his entrance and … well, that was a scene, too. He first entered in camouflage shorts and after warming up, he disappeared before returning in the same shorts, a black helmet and shoulder pads.
That last part is notable because Pro Days are usually conducted in shorts and T-shirts. Manziel may not be the first quarterback to work a Pro Day in shoulder pads and a helmet, but there was a lot of NFL experience in attendance Sunday, media and otherwise.
None could remember it happening before.
He then gathered the coaches and officials at midfield and thanked them for making their way to College Station, told them if there was anything they still needed to see after the workout, to let him know.
No one could remember a player doing that, either.
What’s important for Manziel, of course, wasn’t the scene. And the fact that his coach/guru, George Whitfield, chased him at times with a broom to simulate pressure wasn’t as important as it was entertaining, either. Even the … ahem ... “off-color” soundtrack that played while he threw wasn’t important. What was important Thursday for Manziel was showing those gathered that he can play in the NFL, that he is worth a Top 5 selection – or even the first selection overall.
Realistically, he wasn’t going to be able to do that Thursday.
That’s not because Manziel wasn’t good. He threw well. He threw accurately. Bill Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year now analyzing the NFL for ESPN, called the workout impressive. Polian also said Manziel has the best arm “by a significant margin” of the three quarterbacks often mentioned as Top 5 possibilities, the others being Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Blake Bortles of Central Florida.
Polian said while Manziel looked a bit mechanical at first dropping from under center Thursday, that area smoothed out. Footwork, Polian said, won’t be Manziel’s problem, calling his feet “almost musical.” Polian said accuracy won’t be a problem, either. Manziel completed 61 of 64 passes Thursday, and showed more accuracy on the deep ball than Bridgewater or Bortles did last week.
“This was as advertised – he did a great job,” Polian said.
Still, questions remain. Both Polian and NFL Network Draft Analyst Mike Mayock – two of the most respected NFL analysts – said as much Thursday, and the questions can’t be answered in the pre-draft process. Certainly not in a Pro Day.
The first is Manziel’s style. He was best at Texas A&M when leaving the pocket to create above-the-Xs-and-Os. Manziel plays with a flair that’s beyond flair and closer to magic. That is what makes him special, but Mayock said there’s a very real concern that the style will work in the NFL.
Polian expressed a somewhat similar concern. There’s no doubting Manziel’s talent, Polian said, but he said there’s equally little doubt that Manziel’s style will lead to injury. Running quarterbacks get injured and Manziel is a running quarterback. At some point in the coming month and a half, teams interested in Manziel must decide if they can accept what is a very real risk.
“Those are the drawbacks,” Polian said. “He is what he is. You have to weigh the pros and cons.”
But Thursday wasn’t about unanswerable questions. It was about Manziel showing as much as he could, and he did. All of the tangibles were on display, and the intangible that makes Manziel so intriguing was there, too. Manziel’s last play Thursday was a perfect deep pass that sailed 60-plus yards and hit a receiver in stride in the end zone, with Manziel capping the workout yelling, “Boom.’’
“It was only fitting it would end that way,” Smith said.
A fitting end to a day that was as much scene as workout, a day that those attending won’t soon forget. Johnny Football did all he could do, all he could control.
And he did it with style. And flair. Of course.
This article is presented by Turner Pest Control.