The best advice Johnny Manziel's former offensive coordinator has for the next man charged with designing a Manziel-led offense: let Johnny Football be Johnny Football.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital, who coached Manziel during his final season with the Aggies, suggested system fit (one that allows Manziel to make plays with his feet) above all else as the factor that will dictate whether Manziel is successful at the next level or not. Spavital also mentioned the Seahawks' Wilson-led offense as a good model for the former A&M star.
"If you get him in a good system, and the right system that works for him, I think he'll do great," Spavital told cleveland.com. "When I say that, I mean I don't think he'd be as successful being under center, 23 personnel (two running backs, three tight ends), hand the ball off, play action type of guy. Can he do it? Yes, but I think he's more kind of like what Russell Wilson did this year in Seattle, play him within a system that allows him to utilize his running ability and I think he'll succeed."
Spavital obviously doesn't see a need for Manziel to completely rein in his scrambling ways as he transitions to the NFL, and the calls to let Johnny be Johnny have gathered some steam as the draft (May 8-10) approaches. The refrain is a response to one of the biggest questions about Manziel: Will he, at 5-foot-11 3/4 and 207 pounds, tone down his penchant for opening himself up to hits enough in an effort to hold up physically at the next level?
Spavital, who also coached Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State and Geno Smith at West Virginia, said that issue has actually never been a concern for him, saying Manziel is too smart to let it become a problem in the NFL.
"His durability, I've never worried about that," he said. "With his competitiveness side, his emotional side, he'd lower his head and run people over but when he'd go up against Alabama, he'd scramble and he'd either run out of bounds or he'd slide. He's smart enough to understand the level of competition he's against, and he knows he can't go an entire season trying to run over people because he won't last that long, but that's something that you don't really have to worry about with him.
"Johnny always likes to compare his game to Russell Wilson's, and I think that's a great one for him to pattern his game after," Spavital continued. "When he was growing up, he emulated Michael Vick. That's his thing, using his feet to keep the play alive and it's what makes him so special."
Spavital also pointed to Manziel's intelligence in explaining why he thinks the prospect could adapt to playing in a version of the West Coast offense, such as the one the QB-needy Browns -- who hold the fourth overall pick -- are expected to run under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
As much as what Manziel does with his arm and feet is discussed, Spavital seems to think Manziel's mind is what could put him over the top as a pro.
If Manziel plays as smartly as his former offensive coordinator thinks he will he won't be the same old Johnny Football, but he'll certainly have increased his chances of becoming a quality NFL quarterback.