Johnny Manziel's speed coach says QB will have big impact in NFL

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Now that the 2014 NFL Draft is over, Ryan Flaherty wants you to know one thing about protégé Johnny Manziel.

"He's special and he's not like everyone reads in the media," Flaherty said Thursday. "He's just very hyper-focused. He's just a fun kid.

"When I worked with him, he would have an entourage that was with him all the time. When we would go into the weight room -- which normally would be for four hours a day -- we would kick everybody else out. He would be serious about his workout, but he would also goof around like a normal kid would at his age."

Flaherty should know. He is a speed and strength coach for Prolific Athletes, an athletic performance training company, based in Carlsbad, California, of which he also is a founder and CEO. With a background in kinesiology and USA Track & Field research, he trains more than 80 NFL athletes to increase and maintain their speed.

He trained Manziel from the former Aggie's New Year's Eve bowl game until mid-April. After more than three months of one-on-one work, few people know Manziel as well as Flaherty, training him seven days a week.

He helped the former Texas A&M quarterback push his 40-yard dash time to 4.68 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Manziel posted the top two times in the event's key agility competitions, the three-cone drill (6.75 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.03 seconds).

Flaherty expects Manziel to be something special when he takes over the starting job with the Cleveland Browns, who selected him 22nd in last week's NFL draft. He thinks Cleveland is a perfect fit for Manziel.

Flaherty said Manziel will change that city. He bases that on what he saw at his clinic and how Manziel outperformed defensive backs who were competing against him in the combine.

"That Johnny Cleveland or Johnny Football thing is going to take off in a way I don't think that city realizes," Flaherty said. "People are overanalyzing him, saying, 'Awe, he won't be able to do what he did in college on an NFL field.' I think he will be able to do more.

"... I don't think the NFL has seen a quarterback that can move and is as agile and with the ability to throw the ball as this kid does. ... I'm just excited for the day when everyone sees he can do exactly what he did in college if not more."

Flaherty thinks the presence of quarterback Brian Hoyer will help Manziel learn with the Browns.

"Brian is a smart veteran guy," Flaherty said. "For Johnny to spend a year or two behind him, I think it would be a really good time for him."

Yes, Flaherty doesn't expect Manziel to start immediately. He sees the Browns urging Manziel to sit and learn -- at least for a short period.

"I think that would be a really good thing for Johnny," he said. "It's not that I don't see him having the potential to start -- he's more than capable of winning the job right away -- I think the team and the organization are going to want to let him grow for a little bit."

Flaherty doesn't buy the arguments that Manziel, who has played in the warm-weather state of Texas his entire life, will struggle in Cleveland's cold, snowy weather that takes over in late fall.

"He's tough as nails," Flaherty said. "There's nothing that's going to stop him from succeeding. Weather is not going to be a factor for him."

All of the trainers and coaches at Prolific Athletics believe Manziel is physically different from any quarterback they have seen, Flaherty said.

In fact, during one of their weekly meetings about clients, the consensus was that Manziel had passed the facility's medical tests with flying colors, had more body power for his weight and showed more flexibility than any of their quarterback clients. That includes one of their prized pupils, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

"Our physical therapist said he's never been given a quarterback that tested that high in flexibility," Flaherty said. "In other words, he's not going to get hurt unless a 300-pound guy lands on his leg.

"There's something about his body that has tons of flexibility. He's super strong for his body weight. It doesn't really matter how fast or how strong he is in the NFL. It's all about the flexibility to avoid injury."

From teammates to coaches, from trainers to handlers, Flaherty said he can't find anyone who works with Manziel to speak badly of him. He found little to change his mind after attending Manziel's pro day.

"But look at (top pick) Jadeveon Clowney," Flaherty said. "His head coach (Steve Spurrier) said on the radio, 'Well, he's got some problems with his work ethic.' If his head coach is saying that, then it's probably way worse than it seems.

"Johnny's teammates said they would go to battle with him. They really stood by him."

Flaherty is particularly proud of one of those Texas A&M teammates, 6-foot-4 wide receiver Mike Evans. He was drafted seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after drastically improving his 40-yard dash time from 4.65 to 4.46 seconds.

"When Mike first landed at our San Diego facility, he was projected as a mid- to late first-round pick," Flaherty said. "We heard he was projected to go the (Baltimore) Ravens at No. 18.

"From Mike having a really, really good combine and pro day, we think we helped himself improve by $10 million in his contract by going from No. 18 to No. 7. ... Mike is going to be one of my more famous clients when all is said and done."

Speaking of fame, Flaherty said part of the problem with Manziel's public persona is too many people "dive into what he says" and look for ways to interpret it.

"He's been under such a microscope, he has a very grown up way about him when he's speaking," Flaherty said. "But even though he seems to be coached about how to speak, he has not. That's how he is. He has developed some survival mechanisms to handle the media.

"... If social media had been around back when Ryan Leaf was drafted, we would have heard 10 times what we heard about Johnny. Besides, ESPN has made him out to be a media darling -- or enemy."

Flaherty said Manziel and him have talked about how the criticisms will make the new Browns quarterback a better NFL player.

"The good part is now he can focus on going to play football," Flaherty said. "The circus is over. All this hoopla of people wondering where he's going to go and what will happen is done.

"It just comes down to him playing and that's what he's best at."

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