Johnny Manziel needs to stop using age as crutch

HOOVER, Ala. – Johnny Manziel would like to remind you he is 20 years old. His fans would like to remind you he is 20 years old. People who hate the media's prosecution of Manziel would like to remind you he is 20 years old.

Know who else is 20 years old?

Jadeveon Clowney.

The South Carolina pass rusher is actually younger than the Texas A&M quarterback by two months. Clowney showed up here at SEC Media Days on Tuesday and was extremely impressive. He said he knows how to stay out of trouble, how to stay off the Internet and how to use the offseason to get better. He said he hangs out with the same small group of people, and his routine is "eat, come home, play games." He said he does not drink. Clowney had the best highlight of the bowl season, crushing Michigan's Vincent Smith in Tampa on New Year's Day, and he came back faster and leaner.

He's 20 years old.

Manziel? He left the Manning Academy over the weekend and explained he was "tired, just exhausted." He insisted he overslept, wasn't hung over and the "mutual decision" to leave had "nothing to do with the activities of the night before." He said he had "a really busy schedule" and "wanted to get back to College Station and relax."

There is no crime in leaving the camp. Peyton Manning didn't care, and so no one else should. What's far more concerning, and relevant, is whether Manziel is improving on and off the field as rapidly as not only Clowney, but other quarterbacks in the SEC like A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Jeff Driskel. The Florida quarterback showed up here Tuesday and sounded like he was fully prepared for the season. He did not look "exhausted." He looked ready to play. Driskel has been obsessing about his team's loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl for months. Murray has surely been obsessing about his team's loss to Alabama in the SEC title game.

What has Manziel been obsessing about?

He has had tremendous chances to get better over the past few months. He spent time with LeBron James and Peyton Manning. Tim Tebow called him up last week. Those athletes are experts in dealing with scrutiny. All of them have been swarmed by "haters." James was considered a choker and a traitor. Manning was ripped for not beating the Gators, not winning the Heisman and not winning in the NFL playoffs. Tebow has had more scrutiny than perhaps any other athlete in recent sports history. Someone asked him in front of a room full of reporters if he's ever had sex.

Those guys can all help Manziel handle attention. Those guys have been embarrassed on national TV and have conquered obstacles on the field. Those guys can all help Manziel become the best athlete he can be. Will he listen?

And will he listen to Kevin Sumlin? The Aggies' head coach had some wise words on Wednesday, telling the media he has challenged Manziel to evolve "from an athlete who's a quarterback to a quarterback who's an athlete." That's profound advice. An athlete who is a quarterback relies on instincts and innate talent. A quarterback who's an athlete knows when to think, when to judge, when to evaluate. That advice applies off the field as well. Manziel has to learn when to take a step back and look further down the field. That's been a lesson learned by other 20-year-olds in the past. Lots of them.

Manziel won't be held back by his inappropriate tweets or his trip to the casino or his "dehydration" over the weekend. None of those things will hurt him or his school. Fans will get over it, reporters will get over it, and scouts will get over it. What might hurt him, however, is his thought process. Saying "I'm not going to change" and "I feel like everything's fine" sounds more like denial than understanding. He was asked Wednesday if he'll alter his lifestyle, and he hesitated. "I'm going to continue to live my life," he said. "I'm going to keep meeting people, going to concerts, playing golf."

There's nothing wrong with meeting people, going to concerts or playing golf. But are those ways to engage? Or are they ways to escape? Running away from challenges on the field made Manziel. Running away from them off the field will unmake him.

This isn't to say Manziel won't learn. He might. He's only a sophomore, and already a tremendous gift to his school and his sport. He's great with a chance to be greatest.

But when he shrugs off his mistakes with the easy crutch of saying he's 20 years old, he should remember that there is a superstar in his conference with just as much talent and zero baggage. Jadeveon Clowney is 20 years old, too.

And while we're not yet sure which direction Johnny Football is heading, we know for a fact that Clowney is heading directly at Manziel.

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