Manziel doubters will eat crow


The only major surprise in the news that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will enter this year's NFL draft is that it took so long for the announcement to be made.

Everything about Manziel's behavior this past season pointed to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner leaving college as soon as he possibly could. Now comes the more interesting part: Listening to all those skeptics who simply won't see how big a star this kid is going to become at the next level.

You have to imagine the haters began mounting their attacks the minute Manziel officially submitted his papers to the league office for early entry. We'll hear about how he's simply too small for the position. There will be plenty of people who will knock his video game college numbers (7,820 passing yards, 2,169 rushing yards and 93 total touchdowns) as a byproduct of the wide-open system coach Kevin Sumlin ran at A&M. There also will be the concerns about his off-field behavior, which already has the potential to fill a month's worth of content on TMZ.

What there won't be enough of, however, is a focus on all the things that have made Manziel great on the collegiate level. It's easy to write him off as a spoiled rich kid who had the good fortune of playing in an offense tailored to his skills. It's actually more sensible to consider all the ways Manziel made the most of the opportunities afforded him at A&M. The first thing to remember about Manziel: He earned everything he got at the college level.

Manziel had plenty of college football scholarships but he wasn't a big enough name for Texas, his home state school, to offer him a full ride. After he redshirted and prepared to enter a quarterback competition for the starting job in 2012, nobody was proclaiming him as the likely successor to current Miami Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill. Manziel didn't even beat out two other teammates for the position until training camp began. He did that by putting in serious hours with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. in San Diego for a good portion of his summer.

Whitfield saw the same things in Manziel that NFL decision-makers always want from their quarterbacks: passion, drive, competitiveness, hunger.

For all the highlights Manziel produced in his first season with the Aggies, it's those intangibles that got lost in all the adulation. His fans saw a gifted athlete with a flair for the dramatic and a thirst for victories. His haters saw a cocky kid with a hot temper and a big mouth, just the kind of quarterback you love to see rocked by a Jadeveon Clowney blindside hit.

Most people don't even give Manziel enough credit for what he did after that first year ended with him winning the Heisman Trophy. While he brought some problems on himself -- including an early departure from the Manning Passing Academy and a suspension for the first half of A&M's season opener against Rice for allegedly signing autographs for money (the NCAA never found evidence that Manziel actually did that) -- he also worked his butt off with Whitfield again. The Johnny Manziel who returned for his second season knew he couldn't rely on the same skills he displayed as a freshman. He had to improve, mainly because the best players are always asking more of themselves.

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