There’s no denying Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was the best offensive player in college football in 2012. He emerged from nowhere as a redshirt freshman and led the Aggies to one of the biggest surprise regular season finishes in college football– especially for a team that was assumed to be in for its share of growing pains entering the Southeastern Conference.
Manziel’s convincing Heisman Trophy win with Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o a semi-distant second, and Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein far in the distance in third, is proof of the impact the Kerrville, Texas native had on the Heisman electorate this fall.
I was as impressed with Manziel as anyone, but I’ll tell you this:
We’ve seen his best performances as a college quarterback.
Heisman trophy winners are always outstanding individual football players, but they have players around them and coaches on their staff which allow their greatest attributes to be highlighted from week-to-week. Johnny Manziel definitely had both positive circumstances on his side this season in College Station.
Manziel had two first-tier, All-American candidate offensive linemen in front of him on Saturdays in projected first-overall 2013 NFL Draft pick Luke Joeckel and all-everything tackle Jake Matthews. Yes, what Manziel did as a true freshman was spectacular, but we can’t put aside just how valuable it was for him to have two experienced seniors blocking for him each week and ensuring he had the time necessary to make plays both through the air and on his feet.
With the loss of Joeckel and Matthews to the NFL, younger linemen will have to rise to the occasion and hold the fort against SEC defensive units that are going to be salivating to get a piece of the Heisman winner in 2013. Along these lines, SEC defensive coordinators now have a full season of footage and 10 months to prepare before they face Manziel and the A&M offense again.
Given the quality of defensive coordinators– and head coaches with a defensive bent in the conference– this amount of game-planning will require Manziel to think on his feet an adapt much more often than he had to in 2012, where his speed and football instinct were enough to allow him to put up the numbers he did.
Teams will game-plan for Manziel in particular in 2013, and will force the hand of Kliff Kingsbury– or whomever is the A&M offensive coordinator– to use Manziel in a way that is reactive to what they face. Sure, Tim Tebow had two consecutive Heisman trophy winning campaigns basically daring opposing defenses to stop what they knew he was going to do, but I just can’t see history repeating itself with Manziel.
If anything, SEC defensive coordinators learned their lesson with the Tebow situation, and will use it as motivation to make sure they aren’t the team to be burned by Johnny “Football” two years in a row.
Manziel will have spies assigned to him throughout 2013. Whether this is a middle or outside linebacker, it will always be the case. No longer will he be able to hit the outside edge without someone having something to say about it. Many of Manziel’s highlight-worthy runs in 2012 were when he changed direction or hit the edge before the pursuing linebackers could make it there to meet him.
Beyond the X’s and O’s is the pressure of carrying forward a Heisman legacy into just your second season and the assumptions that come along with it that the NFL will come calling after 2013. With the eyes of the college football press, NFL scouts, the Aggie faithful hungry for a run at a National Championship, SEC defensive coordinators and his own teammates fixed firmly on his back, Johnny Manziel’s world will be one of constant and relentless scrutiny.
Can he rise to the occasion and prove me wrong, proving to all of us that Tebow’s back-to-back Heismans weren’t an anomaly, but instead, a sign of things to come?
Kris is the host of Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.