Before the latest bit of melodrama enveloped him, the pack of reporters dissipated and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel spit out responses to a few stragglers Thursday.
A spokesman wandered through the media room at John L. Guidry Stadium last week at the Manning Passing Academy and bellowed that only a minute remained for interviews. Quarterbacks filed out of the room back into the balmy air, reporting back to work as counselors. And Manziel admitted living an increasingly public life in the offseason after winning the Heisman Trophy is still an evolving state of affairs.
There were the pics snapped of him cavorting with coeds in a Scooby-Doo costume. The courtside seats in Dallas for a Mavericks-Heat game. The trip to Canada and for an outing with rapper Drake. The shoving incident with a Aggies graduate assistant after throwing three interceptions in a scrimmage.
“All of a sudden everything changed,” Manziel said. “I never knew how it was going to be. It took me a while to figure it out, and I’m still figuring out.”
Across the room, fellow SEC quarterbacking luminary AJ McCarron of Alabama proved an appropriate example of contrast when asked about the craziest experience after Alabama won its second consecutive BCS championship.
“I’m not a flashy guy,” he said. “The biggest knock people can say is I get tattoos. I don’t go out and do wild things. I try to stay out of that spotlight.”
Indeed, the best quarterbacks in the nation’s premier conference are perfect foils as the unofficial start of football season arrives with SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. — a three-day chatfest beginning Tuesday where nine starting signal-callers will take center stage.
“In 2006, when I started doing SEC games, I popped in the tape to watch the quarterbacks,” CBS analyst Gary Danielson said. “I called up my friend and said, ‘These guys are not very good.’ That’s not true anymore.”
And it’s the swashbuckling Manziel and even-keeled master of efficiency McCarron pacing the field, highlighted by their burgeoning friendship away from it.
“He knows if he needs advice or anything, I’m right here for him,” McCarron said. “People try to make football and competition a thing. When we get inside the white lines, yeah, we’re playing to win the game. But football is just a game. It’s not life.”
It’s two months away, but the secondary ticket market for a Sept. 14 rematch between Texas A&M and Alabama indicates the hoopla surrounding a their meeting in College Station: An average price of $696 and one seller putting a $999,999 cost on his ticket. The quarterbacks were probed for their thoughts on this topic — the matchup and ticket prices — before fall camp even arrived.
“No,” McCarron said of paying the going rate for tickets. “TV is just fine.”
Part of the allure in analyzing the star power of Manziel and McCarron is the process by which it has been attained — one from the style in which he plays and the other from the substance of his achievement.
Three years into his career, McCarron still can be saddled with the label of a system quarterback in Alabama’s pro-style offense. To laud McCarron is to appreciate how cleanly he plays the position, throwing for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns while compiling an NCAA-leading 175.3 quarterback rating. Take the merits of a potential Heisman Trophy campaign: A chief selling point is the pursuit of a third consecutive BCS title.
In effect, McCarron winning the sport’s highest honor is akin to an actor piling up respected credits and winning an Academy Award for lifetime achievement.
“He’s going to have to be perceived as doing something that someone has never done,” said Chris Huston, who analyzes the Heisman race at CBSSports.com. “It’s very hard for these game-manager type quarterbacks to do it. You’ll need the field collapsing under its own weight.”
Not that such an assessment draws the wrath of McCarron.
“I don’t try to do anything flashy,” he said. “I try to win ballgames. If I’ve got to hand the ball off or take care of the ball, that’s fine with me. I learned to scale back. I came in a gunslinger, and I can make plays. I had to learn to bring it back to fit our offense.”
Danielson said McCarron shed the label of game-manger with his winning drive at LSU last season — “He showed he’s a threat,” he said — but will see his role remain the same after the Crimson Tide drew a lesson from being upset by Texas A&M.
“They could have pushed them all over the football field, and they were,” Danielson said. “That’s what they did against Georgia and Notre Dame. It’s hard for a coaching staff to go against how they visualize the game. They’re going to go back to their style of play that they believe in.”
Then there is Manziel, whose style seems to ooze charisma.
“He’s like a point guard,” Danielson said. “He’s a creator. He’s just seeing things happening and is comfortable in a freelance setting.”
But there was substance, too. Producing an SEC-record 5,116 yards of offense and 47 touchdowns speak for themselves, but the native of Tyler, Texas, provides enough melodrama off the field to sate our curiosity. But it also has fueled criticism about whether he has reveled too long in the afterglow of a record season.
“It’s only fatigue for people on Twitter following it all the time,” Danielson said. “We make too much of everything with our social media and following everything on our smart phones. If you’re sick of hearing about it, turn your phone off.”
Of greater concern is whether Manziel can conjure up another productive season under different conditions.
Gone is former offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, taking his kismet with Johnny Football to the head coaching job at Texas Tech. The reliable hands and route running of Ryan Swope left when the senior graduated. And then there is facing a slate of defenses with time to study and adapt.
So far, Jake Spavital, a 27-year-old who tutored Geno Smith at West Virginia, and the promoted Clarence McKinney have meshed well as co-offensive coordinators, Manziel said.
“They bring a lot to the table,” Manziel said. “Kliff was a little bit different. Spav’s a little bit different. Coach McKinney is just solid throughout. It’s been good to mix it up.”
As far as Manziel vying for a second Heisman, Huston is naturally pessimistic. There’s the likelihood of a dip in production and the deep pool of standout quarterbacks, such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tahj Boyd, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and McCarron.
“(Other players) are going to emerge,” Huston said. “People tend to get fatigued hearing about a player and go searching for a new thing. Those factors tend to conspire over the years.”
There’s one certain truth, though: McCarron and Manziel should provide enough fodder to keep us entertained.
“We’ll all be watching,” Danielson said, “to see how it plays out.”
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