In a weird way, the pressure on Johnny Manziel is another sign of victory for the black quarterback. Two of the top quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft are Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. Manziel is a white mobile quarterback, who can use his feet to answer challenges from the best defenses in college football, but has questions to answer about his arm strength, work ethic, attitude and football IQ.
Bridgewater is a black pocket passer, and football nerd, on an elevator to the top of most NFL Draft boards. Bridgewater is on another level above Manziel.
This summer Manziel is focusing on taking the next steps in his own evolution by going to George Whitfield, the top quarterback guru in the game.
Whitfield has Manziel going through blindfolded "Zorro" passing drills and he’s excelling. At one point he completed 27 of 29 passes. Nobody knew he could throw blistering passes like Stevie Wonder can riff on the piano, and these workouts will add to the legend. However, that’s all a red herring.
The football is Manziel’s mic. Texas A&M’s redshirt sophomore is a mix tape quarterback, a freestyle Da Vinci and his freshman come-up was a classic banger. Last season, Kevin Sumlin put him in a situation where he could freestyle to his own beat and thrive in the SEC’s underground.
However, the Johnny Football litmus test will be graded on how he manages going mainstream. He’s struggled with the downside of fame in the post-Heisman period, but the gridiron is where he will be judged.
His true value will emerge when defenses start putting him in a booth (NFL scouts want to know how he goes through his progressions from the pocket), have him write his own lyrics (audible at the line) and produce the track (read defenses).
Year Two of Johnny Football is less about developing his brand, and moreso about developing his conventional quarterbacking skills. In his sophomore season, offensive coordinator Kliff Klingsbury and starting left tackle Luke Joeckel have left him solo dolo. Fortunately, right tackle Jake Matthews will give Manziel a little familiarity in the trenches.
SI.com has Manziel projected as a first rounder in 2014’s draft, but that’s contingent on his how his sophomore campaign pans out. The Johnny Football cult legend and football celebrity has to become Johnny Manziel, a field technician. Forget the blindfolds, Manziel has to learn how to read and react to a hot read. Otherwise, what's the point?