March 27, 2014

Former Aggies star Manziel shows poise, precision in pro day to remember

Multiple NFL head coaches and former President George H.W. Bush watch the former Texas A&M star’s workout.

Johnny Manziel was midway through his workout when President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush drove into the McFerrin Athletic Center on a golf cart.

“That’s the president,” Manziel said, turning to his personal quarterbacks coach, George Whitfield.

The Texas A&M quarterback then coolly continued his session, adding poise to the list of things he showed Thursday in completing 61 of 64 passes with only one bad throw.

“He didn’t even blink,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “That’s Johnny.”

Manziel and receiver Mike Evans held a pro day to remember, drawing a crowd estimated at 500 in a workout televised live by both ESPN and the NFL Network.

Though Texas Gov. Rick Perry did not show as expected, the school issued 228 credentials, and 75 scouts from 30 teams attended, including eight head coaches and eight general managers.

Only the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears did not send representatives to A&M on Thursday, though the Browns have a private workout scheduled with Manziel.

The Texans, who hold the first overall draft pick, sent a contingent that included vice chairman Cal McNair, general manager Rick Smith and coach Bill O’Brien.

“Something like this shows me how he’s improved at certain things, but I’m not going to get into them,” O’Brien said. “He’s obviously worked extremely hard with George Whitfield.

“He threw against air, and he did a good job.”

Manziel, 21, declined to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine. He instead chose to hone his game for another five weeks, mostly in San Diego with Whitfield, before giving scouts what they wanted to see.

After warming up at the school’s adjacent indoor track facility, Manziel and his receivers walked into the McFerrin Center with great fanfare, accompanied by uncensored rap music.

Word had leaked that Manziel would become the first prospect to wear a helmet and shoulder pads at a pro day. Sure enough, he appeared in a matte black helmet, a black No. 2 jersey and camouflage-print shorts, unveiling the Johnny Manziel Pro Day Collection from Nike.

“The guy’s a football player,” Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said. “He can do it all. That’s impressive. Most guys come out in a T-shirt and you don’t play in a T-shirt, so coming out in that, he made a statement throwing it in pads.”

Leave it to Manziel, who in 2012 became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, to start a new trend.

“You play the game in shoulder pads on Sundays,” Manziel said. “Why not come out here and do it? I never understood why that was a trend [to not wear pads and a helmet], but for me it was a no-brainer. Come out and treat this as … a game day.”

Manziel, who took only one snap under center last season, took all 64 snaps under center from Hank Speights, a former college lineman at Trinity College who works with Whitfield.

“I really like to see the guys play under center, especially if they haven’t done too much of it in their college tape,” Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. “I thought he was fantastic getting away. He showed great quickness separating away from center [and] good balance at the top. He threw the ball extremely well.”

Manziel completed his first 35 passes before Evans bobbled a ball he eventually caught out of bounds deep along the right sideline. Travis Labhart called himself out for dropping a long ball down the middle on Manziel’s 48th pass. Manziel’s 62nd pass proved to be his only “bad” throw, a ball at his receiver’s feet that fell incomplete.

“Everybody thinks he has to work off script, and he’s a jazz artist,” said Whitfield, who has worked with Manziel the past three years. “He can read sheet music. We tried to iron out some Mozart out here, and hopefully people’s ears caught it. That was the deal. I was proud of him.”

Manziel confirmed some scouts’ opinions of him, and changed some others’ minds, including ESPN’s Ron Jaworski. Only Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said anything remotely critical, calling it a “different workout” with the “sideshow stuff.”

The Vikings have scheduled a private workout with Manziel, Zimmer said, that will be “a little less choreographed.”

“He showed all the things he needed to show,” Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “People who’ve watched a lot of tape on him are pretty familiar with what he can do.”

The Cowboys sent two scouts — Walter Juliff and Chris Hall — as well as Wilson. They do not have a private workout or a visit set up with Manziel, according to a source.

Manziel expects to be off the board by the time the Cowboys draft 16th. He remains in competition with Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater to be the first quarterback selected.

“It’s really out of my control,” Manziel said. “All I can do is come out here and try to put on the best show possible, going to these meetings and trying to show these guys a side of me that not a lot of people get to see.”

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