Johnny Manziel off to fast start for Texas A&M Aggies

Johnny Manziel off to fast start for Texas A&M Aggies

September 11th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sportscollege

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) stands on the sideline during the first half of the Aggies' Maroon & White spring NCAA college football game at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

MANZIEL'S OFFSEASON OF DISCONTENT

• Jan. 5: A night after leading Texas A&M to a Cotton Bowl rout of Oklahoma, Manziel posts a photo of himself in a casino with a wad of cash.

• March 23: Manziel reportedly shoves a graduate assistant after throwing an interception in spring practice.

• June 16: After receiving a parking ticket, Manziel tweets that he can't wait to leave College Station.

• July 13: Manziel leaves the Manning Passing Academy early and has to deny at SEC media days that the departure was due to a hangover.

• Aug. 4: Reports surface that the NCAA is investigating Manziel for profiting from signing memorabilia. He winds up sitting out the first half of the season opener.

Alabama coach Nick Saban talks with media during Pro Day at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

No matter how hard Alabama tries Saturday afternoon, the Crimson Tide will not be able to blanket Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as thoroughly as CBS will.

The network will devote a camera -- called the "Johnny Cam" -- to cover Manziel's actions on the field and the sideline. Manziel led Texas A&M to a 29-24 upset triumph at Alabama last season and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, but the months since have been filled with turbulence.

"Everything that I try to do and everything that we try to do here at Texas A&M is about team," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday. "It's about building our team and building our program and not being an individual. On Saturday afternoon, you're going to have two football teams on the field, and I don't understand why there has to be one guy singled out to put a camera on the whole time.

"That's not what we're trying to be about, and it's not what we're trying to promote. With all the criticism about individualism on a football team, I don't think this helps enhance the team concept one bit."

The exorbitant coverage of Manziel from Kyle Field will take place after a week in which the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is not speaking with the media. Sumlin said Manziel's family and attorneys have advised him not to talk and that those wishes will be respected.

Manziel had not given an interview since the circus-like Southeastern Conference media days in July until last Saturday, when he thanked teammates following a 65-28 rout of Sam Houston State.

"The biggest thing that has helped is being around these guys, being in this building and still having my teammates," he said. "It was easy to block all that stuff out by just being with my teammates and not reading anything. That was really, really helpful."

After a summer in which he made an early departure from the Manning Passing Academy and became the subject of an NCAA investigation for potentially profiting from signing memorabilia, Manziel is back to being a quarterback, and a great one at that. After sitting out the first half of the Rice opener as a result of the NCAA inquiry, Manziel has completed 35 of 50 passes for 520 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.

Alabama coach Nick Saban prepared his Crimson Tide throughout August as if Manziel would play this Saturday, and he sees the same sensational quarterback from last year who may not get enough credit as a passer.

"He extends a lot of plays, but he extends a lot of plays to pass," Saban said. "It's not like he's just a runner. He does a great job of keeping his eyes down the field so that when he does scramble, he can find some people open.

"His receivers do a really good job of playing what I call scramble rules -- how they adjust their routes relative to how he scrambles."

Discipline is a major element of any game plan comprised by Saban, but he said it's especially important this week not to allow Manziel to benefit from defensive mistakes. Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and rushed 18 times for 92 yards in last season's win in Tuscaloosa.

Many of Manziel's highlights in last year's matchup occurred on plays that went awry.

"I've told our players that there are a lot of NFL games on Sunday, and if you want to watch the quarterback, go watch those games," Saban said. "But if you start watching this guy in our game, you're going to get busted. It happened in our game last year. We had people covered pretty well, but then we looked back at the quarterback.

"You are not going to make him be a pocket passer. If someone is not open, he doesn't throw them the ball. He is going to extend the play."

Which is fine with Aggies receivers such as Malcome Kennedy, who had a 24-yard touchdown reception in last year's game.

"Sometimes in football you have broken plays, and there is no way to prepare for those type of plays," Kennedy said. "With Johnny scrambling around, there is no way to account for him and four receivers running around."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.