June Jones: QB Johnny Manziel 'growing up, should be' in NFL

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Johnny Manziel didn't play in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats opener against Calgary, but coach June Jones says the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner should be playing in the NFL.

"I've been pleasantly surprised the last three weeks what a good teammate he is, how smart he is, how he sees the game,'' Jones told ESPN.com. "He should be playing in the National Football League and I believe he will when he gets through with us.''

The Cleveland Browns released Manziel in March of 2016, two years after the former Texas A&M star was the No. 22 overall pick of the NFL draft. Manziel's career with the Browns was marred by off-the-field issues that ultimately led to two stints in rehab for alcohol and drugs.

After spending a year out of football, Manziel in May signed a two-year deal with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League to rebuild his career. The 25-year-old spent the opener on the sideline playing behind Jeremiah Masoli, who completed 25 of 36 pass attempts for 344 yards.

Jones said in late May that Manziel had no chance to overtake Masoli as the starter before the June 16 opener.

But Jones was impressed enough with Manziel's performance - 12-for-20 for 88 yards and a touchdown - in the preseason finale against Hamilton and everything he's seen off the field to predict a successful comeback to the NFL.

"It'll take two years,'' he said. "They're [NFL executives, coaches] waiting to see that he's taken care of his off-the-field problems.''

From what Jones has seen so far, Manziel is on the right path.

"He's humble,'' he said. "He's growing up every day.''

Jones made the comments during an interview about Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert. He successfully helped Gilbert rebuild his confidence in college after Gilbert transferred from Texas to Southern Methodist University.

While Jones acknowledged Manziel doesn't lack for confidence "at all,'' he admits there is work to be done. But he expects Manziel to one day compete in the NFL just like Gilbert, the leading candidate to back up 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, is now.

"We have a huge project,'' Jones said of Manziel. "We're going to get that done, too.''