I might be the one dissenting voice in the room, but I believe the criticism of Manziel's behavior in the wake of his performance against Rice on Saturday has been overblown by most of the national media. While I certainly don't condone his lack of sportsmanship, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty, I also understand there is constant banter between opponents on the field, including a fair amount of trash talk. Manziel's demonstrative behavior appeared to be in response to some of the chirping from a number of animated and testy Rice defenders in the second half.
Now, I understand most coaches, fans and observers would simply tell Manziel to ignore the chatter and focus on making plays on the field, but anyone who has closely watched the Heisman Trophy winner over the past year understands he is a high-strung player who feeds off the "hate" spewed in his direction. In fact, I believe his swagger and intensity are strong points of his game, and a major reason why the college football world fell in love with him a season ago. I also believe it is one of the reasons he enjoys "rock star" status from celebrities, pro athletes and high school players across the country. (I can't tell you how much love and adoration he received from the nation's top 150 high school players at Elite 11 and The Opening at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. over the summer.)
From a scouting perspective, I certainly wasn't bothered by the fact Manziel engaged in playful chatter with a few Rice defenders during the game. I've played with three quarterbacks -- Brett Favre, Jim Kelly and Rich Gannon -- who were intense competitors willing to exchange words with defenders in the middle of games. Favre, who Manziel grew up idolizing as a youngster, was one of the best trash talkers in the game and he routinely used those exchanges to fuel his competitive fire (see video with him and Warren Sapp). Tom Brady and a host of other franchise quarterbacks have also been known to chirp a little on the field to get their competitive juices flowing on game day.
That's why Manziel's taunting will be kept in perspective by NFL scouts and coaches. People closely associated to the game understand the "gladiator mentality" needed to play at a high level; they will respect Manziel's need to enhance the chip on his shoulder by engaging in spirited discussions on the field. While Manziel will need to tone down his act a little to avoid accumulating unsportsmanlike penalties, I don't believe his boisterous on-field behavior will seriously impact his evaluation this fall.
Clowney's first impression
With so much hype surrounding Jadeveon Clowney's status as a potential No. 1 overall pick, I took a close look at the South Carolina defensive end in his season debut. While he certainly didn't disappoint from a talent standpoint, I was very disappointed with his stamina and conditioning. Clowney frequently looked gassed in the middle of drives, and the fact he took himself out of the game is troubling considering his disruptive potential off the edge. Of course, I'm not trying to diminish the sweltering conditions at game time (95 degrees with high humidity) or the rapid tempo dictated by North Carolina, but expectations are higher for a player considered to be the top prospect in college football.
When I quizzed a few scouts at the Alabama-Virginia Tech game about Clowney's questionable conditioning, most were surprised by his lack of endurance, but few viewed it as a major concern. An NFC West scout in attendance told me Clowney has routinely taken plays off throughout his career, and that he seemingly has a "hall pass" to do whatever he wants. The scout went on to tell me he wasn't bothered by the preferential treatment, but he believes Clowney could benefit from a "hard-nosed" coach who demands that he "brings it on every down" at the next level. He added that Clowney's talents and physical tools are "off the charts," but he will need to learn how to put it all together to become more than a "one-dimensional" pass-rush specialist as a pro.
While I remain convinced Clowney is the most impressive defensive prospect in college football, he still has a lot of work to do to prove he is a worthy candidate as the No. 1 overall pick.
Brandt: Hot 100 seniors
While many are just now getting introduced to Khalil Mack, Gil Brandt has been onto the Buffalo LB for some time now. Brandt has Mack listed among his top 10 senior prospects. More ...
Mack as good as advertised
A few weeks ago, I shed some light on why Buffalo LB Khalil Mack has created a buzz in he NFL scouting community, and he confirmed his status as one of college football's top stars with a spectacular performance against Ohio State. Mack totaled nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown, while displaying the speed, athleticism and instincts to be a major playmaker at the next level. Most impressively, he looked like the best player on the field, which is important for a small-school standout with limited opportunities to play against elite competition during the fall.
When I asked a few scouts about Mack prior to the season, they couldn't stop raving about his athleticism and instincts. An AFC scout described him as a "natural playmaker" with a strong nose for the ball. Another AFC scout told me Mack would've been arguably the top outside linebacker in the 2013 class had he elected to enter the draft following his junior season.
With Mack putting on a sensational performance against the Buckeyes, the odds of Bulls' standout emerging as a Day 1 selection will certainly increase once evaluators take a hard look at the coaches tape.
Mettenberger good fit in Cameron offense
Keep an eye on LSU's Zach Mettenberger's development under former NFL offensive guru Cam Cameron. When Les Miles hired Cameron as the Tigers' offensive coordinator, he significantly improved Mettenberger's chances of becoming a top pick in the 2014 draft.
Things we learned
From Johnny Manziel's controversial return to Washington's statement win, here are the 41 things we learned from the first weekend of college football. More ...
Cameron, who has tutored the likes of Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco as an offensive coordinator, has installed a vertical-based passing game that ideally suits Mettenberger's strengths as a big-armed passer. The frequent utilization of play-action in the backfield creates big voids in the middle of the field by luring linebackers to the line of scrimmage. Although Cameron's system requires the passer to make more high-risk throws, the potential for explosive plays makes the scheme a quarterback's dream.
Looking at Mettenberger's strong performance against TCU, I believe Cameron's system and tutelage has already made a difference in the senior's game. Mettenberger repeatedly connected on a variety of intermediate throws between the hashes, while also stringing together a few completions on deep comebacks outside the numbers. He also took a few shots down the field on go-routes to take advantage of the single coverage on the outside.
Although Mettenberger's numbers (16-of-32 for 251 pass yards with one touchdown) didn't look impressive on the surface, the fact he generated a number of explosive plays represents significant growth. Moreover, his decisiveness in the pocket resulted in fewer negative plays for an offense that has struggled throwing the ball in recent years. Given Mettenberger's impressive physical dimensions, arm talent and improving game, he could climb steadily up draft boards as he becomes more comfortable in Cameron's system this fall.
Adams makes mark on big stage
One of the benefits I have of coaching high school football in Los Angeles and interacting with top high school players at various Nike football events is watching young players grow into college all-stars. Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams became a household name this weekend after leading his team to a dramatic upset over Oregon State on the road. The redshirt sophomore passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 107 yards with two scores.
I've personally witnessed Adams doing his magic on the field while he played at Alemany High School in Mission Hills, Calif., an L.A, suburb, as an opposing coach, and as one of his coaches at the 2011 LA Daily News All-Star Game. He impressed as a dual-threat playmaker with outstanding quickness and solid passing skills, but also showed exceptional leadership skills as a big-game performer on the field.
Those same traits were on display against the Beavers, as Adams picked apart the defense with precise throws following impromptu scrambles. He also showed big-game moxie in rallying his team to a go-ahead score with 18 seconds remaining in the game. While it is too soon to declare Adams a legitimate NFL prospect due his substandard physical dimensions (6-foot, 190 pounds), the fact he tore up a Pac-12 contender in spectacular fashion is definitely an impressive résumé-builder.