INDIANAPOLIS — Johnny Manziel wants you to know that he’s just a misunderstood kid who is ready to grow up.
Yeah, there are loads of pictures of him on the Internet partying with beautiful women, stories of him hanging with famous rapper Drake, and rumors of recreational drug use while he starred at Texas A&M.
But Manziel is spending this weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine trying to convince dozens of general manages, coaches, scouts, and media members that he’s really just a humble, hard-working kid who is “continuing to learn from my mistakes” and ready to put the college partying behind him.
“I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people,” Manziel said in front of several hundred reporters Friday. “Get lost in kind of the people who make me out to be a big Hollywood guy. Really just still a small-town kid. Sometimes you get caught up in certain things, but at the same time continuing to learn and continuing to adapt to everything that’s going on in my life.”
There’s little doubt about Manziel’s athletic ability. In two years at Texas A&M, he threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns, rushed for almost 2,200 yards with another 30 touchdowns, led the Aggies to a 20-6 record with two bowl wins, and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
He’s one of the best improvising quarterbacks to enter the draft in the last decade, and has a chance to be taken No. 1 overall by his home-state Houston Texans.
“It would be extremely cool,” Manziel said of being taken by the Texans. “I’m a Texas guy, born and raised in Texas. I’ve never really left the state. For them to have the first pick means a lot to me.”
Yet Manziel will be on the defensive during the draft process, on several fronts. First, he must prove that his height isn’t a detriment. Manziel officially measured in at 5 feet 11¾ inches Friday, and while the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who stands 5-11, proved that short quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL, he is still the exception rather than the rule. Bill Parcells had a rule that he wouldn’t draft a quarterback under 6-3.
But working in Manziel’s favor are his oversized hands — he measured at 9⅞ inches.
“I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall,” he said. “A measurement to me is just a number.”
He has to prove to teams that he can thrive as a rhythm passer from the pocket. Manziel worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun at A&M and made many of his big plays as a scrambler.
He has opted not to throw at the Combine, which won’t make teams happy.
“From what I’ve told every team, if they want to work me out privately, any throw they want to see me make at my pro day, any interview, any question they want to ask me, any throw they want to see me make at any time, I’m more than willing to do that,” he said.
And he has to prove that he’s mature enough to be a team’s leader on and off the field. Manziel swatted down a rumor Friday that he was told to seek counseling for alcohol and anger management.
“I went after last spring. Coach [Kevin] Sumlin kind of came to me and said they have an in-house guy, wanted me to sit down and meet with him,” Manziel said. “I was more than willing to learn whatever I could from him and sit down and have meetings with him. Those continued throughout the next couple years. Had a great relationship with him. It was really nothing more than that.”
Manziel, 21, emphasized that he is a professional now, not a college kid.
“I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional, it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now,” he said. “It won’t be a hard thing to kick or anything really hard to not do. I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team.”
Bill Belichick met the media a day earlier, and Tom Brady was nowhere to be found at the Combine, but both were mentioned prominently during Friday’s media sessions.
Manziel said he appreciated Brady offering him advice after Manziel reached out to him.
“It was cool for him to reach back out to me after I extended a text message to him,” Manziel said. “It was extremely cool. Kind of a really funny conversation at first, [then] worked our way into a little more serious conversation. It was really nice. I’m very thankful for him to be able to extend a hand out to me in the situation that I’m in.”
What did Brady say?
“The big thing, just enjoy the process,” Manziel said. “Kind of gave me a little joke: If I teach him to how to run like I can, he’ll do anything in the world for me. It was pretty funny hearing it from him.”
New Texans coach Bill O’Brien, formerly the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, said his team won’t try to measure up the quarterback prospects in this year’s draft with Brady when they decide whether to take one with the No. 1 overall pick.
“You can’t compare guys to Tom Brady. Guys like Tom Brady really don’t come along very often,” O’Brien said. “I think he’s still playing at a very high level. Good friend, great competitor, really enjoyed coaching him and he’s one of the best to play this game.”
O’Brien also credited Belichick for helping him grow as a coach — O’Brien left New England to serve as head coach at Penn State before accepting the Texans job in January.
“I think it’s pretty well documented I’ve learned a lot from him,” O’Brien said, “between how to get ready for a game, prepare a team for a game, evaluating your roster, getting ready for the draft. He and I have a good relationship. I’ve seen him here, it’s good to see him. I think all of us that coached for Bill learned a lot from him.”
The testing began at the Combine Friday with the offensive linemen and tight ends partaking in the bench press.
The top performer was UNC’s Russell Bodine, who had 42 reps of 225 pounds. Auburn’s Greg Robinson, a potential top-five pick, had a respectable 32 reps, while Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, also a potential top-five pick, disappointed with only 24.
Texas A&M’s Jace Amaro, considered by many the top tight end prospect in the draft, was second at his position with 28 reps, tied with mid-round prospect Arthur Lynch of Georgia via Dartmouth (Mass.) High.
The offensive linemen and tight ends will perform the 40-yard dash and other drills Saturday.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.