You may say there is absolutely nothing Johnny Manziel can do that would top the season he just had. Winning a Heisman Trophy, breaking conference records and leading the Aggies to 11 victories was a season Texas A&M fans will remember forever.
Being complacent is the last thing a young quarterback wants to do. The second you think you know it all the SEC chews you up and spits you out. Manziel must find ways to improve and enter the 2013 season as an even better quarterback.
It may sound impossible, but here are a few things Manziel can do to elevate his game.
For a freshman quarterback, Manziel's nine interceptions were pretty good. He finished with the second-most pass attempts in the SEC (434), but threw fewer picks than Aaron Murray, Tyler Wilson and Tyler Bray. However, some of the interceptions were clearly due to obvious poor decision-making.
Manziel's worst performance last year was against LSU when he completed three passes to the other team. Two of those interceptions were just god-awful passes that were thrown off his back foot and gave the receiver no chance to catch the ball.
Here you see Manziel throwing the ball off his back foot, which always reduces the velocity and accuracy of the throw. While this is never a good idea, notice all of the protection he has in the pocket. It isn't like guys were breathing down his neck forcing him into his throw. The offensive line did a good job of keeping the LSU defensive front in check, which magnifies the bad decision.
This is when the interception is made. Notice there are three LSU defenders in the area, which shows that this is a ball that should have never been thrown. Regardless of the poor footwork, this receiver wouldn't have been open even if the ball was thrown with better accuracy. This was a bad decision by Manziel that gave LSU the ball in great field position and helped the Tigers score their first touchdown of the game.
But that wasn't the end of the horror story. Once again, Manziel throws the ball off his back foot, which is understandable in this situation, as he was flushed out of the pocket and had pressure in his face. But the issue is that it was first down. Sure, the Aggies were losing and he felt he needed to make a play, but there was nothing wrong with taking the sack, throwing the ball away or dishing it to the open receiver (circled.)
Instead, the cornerback was able to step in front of the receiver and intercept the pass. This was the crucial turnover that cost the Aggies the game and any chance to appear in the SEC Championship Game. While everybody is looking for a chink in Manziel's armor, this may be it. Pressure him and cut off his running lanes, and there is a chance he will force the ball into traffic and turn the ball over.
You could make a valid case that this is what happens with young quarterbacks, and that it is something that will improve with experience. But Manziel must learn that he doesn't have to hit the home run every play. Nobody will look at him any differently if he makes the smarter play by throwing it out of bounds or taking a sack once in a while. Living to see another down is key to playing quarterback and is something the sophomore must remember.
Think Pass First, Run Second
Manziel led the SEC in rushing yards last season with 1,410 yards on only 201 carries. The world knows him as this electric quarterback who can take off at any second. That's cool and all, but it is time for him to tone things down a bit and stand in the pocket longer.
While changing your game completely is never a good idea, Manziel has to realize he is an actual quarterback capable of throwing with great accuracy. He completed 68 percent of his passes last season and can put the ball right on the money.
However, Manziel did a lot of what young quarterbacks typically do. He looked downfield, saw nothing there and then scrambled, as he appeared more confident in his legs.
This was the famous 29-yard run against Alabama that immediately gave college football fans the feeling that this kid is a legitimate threat. But while the play result was huge, Manziel gave the right side of the field a look and then immediately ran up the middle. You can see once he saw nobody open, he gave the middle of the field a peak and tucked the ball, giving up on the passing play.
Sure, making plays and juking guys in the open field is fun to watch, but it doesn't help Manziel become a better quarterback. This isn't Tim Tebow, who was forced to run a lot because of his terrible mechanics and throwing motion. Manziel can hurt you with his arm. He is a true quarterback and should use his gifts as a passer a little more than he did last year.
Also, while Texas A&M ran a ton of quarterback draws, this play wasn't a designed run. You can clearly see the running back (circled) look back to Manziel as if he's looking for the checkdown pass. Surprised that Manziel was right behind him, he ended up missing a block and wasn't effective on the play. While it is hard to argue with the result, Manziel should spend more time going through his progressions and not be so quick to make a play with his legs.
The athleticism and playmaking ability will always be there, but Manziel has a plethora of talented receivers as viable options. He doesn't have to make every play and can make more of an honest effort to stand in the pocket and throw the football. This isn't trying to change Manziel or make him more of a pocket passer, but sometimes the bigger play is downfield, and he doesn't see it due to taking off too soon.
You have to believe the coaching staff would be on board with this, as it would also limit the number of hits he takes.
Red-Zone Completion Percentage
Manziel had the highest completion percentage in the SEC and was tied with E.J. Manuel for the eighth-best in the country. But once the Aggies reached the red zone, his completion percentage took a complete nosedive.
While it is understandable that a quarterback's completion percentage would get lower the closer the team gets to crossing the opponent's goal line, Manziel's 57.1 completion percentage in that area should concern the Aggies. Granted, this is an area where Manziel loves to call his own number, as 15 of his 21 rushing touchdowns came when the team was in the red zone. However, Manziel could be more effective throwing the ball in the most crucial area of the field.
As the playing field begins to shrink, Manziel needs to improve his accuracy and complete a higher percentage of his throws. As teams continue to game-plan against the reigning Heisman winner and try to cut off those running lanes, running up the gut won't always be an option.
Manziel proved last year that he is deadly with both his arm and legs, but if he can bump that completion percentage a little higher once he reaches the red zone, he will have elevated his game to new heights.
Note: All screenshots were pulled from YouTube video uploaded by user SECDigitalNetwork andJPDraftJedi. All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Graphs were made usingonlinecharttool.com.