MOBILE, Ala. — We polled six SEC players who have had a good look at Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel over the past two seasons, and they roundly see him as a top talent who should be able to translate his skills in the NFL as he prepares for May's draft.
Among the opinions of him we gathered here at the Senior Bowl, here’s a sample of them:
What stood out the most about facing Johnny Manziel?
Auburn DE Dee Ford: "Toughest player I ever faced. He’s a playmaker. He’s a true competitor."
Vanderbilt S Kenny Ladler: "I think he’s just unorthodox. He creates his own plays, he knows how to manage his offense well and he makes plays that normal quarterbacks usually don’t make."
Arkansas DE Chris Smith: "The toughest, most physical offensive line we faced this year was Texas A&M, and those guys — Jake Matthews, especially — did such a good job protecting for [Manziel]. But he’s a playmaker, man. There’s no two ways about it. A lot of people talk bad about him, but he’s got it. He’s got eyes in the back of his head. Every time I got close to him, I felt like he got away at the last second. I sacked him one time, but I swear it felt like it took 15 or 20 seconds to get to him. That’s the thing about him: He can just keep plays alive. He’s going to be really good at the next level."
Alabama LB Adrian Hubbard: "Everybody can be beat, but he’s a great player and he does what he does well within their system. It’s built for him to [improvise] and make plays on the run. I don’t know how that will work [in the NFL], but he’s tough and competitive."
LSU S Craig Loston: "He’s a great college player. We did a great job against him twice [in 2012 and 2013]. We defended him as well as anyone, I think. I don’t know if he’ll make a great pro because I am not paid to make those decisions, but he has skill."
Auburn CB Chris Davis: "Man, why are you asking me about Johnny Manziel? [laughs] No, he’s a great player, a truly great player."
What was your team's defensive gameplan to try to stop him?
Ford: "We just went at him. We weren’t going to sit back. The year before we did that. I told my coach [in 2013], ‘Hey, we can’t do that. We’ve got to go at him.’ It paid off in the end. I got to him [for sacks] twice at the end of the game."
Ladler: "We tried to contain him so he didn’t scramble and you try to make him throw short routes. He would run around until he just found someone open. We tried to make sure that didn’t happen."
Smith: "A lot of teams try to just contain him, but our coaches wanted us to go get him. That was the message before the game: Go get him. If you sit back and just try to contain him and keep him in the pocket, he’ll kill you with his arm. We tried to go after him, and we did a pretty good job of it, but Johnny’s going to be Johnny."
Hubbard: "We tried to put him in a little cup and kind of cramp his space a little bit. That's what the coaches wanted. But he’s Johnny Manziel, and he can beat your plan. Even if you do your job, he can get away. He’s one of the best we’ve faced."
Loston: "Our plan was to try to keep him in the pocket, make him beat us from the pocket. We did a pretty good job of keeping him bottled up throughout the whole game. We kept him in the pocket for the most part, and he caught us in a couple of errors, but I think our D-line did a great job of collapsing things around him and forcing him into some pressure throws."
Davis: "He’s kind of hard to prepare for. He’s a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. He can beat you with his feet and his arm. It’s tough to prepare for a guy like Johnny Manziel because not many guys can play like that, so it’s hard to [simulate]."
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