Manziel figures to battle height constraints as NFL QB
By Alan Robinson
Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 9:53 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS — While meeting with multiple NFL teams on Friday, former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel came up a little short.
A quarter of an inch short, to be precise.
Listed at 6-foot-1 throughout his two-season Texas A&M career, Manziel officially came in at 5-113⁄4 at the NFL Combine. So if he is drafted in the first round as he is expected to be, Manziel will be something of an anomaly: Only one quarterback under 6 feet, Michael Vick, has been drafted in the first round since 2000.
Inadvertently, Broncos general manager John Elway reflected the NFL's thinking about shorter quarterbacks when he was asked about Manziel.
“I think he's a great little player,” Elway said Friday. Then, catching himself, he quickly said, “I don't mean little.”
The similarly undersized Russell Wilson proved in his second season with Seattle that a quarterback who isn't 6 feet tall can win a Super Bowl, but some general managers and coaches still get worried about passes being knocked down at the line of scrimmage, open receivers not being seen downfield and durability when a quarterback doesn't stand at least 72 inches tall.
To Manziel, whose Friday news conference attracted the biggest crowd at this combine so far, intangibles matter much more than inches.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,” Manziel said. “I feel like I'm 10 feet tall. A measurement to me is just like a number.”
The Houston Texans aren't signaling whether they might make Manziel the No. 1 pick. He has already said it would be a mistake for his home-state team to pass him up. If the Texans take another player, Manziel might play twice a season against the Steelers in the AFC North, because Browns owner Jimmy Haslam — whose franchise has had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999 — apparently prizes him.
Manziel reached out to quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Robert Griffin III for advice on what to expect from the draft process and becoming a pro. Brady joked he would help only if Manziel taught him how to run.
“I'm very thankful for him to extend a hand out to me,” Manziel said of Brady.
But who will extend Manziel a post-draft contract?
Privately, some coaches don't think Manziel is worthy of a top-10 pick much less of being No. 1. Manziel lacks the size of 6-5 Blake Bortles of Central Florida and the background of Teddy Bridgewater, who ran a pro-style offense at Louisville rather than the spread offense Manziel ran at Texas A&M.
But NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Manziel possesses an “it” factor the other two lack.
“I don't know exactly what the ‘it' factor would be,” Texans coach Bill O'Brien said.
Said Manziel: “I feel like I play the game with a lot of heart and a lot of passion that really is unrivaled. (I) fight until the very end and don't show any weakness.”
As he transitions into the NFL, Manziel is attempting to shed the “Johnny Football” label that ended up encompassing his lifestyle as much as it did his on-field personality.
“(It) gets lost in the minds of the people who make me out to be a big, Hollywood guy,” Manziel said. I'm really just a small-town kid.”
He's not now. In a few months, he'll be playing before crowds four times as big as the population of hometown Kerrville, Texas. And everything he does and says will be amplified and scrutinized.
The team that takes Manziel — and it might be the one in Cleveland — can only hope he measures up.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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