Big Manziel on campus
Posted by Greg Tepper on 16 August 2012
It didn’t provide the rain that the state so desperately needs right now, but there was certainly a thunderbolt coming out of College Station on Wednesday evening.
That’s when new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin announced that the Aggies’ starting quarterback to begin the 2012 season will be redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, beating out sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel.
Showers was the presumed frontrunner – he is the only one of the three who logged playing time behind Ryan Tannehill last year – but in Sumlin’s well-documented “best player plays” system, Manziel apparently did enough to wrestle the job away.
Fans of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football know all about Manziel, the highly touted recruit out of Kerrville Tivy. He was our Gridiron Legends Texas High School Player of the Year in 2010, throwing for 3,609 yards and 45 touchdowns (with a 65-percent completion rate to boot) while rushing for 1,674 yards and 30 touchdowns during his dazzling senior year. As you can imagine, Manziel was recruited all over the nation, eventually pledging to Mike Sherman and Texas A&M.
Manziel redshirted during his first year on campus, and was pretty much out of the spotlight all of last year. But with the senior Tannehill on his way to the NFL, the quarterback competition opened up, and we got our first real look at Manziel.
The Kerrville Tivy product was impressive throughout the offseason, but hit a major speed bump in June when he was arrested and jailed for his involvement in a fight and possession of fake IDs. The thought for many – including the DCTF staff – was that Manziel’s run-in with the law likely sealed his fate as a backup.
But Manziel was, simply put, the best quarterback on the roster for Sumlin, and plowed his way into the starting role.
So, what do we make of all of this?
My first reaction is that Manziel is an almost perfect fit for Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s wide-open Air Raid offense. It’s similar to the scheme he played in at Kerrville Tivy, though I would not expect to see Manziel running as much as he did in high school. For one, SEC defenses will be a lot less forgiving to that than San Antonio-area high school defenses; for another, the Kingsbury-style Air Raid tends to supplant runs with short passes.
Beyond that, one of Manziel’s top qualities is his accuracy – he threw just five interceptions during his senior year at Tivy. Keeping Manziel in the pocket, protected by what should be an excellent offensive line, seems like the most fruitful thing the Aggie offense can do.
What’s Manziel’s ceiling? The more and more I think about it, I’m drawn to the comparison of another Texas-bred quarterback who played under Kevin Sumlin: Case Keenum. Coming out of Abilene Wylie, Keenum’s top quality was his lethal accuracy, much like Manziel. Both have a big arm and excellent touch on the deep ball (though I’d give the slight edge on the deep ball to Keenum, who threw one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen). They’re about the same size, and they’ll be operating under the same scheme.
So, ceiling for Manziel: a more mobile Case Keenum. That’s pretty darn good.
Of course, that’s only a projected ceiling; there are no guarantees that he gets there, or that he even holds the job past the first two quarters of the season opener against Louisiana Tech. If Manziel struggles – as freshman are wont to do – I imagine Sumlin will be pretty quick with the hook, knowing that he has two quality backups in Showers and Joeckel to fill the gap.
Because that’s something that everyone needs to remember: Johnny Manziel is 19 years old. He’s exceptionally young, and still has maturing to do on the field and, if his June arrest is any indication, off the field. He’s also stepping into a role – A&M starting quarterback – that is rife with pressure and criticism. Factor in that he’s leading the Aggies into the nation’s most unforgiving conference and division, and there’s plenty of reason to think that Manziel will struggle, at least in the short term.
But make no mistake: Johnny Manziel is a potential star. Anyone who watched him in high school could tell then.
Which brings up another interesting aftershock of this decision: what does this mean for the rest of the roster?
Throughout the past year or so, we here at DCTF have lauded the depth and quality of A&M’s quarterback corps. The fact that we haven’t even discussed Matt Joeckel – a high school superstar in his own right – speaks to that depth. There’s incoming freshman Matt Davis from Klein Forest and incoming freshman Conner McQueen from Klein Oak and incoming freshman Josh Stump from Beaumont West Brook, all of which were sensations on the high school level.
And then you look at Kenny Hill, the transcendent signal-caller at Southlake Carroll who is already verbally committed to A&M.
Between Showers, Joeckel, Davis, McQueen, Stump and Hill, that’s six outstanding quarterbacks. If Manziel is the guy, and holds on to this starting role for his remaining four years of eligibility, then sophomores Showers and Joeckel will never start; Davis, McQueen and Stump would need to redshirt this year for a chance to start, and that would be just for their final year of eligibility; and Hill (and any other QBs the Aggies land in their 2013 class) would have a maximum of two years with a shot at the starting gig.
If that’s the case, and Manziel establishes himself as the “this is my starting gig” type of guy that he can be, don’t be surprised if you start hearing about QBs transferring from A&M. There was already a logjam on the QB depth chart for the Aggies; Wednesday’s news only exacerbated that.
More than anything, what this move tells me is that Kevin Sumlin believes that Johnny Manziel is his quarterback of the future. It might not bear fruit right away, but for the long haul, Manziel is his guy.
I think Johnny Manziel has the chance to be one of A&M’s truly exceptional quarterbacks, and he’s got the vote of confidence from his coaches. Now, he has to show his coach’s faith in him is justified.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
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