WAYNE, N.J. – While the talking heads and pundits question Johnny Manziel's ability to transition to the NFL, Miami Dolphins legend and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino said he sees a bright future for the Cleveland Browns first-round pick. That is, of course, if he can stay healthy.
Marino doesn't see the same issues that caused teams to pass over Manziel until the Browns took him 22nd in this past May's NFL draft. He has no real issues with Manziel's lack of stature or a playing style that some think won't cut it in the faster, more aggressive NFL. Instead, Marino thinks the former Texas A&M gunslinger has the skill set to get to the next level.
“You learn and play as hard as you can and I think Johnny has that attitude. I think sometimes everybody gives him more attention for having fun or whatever. I really like his attitude on the field, how he plays the game,” Marino told Yahoo Sports. “Hopefully that translates to the NFL."
Marino knows what it's like to become a success after being passed over in the draft.
In the 1983 NFL draft, Marino fell to No. 27 as five quarterbacks were taken ahead of him in that draft. Some, like Jim Kelly and John Elway, went on to have splendid careers. Others such as Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge, well, not so much. Before the draft, Manziel was seen as a possible first overall pick to the Houston Texans. Most had him as a consensus top 10 pick.
Few had him falling to No. 22, not unlike Marino's draft odyssey in 1983. But Marino ended up in a great place with the Dolphins and head coach Don Shula. He thinks that Manziel and Cleveland could be a good fit as well.
"He can make most of the throws," said Marino, who spoke after he helped open an Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza location in Wayne, N.J., and signed autographs for several Dolphins fans. "He’ll be fine but the biggest concern is health-wise. He needs to stay healthy. He’s not the biggest of guys.”
Marino still pays close attention to the game. In particular, Marino is impressed with the new generation of star quarterbacks coming into the league.
Manziel represents this new generation of quarterbacks, typified by Cam Newton of the Panthers and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers. Those quarterbacks can stay in the pocket and make the throws but can also beat the defense with their legs.
It is this new blend of signal callers, a dual-threat presence in the pocket that makes Manziel special. Although Marino was never known for his mobility, and pretty much defined the classic pocket quarterback ("I was athletic till my knee surgeries," Marino argued), he doesn't see the trend going away anytime soon.
"I think it's the style of offense that high schools are running, colleges are running," Marino said. "Wide-open, spread 'em out. I took a shotgun snap maybe once in awhile when I was a kid. They do it all the time. Sometimes when they get older, you have to now teach them how to take a snap. That's a whole different deal. In college, you used to be under center and now they come up and they're out of the shotgun or the Pistol or whatever. It's something they need to deal with.”
And Marino, who was one of the best young quarterbacks in NFL history, said quarterbacks today come into the league far more prepared for the pros than when he was young.
“I think because the young kids growing up are in offenses where they want you to run some, but also throw," Marino said. "Some offenses want you to throw 30, 40, 50 times a game in high school. I never did that growing up; if I threw 20 times a game it was a lot. So they have that experience that I think will help in the long run."
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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer