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College Football Insider

Just get Johnny Manziel on the field

HOOVER, Ala. -- On the first report date for Texas A&M freshmen two years ago, a strength coach pointed to the biggest jump box in the weight room -- 65 inches high -- and challenged the new Aggies.

Which freshman wanted to try to land safely on top? Johnny Manziel was the first to answer.

“Did it like it was drinking water,” said Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, who was Texas A&M's defensive coordinator then. “It was impressive.”

It has been nearly eight months since college football saw Manziel's unique ability on the field. Now, in front of an eager media at SEC Media Days this week, Manziel must answer questions about seemingly everything that he does away from it – his early departure from the Manning Passing Academy because he was reportedly too hung over, his guilty charge for ID theft stemming from 2012, maybe his colorful tweets from a month ago or his pictures with Rick Ross.

Manziel will make a statement and, in about six weeks or so, you'll remember the 65 inches. You'll remember the raw ability.

Just as easily as Manziel has become a summer punchline, he can still hookah lounge his way to a huge year on the field. I think he will.

Since winning the Heisman, Manziel has made poor choices that distract from the team and could affect locker-room chemistry, though there's no evidence of that.

But he has not been arrested this year, has not given any indication that he won't be ready to lead the Aggies when the team reports for camp on Aug. 4. Camp will provide structure, which should help Aggies coaches who must be wishing that Aug. 31 opener against Rice kicked off this weekend.

Once the storylines dry up, Manziel is, at worst, a serious mismatch for most of the teams that he'll face this year. LSU and Florida showed the blueprint for containing Manziel -- keep him in the pocket with athletic, quick fronts; don't overpursue off the edge. That blueprint works in theory, but most teams don't have the defensive line talent that Florida and LSU have.

LSU is back on the schedule but is replacing several starters on defense. Florida is not on the schedule. Alabama is, but the Tide will need to inject quickness up front to avoid a repeat of last season's loss to Texas A&M. Even if the Aggies don't contend for a title, Manziel will post sizable numbers.

Manziel isn't fitting into the tidy NFL quarterback narrative that classifies players as either high-character leaders (Drew Brees) or cautionary tales (Ryan Leaf).

Manziel seems to be neither. He's a confident player whose football success came early -- and sometimes easily -- at A&M. Doesn't mean he's thrown away what he's built.

Manziel has the “Hey, I'm the Dude” attitude on the field, said DeRuyter, who watched Manziel carve up his defense as the scout-team quarterback when the team prepared for Baylor's Robert Griffin III in 2011.

Manziel found ways to make plays then, but coaches sometimes had to tell him -- love what you're doing, but just run the play call!

That's Kevin Sumlin's job now. Only the message might be slightly different: Just get on the field.

 
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