Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After a tumultuous offseason for their
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, the Texas A&M Aggies hoped that the start
of the 2013 campaign would help quiet the distractions as they began their
quest for an SEC title.
But instead of silencing his critics with his play on the football field,
Johnny Manziel's return in the second half of the opener against Rice managed
to raise even more questions about his character.
Following an NCAA investigation into whether or not Manziel knowingly signed
autographs for monetary gain last season, the sophomore signal-caller was
suspended for the first half of the opener in what many concluded to be a
half-hearted attempt at disciplinary action. More or less, Manziel was let off
easy, and from there it would have been rather simple to put his best foot
forward in the attempt to repair his tainted imagine.
However, Manziel's behavior as the Aggies began to pull away from Rice late in
the game overshadowed his sterling performance (6-of-8, 94 yards, 3 TDs). On
several occasions, Manziel appeared to be taunting Rice players, not only with
trash-talk and pointing at the scoreboard, but by making light of his recent
troubles by mimicking the signing of an autograph as well as rubbing his
fingers together to indicate money. Not only did Manziel's antics warrant him
an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, he was also subsequently benched for the
rest of the game by head coach Kevin Sumlin.
"No matter what the comments are, he'll be playing every week with people
chirping, and (chirping back) is not okay," Sumlin said. "Obviously I
addressed that on the sideline. But it's something he'll have to deal with
Of course, there's nobody to blame in this situation but Manziel himself. He
managed to conduct himself like a model citizen in 2012, letting his play do
the talking as he rose from an unknown to earn college football's highest
individual honor. However, since then it's been a series of childish offenses,
indicating that the fame has gone to his head. Perhaps the immature tweeting
or the high-profile partying could be overlooked had he been able to right the
ship. Even the autograph scandal could have properly blown over had Manziel
conducted himself in a more mature manner, but it seems with the spotlight on,
he cannot help himself. Sure, he's merely a 20-year-old college student, but
that's no longer an excuse. He is in control of and responsible for his
actions, and he's been entirely unapologetic over the past few months. This
was far from his first offense, and more than likely, it won't be his last
Manziel shoulders the majority of the blame, sure, but how much stock should
we put into Sumlin's role in all of this? College football coaches, more so
than in other sports, have a crucial job that extends far beyond the football
field as they attempt to mold boys into men. Sumlin puts a certain level of
trust in his players, but maybe that sort of passive approach is the wrong way
to deal with Johnny Football. Sumlin admitted after the Rice game that he did
not talk to Manziel prior to the game on how to handle himself upon coming in.
"I didn't say anything to him (pregame)," Sumlin said. "I think at this point
we talk about a lot of different things, not specifically what's going to
happen during a game."
Sumlin attempted to get Manziel's attention on the sideline late in the game,
but it appeared as though the quarterback ignored his fired-up head coach by
walking right by him, which certainly would not fly with Nick Saban, Les
Miles, Urban Meyer or some of the other big-name coaches in the FBS. It says a
lot about the young man that he won't even give his head coach the respect he
deserves. Maybe it's a sign that Sumlin is slowly losing control of his locker
room, especially considering that A&M needed to suspend four other players
shortly before the opener as well for violating team rules.
"Anyone who watches Johnny knows he plays with a lot of passion and emotion,"
Sumlin said. "It's my job to keep that passion and energy going and keeping it
positive. What you don't want to do is kill that emotion and passion because
that's what separates Johnny from a lot of different players, but we can do is
set him down and say 'that same emotion and passion can be positively in this
Clearly, Manziel is an emotional player who has supreme confidence that he
can beat anyone. He plays without fear, as he showed in taking down eventual
national champion Alabama last season in Tuscaloosa, looking about as poised
as Peyton Manning, despite it being just his 10th-career start. And if you ask
many of his teammates, they wouldn't want Manziel to change under any
"That's how he is," junior right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "He is a fiery
guy and that's what we love about him. He is not quiet and he's not shy. He is
loud and aggressive and that's what makes him Johnny Football, so we love it."
You've got to let Manziel play out his 'Johnny Football' persona on the field,
of course. That's understandable and, frankly, warranted. He's a dynamic dual-
threat who is virtually unstoppable when he gets rolling. But there's got to
be a way for him to play his carefree and fluid style of football without
being a reckless team cancer. Manziel, who may very well jump ship for the NFL
at season's end, has already been put to task by scouts for his less-than-
ideal size and questionable arm strength, but adding the incidents of the last
few months sends up a whole new batch of red flags for NFL coaches and GMs.
Also, picking apart Rice is one thing (as well as this week's opponent Sam
Houston State), but as the season goes on, the target on Manziel's back will
only become bigger. How do you think the Alabama defense will respond to
getting its chance at beating up on the cocky QB?
It's certainly not too late for Manziel to turn a corner, but the situation
has become progressively worse in College Station over the past few months,
and if that trend continues, the negative media storm surrounding the
quarterback for the rest of the season could be enough to derail A&M's sky-
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