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This article was published 24/9/2018 (511 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
So at this point, you’d have to surmise that Johnny Manziel — quarterback, saviour and ratings overlord of the Canadian Football League and Montreal Alouettes — has figured out that just maybe the CFL isn’t going to be quite the walk in the park he and his entourage figured it to be.
The thing that maligned players from the NFL, who come to the CFL to relaunch, resurrect and reboot their American football careers don’t often realize is that as much as an opportunity north of the border can help their careers, it can also expose their shortcomings. While three starts isn’t what you would call a representative sample of work to pass indictments on, it has shown many of us what we feel are Manziel’s shortcomings as a pivot passer.
First and foremost, it should be noted that Manziel is a first-round athlete. Let me rephrase; he is a spectacular athlete. His uncanny level of elusiveness, his footwork, his acceleration, his creativity and his scrappiness are all attributes highly prized in the game of pro football. But I would dare say, especially after watching a full four quarters of his work in the 31-14 loss against the Bombers on Friday night, that he is not a first-round quarterback talent.
The strength of Manziel’s game, and the most impressive thing he does on the field is how he can put a defence in a bind. When he is flushed or escapes from the pocket and dances around or near the line of scrimmage, he forces defenders to make decisions that can be costly; if they stay in coverage then he can gash you and scramble for more yards than most any pivot on the ground. If they come off their coverage because they think he is committed to running the football, well then, he has the ability to hit the open man. This is an effective skill set for any pivot, but it is really the only thing that separates him from his peers.
Watching Manziel perform from the pocket on Friday night — when his godawful offensive line didn't have him running for his life — you notice two things: one, he is pretty accurate with the football, and has a quick release; and two, he has a pretty average arm, and doesn't always throw a great football.
Maybe he has to adjust to throwing the football in Canadian climates, or maybe he doesn’t quite understand the kind of velocity he has to put on certain passes on this larger and more expansive field because that interception he threw to Marcus Sayles, which pretty much sealed the game for Winnipeg, hung up there in the air for an eternity. Adarius Bowman had posted up on the far sideline, and with the time it took for the football to arrive, Sayles had easily undercut it and put his team into position to seal the win.
Manziel is the kind of player that is easy to get excited about. He has that razzle-dazzle, flash and flair that can be exciting to watch, and he is a highlight-reel athlete, but the foundation for any quarterback will always be how he performs in the pocket. Everything else is just a complementary gimmick. Is he elite when distributing the pigskin from the confines of the pocket? Can he make all of the throws with the kind of velocity that is required on a field much larger than anything he has ever played on before?
Manziel is at his best when things break down and he can run his version of improv theatre, but this cannot be the foundation or fundamental premise of an offence. These are the kind of plays that enhance your offence, not the bread and butter. The more he takes off and runs with the football, the more he exposes himself to the kind of shots that had him sidelined for weeks after the Ottawa game.
When Manziel operates from the confines of the pocket, which is the most important measurable of any quarterback — scrambling or otherwise — he looks to be of the ilk of a very average quarterback in the CFL, and that is not going to help his chances of returning to the NFL.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.