Hotard: Manziel sees room for improvement

Advocate staff photo by DERICK HINGLE -- Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel works at the Manning Passing Academy at Guidry Stadium. Photo shot on Friday July. 12, 2013, in Thibodaux, La.
Advocate staff photo by DERICK HINGLE -- Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel works at the Manning Passing Academy at Guidry Stadium. Photo shot on Friday July. 12, 2013, in Thibodaux, La.

By Scott Hotard

Advocate sportswriter

THIBODAUX — The last time Johnny Manziel attended the Manning Passing Academy, he was a three-star prospect who had not yet decided where he would play college football.

Jake Locker, Washington’s star quarterback, and former Texas A&M signal-caller Jerrod Johnson were among his counselors.

“Still in high school, I was just learning as much as I could,” Manziel recalled.

The biggest story of the 2012 college football season returned to Thibodaux this weekend as a counselor himself, much more a star attraction this time than simply some face in the crowd.

That’s how it goes when you’re weeks away from becoming the first sophomore to ever step on the field as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

A horde of reporters surrounded him Friday as Manziel took his seat in the Century Club at John L. Guidry Stadium wearing a well-worn Texas A&M baseball cap and began answering questions about a 2013 encore.

“The shoe’s on a different foot this time, coming from not having a lot of expectations last year to how it is this year and being a top-10 ranked team,” he said.

Manziel and the Aggies will wear this bull’s-eye together as they enter their second season in the Southeastern Conference.

A&M was expected to struggle last year after coming over from the Big 12, but the Aggies upset Alabama en route to finishing 11-2 and winning the Cotton Bowl. Manziel had never taken a college snap and was battling for the starting job through fall camp, but all he did was set the SEC record for total yards in a season.

Whether the fun keeps up likely will depend on how “Johnny Football” adjusts to the different schemes he sees from SEC defenses.

“He’ll have to adjust because they’ll throw different things at him that he hasn’t seen so far,” said Fox Sports color analyst Charles Smith, who’s working the Manning camp as well.

“It’s going to be like a chess match. The beauty for him is that on the offensive side of the football you have (coach) Kevin Sumlin, one of the better minds in the country.”

Manziel was asked how it felt knowing he was keeping Nick Saban up at night.

“I’ve seen stuff on Twitter about him being at the lake or something,” Manziel said, discarding the notion Alabama’s coach was losing sleep.

One thing Manziel knows he can do to make life tough on coaches like Saban is continue his development as a pocket passer.

That’s why he visited renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield in San Diego earlier this year and went through a series of workouts with him. Most of the training was based on footwork, including one session that took place on the beach.

“When your footwork is right, the ball comes out a little better because your feet are under control,” Manziel said.

One fan of the quarterback believes he’ll be just fine.

“If he stays healthy,” Archie Manning said, “I don’t see any reason why he won’t have the same type of year.”