I first learned about Johnny Manziel a few years back from Tom Rossley, who was Texas A&M's offensive coordinator under then-head coach Mike Sherman and the coach responsible for recruiting Manziel to A&M. Manziel was an exciting player in high school, but there were questions about what kind of passer he was going to be because he was one of those guys who won more games with his feet than his arm.
The story goes that Rossley was so enamored with Manziel that, during a recruiting meeting, he got up on the table to explain what he felt Manziel could mean to A&M.
Manziel was redshirted in 2011 at A&M because Ryan Tannehill -- who went on to become the Dolphins' first-round pick in the 2012 draft -- was the starting quarterback that season. I was present at Manziel's second college start, against SMU in Dallas on a hot afternoon, and before the game started, Chris Polian, the former Colts executive, came up to me on the field and said, "You're in for a treat today."
I quickly realized that he was right. Manziel led the Aggies to a 48-3 win that day and made some of the most unbelievable plays with his feet and his arm. When you consider how hot it was that afternoon, you just marveled while watching him run around on the field and make those incredible plays. Remember, too, that this was a new coaching staff that he was playing for -- A&M had fired the Sherman/Rossley group, so Manziel was starting under a completely new coaching staff and directing a new offense. That made his performance that day, as far as I'm concerned, even better, because he was doing something he'd just learned.
Later that year, I watched Manziel against Alabama on the road, and he led the team to victory over the No. 1 team in the nation, a team that went on to win the national championship. Manziel finished his first season in the 2012 Cotton Bowl by leading A&M to a 41-13 win over a very good Oklahoma team. His performance that night was unbelievable, both running and passing.
I think Manziel came to Texas A&M as a running-type QB, but quickly became a very good passer. I've said many times that he reminds me of Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton when he played in the NFL, only I think Manziel has better athletic ability.
I will be at Manziel's workout Thursday and feel that people will be surprised at how well he passes that day, both in terms of accuracy and also when they see his arm strength.
Manziel is going to be an outstanding NFL player for many years, for three reasons: He's one of the great competitors of all time out of college; he's an exceptional athlete; and he has the ability to bring your team from behind and win games when you're hopelessly out, like he did against Duke in this year's Chick-fil-A Bowl.
This guy is something special, and I'm excited to watch him in person Thursday.
Here's a quick rundown of this week's top pro days and the one or two things I'll be watching for at each event:
Maine (Monday): I want to get a closer look at defensive back Kendall James, who put up some great numbers at the combine, including a 4.44 in the 40 and a 6.81 three-cone drill.
Iowa State (Tuesday): My main interest at this pro day will be to watch punter Kirby Van Der Camp, who was not at the combine.
North Carolina (Tuesday): A very good group of players will be here, starting with top tight end Eric Ebron, but I also want to see what kind of pass-rushing ability Kareem Martin has; he was one on my list of under-the-radar combine standouts. Center Russell Bodine opened some eyes when he threw the bar up 42 times at the combine, but I'm interested to know if his strength translates to the field.
McGill University (Wednesday): I want to learn more about offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), who played in the East-West Shrine Game.
Syracuse (Wednesday): Defensive lineman Jason Bromley also was at the East-West Shrine Game. I want to see him go through his drills and get a better idea of how good he can be.
Texas (Wednesday): This has always been a favorite stop of coaches and scouts, and I think it will be the same with new head coach Charlie Strong running the show. There are questions about whether Jackson Jeffcoat can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. I think he'll surprise some people. I also want to see how fast WR Mike Davis is; he did not run at the combine.
Ball State (Thursday): It's a safe best some NFL quarterback coaches will be here to watch Keith Wenning, who I think has an NFL future. He was at the combine, and I'll be very interested to see how he does in his workout here.
Georgia Southern (Thursday): Quarterback Jerick McKinnon is a very interesting player. He's short but very well built. He has good speed and athletic ability and showed off both at the combine, where he ran 4.41 in the 40 and had 32 reps in the bench press. I want to know if he can transition to running back in the pros.
Johnny Manziel's pro day (Thursday): Need I say more? You'd better arrive early to get a seat if you want a good view for this one.