Johnny Manziel has had 'business-like approach' in AAF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Will Lewis definitely knows a thing or two about quarterback Johnny Manziel, whose professional career has been filled with well-documented ups and downs over the years.

Lewis, the general manager of the Memphis Express in the Alliance of American Football league, previously served as the director of pro scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs. In the past capacity, Lewis played a role in the evaluation process leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft when the Chiefs held the 23rd overall pick.

One of the players the Chiefs' player personnel department and coaching staff under then-general manager John Dorsey liked at the time? Manziel, of course.

"We did, I think, as thorough a job as you can do because at that time, obviously, Andy Reid was the head coach," Lewis told "Doug Pederson was the offensive coordinator, a former quarterback. Matt Nagy was the quarterbacks coach, another quarterback. Brad Childress was in there, another offensive-minded guy.

"And all these guys have worked with quarterbacks. So, we felt like we would get as much information -- as much insight into a guy like that -- as anybody and that's the way it worked out. So, it wasn't just Dorsey that was intrigued with him. Andy Reid was very much intrigued with him and you had those other guys."

During the 2014 draft, Manziel slid down the draft board to set up some drama.

The Chiefs had a legitimate chance to get him at No. 23 until the Cleveland Browns traded up from No. 26 to No. 22 and selected the signal-caller. The Chiefs then drafted outside linebacker Dee Ford and the rest, as they say, is history.

Had the Browns stood pat, however, a dilemma would have presented itself to the Chiefs. And apparently, don't be quick to discount a possible decision being made that might very well have altered the current quarterback situation in Kansas City.

"Truly, if it had all been just about the player, then they may not have Patrick Mahomes there today because everybody was very much impressed with Johnny as a player," Lewis said. "He competes, his mobility, his ability to throw the ball, his accuracy, all those things. They just went down the line and checked off the boxes."

Given his previous scouting information, Lewis fully embraced the opportunity to bring in Manziel, who joined the AAF on March 16 after a stint in the Canadian Football League.

"It didn't take a lot for me once he was available and we looked at how the playing order was going to line up, it didn't really take a long time to say, 'We're very much intrigued with him,'" Lewis said. "Plus, you kind of mix into the fact that our head coach is Mike Singletary.

"My job is to take on all the on the field-type things; Mike is very much a part of the person. His background, if there's something in there, maybe Mike can bring out the best in a guy and get him back on the right track. So, it just kind of meshed like that."

With a no-nonsense head coach -- a Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker, at that -- and support from Lewis, everything has been so far, so good with Manziel, who wasn't available to the media after Friday's practice.

Manziel made his AAF debut with limited action behind starter Brandon Silvers in Week 7, and Lewis said he's been impressed with how Manziel conducts himself as a professional by being on time for meetings to the point of being excited for them.

"He's had a business-like approach since he walked in here, but it's also been the energy that he's brought as well," Lewis said. "Sometimes the energy kind of comes because of perceived competition, sometimes it's just a guy's personality, just the aura about him."

Express wide receiver Reece Horn echoed his general manager on the 26-year-old quarterback.

"Just the caliber he brings with him, a great charisma about him," Horn told "The fans obviously love him and his name is a big brand, and that's the biggest thing I've learned.

"But once you get in meetings with him, running routes for him, catching the football for him, he's a great athlete, he's very competitive -- something that I'm also very competitive, so it's the same fire in each of us. He doesn't say too much, but he does say things that need to be said and helps correct some guys, just giving his two cents from his experience in his football career. It's a blessing to play with him and he's a great teammate."

In the meantime, Manziel is in a league full of players seeking redemption and attempting to prove they can play.

But if there's an ideal spot in the AAF for him, it would be tough to argue against playing for a general manager who is fully cognizant of what the quarterback can do on the football field from previously scouting him.

More important, the general manager fully supports players like Manziel as they chase their dreams for another shot in the NFL.

'I think for me, if there's a guy who's got the right frame of mind, he wants the second chance and he really believes that's all he needs is a second chance because things didn't go well the first time around whether it was on the field or off the field, it's about that guy," Lewis said. "And if he really believes it, then I'm more than willing to give an opportunity to showcase it."


