March 5, 2013
Everything about Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel caught the rest of the college football world off guard in 2012. With a new coach – Kevin Sumlin – and a new conference — the SEC West — the Aggies weren't predicted by some *ahem* to even go bowling, much less finish 11-2 with perhaps the best individual victory of the season on the road against Alabama last November.
Meanwhile, the stars aligned perfectly for Manziel. The redshirt freshman emerged from an offseason quarterback battle where he was presumed to play the role of backup and ended up as one of the most exciting players in the country — not to mention the first ever freshman, redshirt or otherwise, to win the Heisman.
Neither Manziel nor A&M will have the element of surprise on their side in 2013. Nevertheless, the expectations in College Station are as high as they've ever been. The Aggies begin spring practice on Saturday, the first steps toward what the Aggie faithful feels could be a season even more special than the last.
As it should be, Sumlin's fear is complacency. When asked what his Heisman trophy winning quarterback can improve upon this year, Sumlin replied "his footwork, his mechanics, his thought process and overall knowledge of the offense."
Coachspeak at its finest? Sure, but understand this: 12 opposing teams now have tape on Manziel.
What has helped Manziel, and what will continue to help him, are his improvisation skills that seem better suited for Second City in Chicago than a football field. First glance tells you there's simply no defensive scheme that will contain this:
Manziel's "roll outta bed and ball" game is terrifying, but there are habits, tendencies, weaknesses in it. They just have to be found, and there's plenty of time between now and the start of the 2013 season for opposing coaches to find them. Great mechanics and the ability to understand defenses are qualities every quarterback should rely on; the extra mobility Manziel displays should be a compliment to that, not a substitute.
Then there's the issue of A&M's offensive line. The last time we saw it collectively as one unit, it was giving Manziel an eternity to throw in a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. Can it hold up similarly in 2013? Although Luke Joeckel is gone — perhaps as the first pick in this year's draft – Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi are back, so turnover along the O-line isn't as bad as it could be.
Still, and even with his improvisational skills, Manziel had it made in 2012. Add in a pair of new coordinators with the departure of Kliff KIngsbury to Texas Tech, and the situation isn't quite the same for Manziel in 2013.
But will he, and A&M, be as successful? Manziel showed he can handle the spotlight in the post-Heisman craze, but now comes the task of improving his game. That's where the next several months factor in.