Johnny Manziel? Work ethic? Oh, that's a good one.
Seriously, this wunderkind from Texas A&M put in some hard hours on the field to win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman, carry a horrible defense as a sophomore and light up the SEC for two seasons.
The alleged fast-lane lifestyle of his recent past aside, all indications are that Manziel is all business as he prepares to be selected near the top of the 2014 NFL draft. Whichever team takes the leap of faith on Johnny Football—despite his perceived red flags—will be pleased for years to come because he will put in the work to do the job of franchise quarterback right.
Check out what a Raiders executive said to ESPN's Adam Caplan regarding Manziel's approach—it gives an idea of how the perception about the dynamic quarterback's work ethic should be changing:
Think about the scrutiny Manziel faced as a collegiate superstar, where he put the Aggies program on his back, bolstered College Station as a premier destination for top-tier talent and generated massive revenue for the school. Manziel has dealt with being the face of a franchise before—even if it wasn't labeled as such.
Did he make mistakes? Sure—but everyone does in life, and most would perhaps emerge from the white-hot spotlight Manziel has been under in far worse shape. Imagine being 19 or 20 years old for that span of time, tagged with near-unprecedented athletic fame and having to live up to the hype, game after game, while somehow avoiding all the temptations that come with such gaudy status.
It was almost inevitable that Manziel would be influenced by other celebrities giving him attention and even seeking him out.
In an interview with ESPN's Jon Gruden, Manziel implied that he could could have said "no" more often and stayed within the confines of his college town. However, he also expressed how he learned from the experience, per USA Today's Nina Mandell:
I was asked to do a lot of things. I was asked to do certain things that some people weren’t asked to do. My mom always told me "There’s a time and a place for everything." And during the spring and after the Heisman, when things happened so fast, I did too much. And I put too much on my own plate and didn’t say no enough and should have said no more. And should have stayed in my realm and stayed in College Station and hung out.
Going through those trials and tribulations—the exact nature of whatever they were few will probably ever know—has helped prepare Manziel for what lies ahead off the field in the pros. That's the most dangerous part. A player can have all the talent in the world, but if he doesn't put in the work away from the gridiron, it doesn't matter.
Gruden also believes that whichever team takes Manziel in the first round won't regret it, per Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch:
All indications are that Manziel is capable of putting in the work and wants to do it, too. He could have dropped off after winning the Heisman as a freshman, but instead he made massive strides as a pocket passer. That's the reason he's being talked about as a top-flight draft pick in the first place.
Somehow this fact gets lost in all the noise and in the reputation that precedes him. Manziel's work with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. has aided his big development over the past year from the pocket—where rumor has it every franchise signal-caller must thrive to be a true, sustainable success.
Whitfield continues to work with and push Manziel, and he implies that there is no questioning the young man's drive, per Jeff Schudel of The Morning Journal:
You can’t wake up, get out of bed, and do what he’s done the last two years if he wasn’t all about football. It’s historical...The word compete is thrown around a lot. There are some guys that will compete and try hard. There’s a difference. The other guys have an "Over-my-dead-body" attitude. That Johnny has in common with the other guys. You don’t just have to hear me say it. Hit the play button and see it. I think Johnny Manziel has the best antenna in sports — the awareness, the feel, his short area quickness, getting in and out of jams. He’s special — quick thinking, quick eyes. I think that’s a unique trait of his.
To address concerns about his diminutive size (5'11", 207 lbs) and consequential durability, Manziel has been putting in work with trainer and speed coach Ryan Flaherty.
As Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reported recently, Flaherty is already helping Manziel adjust to the NFL by changing his sometimes reckless style of play. In building Manziel's strength, increasing his speed and teaching him to slide properly, the elements are in place for Flaherty to aid Manziel's transition. Check out some of the tangible progress he's made:
...Flaherty has worked with Cam Newton and Andrew Luck and says Manziel is one of the best athletes he's ever been around. At one stretch leading up to the combine, Flaherty had Manziel run 24 timed 40s over a six-day period. There were also lots of deadlifts and plyometrics. Manziel's deadlift went from 500 pounds to 680. Manziel's vertical jump also went from 29 inches to 32 1/2.
A more measured approach to his health and a perpetually invigorated effort to get better is similar to the one Manziel is taking with his celebrity away from football. It serves as an appropriate foil to show he's serious about an upcoming NFL quarterback gig.
The NFL Scouting Combine saw Manziel with a stoic countenance before the gaggles of media members waiting to see what he'd say, and the scrutiny he's faced has somewhat diluted his impassioned persona. It is yet another step in the evolution of Johnny Football. So far, he's done a pretty strong job of handling all the attention and performing well on the field, and now he's figuring out how to balance his candid nature off the field.
As electric as Manziel is with his sixth-sense ability to feel pressure and his agility to scramble away from it, his underrated arm talent, uncanny accuracy, high football IQ and his recent training will be why he's drafted high and will be a great NFL quarterback for years to come.
All of that is a result of his personal growth and the work he's put in as an individual. The hope is that remnants of Johnny Football remain as he commences one of the more highly anticipated journeys in recent pro football history.