Five games into the 2013 season, it's time to recognize that Johnny Manziel isn't the same quarterback he was last year.
Is he more effective? Probably.
Is he more exciting to watch? Probably not.
But for all the questions surrounding Manziel about whether or not he'll mature off the field, there is no question is he quickly maturing on the field. The Heisman Trophy winner is staying in the pocket longer, and NFL scouts have commented all season that his passing accuracy is improved. TAMU coach Kevin Sumlin noted earlier in this week that Manziel is sliding to avoid contact at the end of runs, perhaps getting out of bounds to avoid an extra hit or two.
'We watched film, and in the passing game he was just sitting back there waiting," TAMU receiver Derel Walker said of Manziel's play against Arkansas last week. "He could have easily run, but he was trying to find somebody to get open downfield. That's a quicker touchdown. He's trying to become more of a pocket quarterback to show he can do that."
If anyone advised Manziel to play more like an NFL quarterback before the season began, it looks like he listened. At least, with one ear. He's still the greatest show in college football, and still befuddles defenses with his scrambling, almost at will. But there are a few numbers that can't be overlooked nearly halfway through the season.
Manziel has rushed for 314 yards this season on 48 carries. That puts him on a pace for around 750 this season, maybe 800, which is a far cry from the 1,410 yards he rushed for last year. At the same juncture last season -- five games in -- Manziel had rushed for 495 yards. If there is anything NFL scouts can't argue with regarding Manziel's evaluation, it's his escapability. He's got nothing left to prove in that regard.
A better pro evaluation may not necessarily be his motive -- Sumlin, clearly enough, has asked Manziel to operate from the pocket with greater frequency more for the Aggies' benefit than his own -- but regardless of motive, Manziel is showing more of what NFL scouts want to see. If he still leads the SEC in completion percentage at the end of the season, as he does now, that will resonate more with NFL clubs than a few hundred extra rushing yards.
"His accuracy has improved from last year, and his ball is coming out with a lot more velocity," said running back Ben Malena.
Manziel danced through the best defenses in college football's best defensive conference last season completely unscathed injury-wise, with a style that indicated not even a thought of self-preservation. It was a thing of beauty to watch, but it wouldn't have been in Manziel's best interest to have the same disregard for his body two years in a row.
So like most things of beauty, Manziel's 2012 season was fleeting, something to behold for far less time than it will be remembered. He's still a thrill-a-minute player.
But he's also a slightly different player.