Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Coaching out of the box

Two thoughts regarding Paul Guenther’s recent remarks about Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

First, why would the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals say anything publicly about the second-string quarterback of a division opponent?

“Honestly, I think the kid needs more time before anyone writes him off,” Guenther told ESPN recently. He meant Manziel, whose struggles in his rookie season have been well documented, needs more time to develop as a professional quarterback.

“Drew Brees did it,” he continued, referring to the New Orleans Saints quarterback who entered the National Football League in 2001 with the same height problem as Manziel. “I know Drew is a little bit thicker than Johnny, but about the same height.”

Truth is Manziel is a mere half-inch shorter than Brees and a few pounds heavier if we are to believe the stats put out by the teams. “I don’t see any reason why he can’t do it up there (in Cleveland),” Guenther said.

“He was such a high profile guy out of college and everyone expected what he did at Texas A&M, but it’s a man’s game. It’s a lot different (in the NFL) and it takes time. You have to take your lumps a little bit.”

Like the 30-0 embarrassment in Cleveland that was Manziel’s professional starting debut against the Bengals late last season. Two interceptions, three sacks and 80 yards through the air was as humbling a debut as any quarterback for the Browns since can’t remember when. Lumps from that game are just starting to disappear.

“I think he has good feet, is obviously a threat to run it and I think in the right system he can be a good player,” Guenther continued, obliquely suggesting he is not a fit in Cleveland because the Browns don’t run the right system.

“There was so much expected in his first game and maybe some of that was self-warranted, but it was so much from the fan base that you have to let him make mistakes.”

In no way, though, did the interview unlock the mystery as to why Guenther was talking about a rival quarterback. He’s got enough to worry about with his team to be concerned with someone like Manziel. It’s a head scratcher.

Now for the second thought. Guenther compared Manziel to Brees. Wrong quarterback. It should have been Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

Manziel is the anti-Brees quarterback for a number of reasons. First of all, the Saints’ quarterback has a terrific arm. Always did. Manziel’s is good, but not nearly as strong as Brees’.

He was a pocket-loving, gun-slinging quarterback coming out of Purdue and hasn’t stopped yet. Manziel, on the other hand, was not strictly a passer coming out of A&M. His game was predicated on making plays any way he could whether it was with his arm or feet. The ability to use his feet well was his greatest asset in college and he took full advantage.

Brees’ greatest asset? His arm and the ability to quickly find and then hit the open receiver. He scored only 15 touchdowns in his three-plus years at Purdue, but threw 90 touchdown passes with 45 interceptions (20 in his sophomore season). He ran for 900 yards, 521 as a senior.

Manziel in college ran instinctively when his first two receivers (often times only one) weren’t open. He compiled an amazing 1,410 yards on the ground (on 201 carries, many of them designed) in his first season with the Aggies, scoring 21 TDs.

He amassed 5,116 yards of total offense in his Heisman Trophy winning season with 47 total touchdowns and a comparatively low 22 interceptions in 595 throws.

He used his feet to bail himself out in college when he had trouble finding his target, which was too often. He gave up early on plays. In the limited time we have seen him with the Browns, he still bolts from the pocket way too soon.

Brees knew exactly what to do when that happened in college and did not bail prematurely. His patience and ability to sense the pass rush were rewarded. And it hasn’t changed in the NFL.

Now let’s turn to Wilson. Shorter than Manziel by nearly two inches, he is much more like the Cleveland quarterback than Brees insofar as to what he is capable of doing with one notable exception.

He often bails early, but his ability to escape pressure and buy time combined with his innate sense of knowing where that pressure is coming from and making the right play at the right time is what separates him from other NFL quarterbacks. Manziel failed miserably at that last season in his brief appearances.

If Guenther was using Brees as inspiration for Manziel, wrong again. Brees has carved out a solid career in 14 seasons, but has been to just one Super Bowl and won it. Wilson has been to two Super Bowls in his first three seasons and won one. If there is anyone for Manziel to aspire to, it should be Wilson.

Other than that, coach Guenther, carry on.

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