INDIANAPOLIS — A summary of Johnny Manziel in his much-anticipated meeting with the media on Friday: calm, professional, humble, smart and extremely well-rehearsed.
He was like an actor in a movie. His lines were studied and polished. The only thing missing was Spielberg in the background yelling, "Action!"
There's no question that Manziel was at times so phony you wondered if it was his press conference stunt double speaking. It was actually a little much. He wanted so bad to be the anti-Johnny Football it looked forced and awkward. This was too much prep work from his team. They transformed Manziel into Bill Belichick.
This is the way Manziel and his camp wanted it. They didn't want Johnny Football. They didn't want the gestures, the straight cash homey thingy he does with his hands. They wanted Johnny Corporate, Johnny Pro, Johnny Boring. And they got it.
Manziel didn't fully smile once. There were two near-smiles, but his idea of presenting a professional and polished demeanor overrode everything.
Team officials who have interviewed Manziel say they have seen some of the same thing. Extreme, almost awkward polish. More on that in a moment.
"I'm one of the most competitive people," he said, adding, "at the same time I want to be a leader as well."
More: "I want to be a guy that drops back, goes through my reads, my progressions."
More: "I play the game with a lot of heart and a lot of passion."
Manziel said he also isn't shying away from anything teams want to ask him.
It was clear what Manziel was doing. He was trying to erase his image as a cocky sumbitch and replace that word cocky with passionate or hardworking or competitive. Classic PR 101.
Manziel deftly deflected questions about his off-field antics by saying he would be open about his past without talking about his past. It was also interesting that he brought up some of his past issues without being asked about them. Again, very PR-savvy
It's not that anyone expected Manziel to rip off his shirt and scream into the microphone, but Manziel was so bland the USDA declared him pasteurized.
It remains amazing the path Manziel has taken to this point. It was just a year or so ago when the NFL viewed him mostly as a spoiled punk who showed no respect for the Manning family by blowing off their camp. Or became a serial autographer leading to a suspension.
At the time, NFL team executives told me they saw him as an uber-talented brat lacking the discipline—on and off the field—to be an NFL quarterback. I remember one scout months ago calling Manziel the anti-Russell Wilson: Wilson entered the sport with no baggage and the maturity of someone in his 40s, while Manziel appeared to possess the maturity of a first-grader.
Everything has shifted, and in typical NFL fashion the spectacular play of Manziel has all but trumped the maturity concerns…mostly. They are still there; it's just that he's gotten so good on the field teams are more willing to overlook some of Manziel's weaknesses.
Not every team. One general manager said that when his staff interviewed Manziel during the combine, he was extremely polished, almost too polished. There was a feeling they couldn't penetrate a highly rehearsed demeanor. There also remain concerns that Manziel is a spoiled rich kid who won't adjust to the more rigid lifestyle of the NFL.
In the NFL, Manziel might be suffering from a type of NFL bigotry. Players who grow up with wealth, in many ways, are penalized. They are stereotyped as lacking the hunger that players who grew up with few resources are assumed to possess.
After meetings Manziel had with other teams, he was described as electric, likable and smart, I'm told. In at least one case, a team asked him to dissect several defenses, as well as state how he would handle certain blitzes, and he was brilliant.
What that team walked away thinking was he was extremely knowledgeable and far more studied than they thought. "I would say he's not a one-read-and-run guy like some people believe," said one team official.
Manziel won't be liked unanimously, but more than enough teams will be impressed, and he will still go extremely early in the draft, maybe as the first overall pick. It could happen.
While teams lie constantly this time of year, Houston Texans coach Blll O'Brien said on Friday he doesn't care about a quarterback's height—Manziel is 5'11.75"—and he has coached quarterbacks that were lanky and tall or shorter.
We've seen players polish their image prior to the combine before. Players like Cam Newton or Manti Te'o are more recent examples. The combine is sometimes used as a cleansing process, a giant scrubber of past misdeeds.
That's what Manziel was doing with his press conference. Ignore the past gunslinger dude. The partying dude. The autograph-signing dude. Look at this Manziel. The polished guy. The true pro.