With two straight games of 100-plus yards receiving, Express wide receiver Reece Horn is coming on.

Horn, whose 429 yards receiving on the season ranks third in the AAF, told after Friday's practice a lot of his recent success is directly attributed to the preseason work he and the team's quarterbacks put in during minicamp.

Chemistry between quarterback and wide receiver remains important, but it also helps when the receiver is confident in his abilities.

"Me personally, it comes from knowing what to do, what routes to run, get your depth and catching the ball," Horn said. "And then letting Brandon [Silvers] and every other quarterback know that's on this team that if you throw my way, I'll come down with it and help put points on the board for our offense any way I can."

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Horn has accomplished his mission in the past two games, totaling 15 catches for 242 yards and a touchdown on 19 targets, meaning he is catching a head-turning 79 percent of passes thrown his way over that span.

He has the perfect blend of size and speed that translates well in the NFL and Horn previously spent time in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, so perhaps he will catch more eyes with his recent tear.

And Horn knows the NFL scouts are watching Express games.

Still, he prefers not to think too much about what the future might hold for him when considering when the Express has three games remaining on the schedule, including Saturday's matchup against the AAF-leading Orlando Apollos at Liberty Bowl Stadium.

"This is what Memphis is about," Horn said. "We're hitting our stride late, but it's exciting. We're just taking it one game at a time, one week at a time.

"We're really focused on Orlando. Last week was a great win, a great fan base here. It was exciting, it was energetic and we've had a great week of practice. Mentally and physically, it's exciting. No doubt about it."

The stretch run also means it's time for Horn to show up for work like he's done the entire season, and perhaps extend a hot streak.

"Nothing changes for me," he said. "I just come and know my job, know what I have to do whether it's blocking the right guy or running the right route."


Express right guard Dallas Thomas' journey to the AAF is very much like his teammates and a majority of other players around the league.

Thomas entered the NFL as a third-round pick out of Tennessee with the Miami Dolphins in 2013 and spent four seasons with the Dolphins before being waived before the end of the 2016 regular season. He then signed a reserve/future contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, but didn't make it through roster cuts to the initial 53-man roster.

Now in the AAF and looking back at his time in the NFL, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Thomas told that he wished he did one thing better when it came to the mental aspect of professional football.

"When you get into the NFL, they're going to tell you to take notes, take notes," Thomas said. "So, you end up writing the stuff down, but when you go back and you look at it, you really don't understand it because you just wrote it down. Take your notes seriously, but write more clearly. Don't rush, don't be afraid to ask questions or ask them to repeat it again so you can have a better understanding."

Thomas has applied that lesson learned to his current job with the Express, and he showed versatility in Week 7 by kicking out from right guard to right tackle.

And he is thankful for the AAF gave him an opportunity to refine his craft and provide a form of reassurance that he still has skills.

"I knew I could always play and it just gave me the confidence boost that I needed to know that I can play," Thomas said. "No matter what happened in the past, I can play."


Saturday's matchup between the Apollos (6-1) and Express (2-5) provides a unique flavor.

The game features the only Heisman Trophy winners in the AAF, with Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier and Express quarterback Manziel.

Spurrier won the award in 1996 as a quarterback while at the University of Florida, and Manziel received the trophy in 2012 as a freshman at Texas A&M.


Arizona Hotshots quarterback John Wolford became the AAF's first two-time recipient of the league's Offensive Player of the Week after gathering the award for Week 7. Wolford, who previously won the award in Week 1, completed 15 of 19 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, while rushing for 44 yards and a touchdowns in Arizona's 32-15 win over the San Diego Fleet.

Express linebacker DeMarquis Gates was named the Defensive Player of the Week after producing a defensive gem of 10 tackles, two quarterback hits and a game-changing blocked punt in Memphis' 31-25 win over the Birmingham Iron.

San Antonio Commanders punter Joseph Zema collected the Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 46.6 yards per punt on five attempts. Zema also showed off his tackling skills by recording two stops in the Commanders' 19-15 win against the Salt Lake Stallions.

Follow Herbie Teope on Twitter @HerbieTeope

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