Texas A&M football has a tendency to make the safe choice. With R.C Slocum, the strategy relied on the defense keeping them in every game and the offense doing just enough to pull out a victory. If the offense made smart choices and didn’t turn the ball over, the mission was accomplished.
When Dennis Franchione arrived, the belief was that mentality would change—that the high risk/high reward of a fake punt or reverse pass would be attempted. What it turned out to be was Slocum’s offense in a spread formation, the problem being the defense no longer had the ability to play its role from the RC era. Mike Sherman attempted to adapt away from the mindset. In his first year, he called plays like a NFL game. If it was a 4th and 1 from the 5-yard-line, he took the “guaranteed” points every time. It took him that first year to realize that NCAA football doesn’t work that way. The NCAA is a world where both opponents can score into the 50’s and it wouldn’t be anything new. Touchdowns win games, not field goals. Though he changed his routine up quite a bit with quickening the pace of the offense, Sherman still tended to revert back to his NFL ways. This is not a knock on the strategy; it’s safe and won’t lose ballgames. But for where the Aggies currently are in the stage of their football program, perhaps a little bit of high risk/high reward needs to be involved. Johnny Manziel embodies that trope.
After the spring game and coming into fall camp, Jameill Showers stood as the frontrunner for the starting quarterback position. And rightfully so. He had the big, rocket arm and out of the three of Showers, Manziel, and Matt Joeckel, Jameill had the most experience. But the experience did not separate him from the pack. Yes, he was #2 behind Tannehill, but when it came to playing significant snaps, the trio stood even (I don’t count Showers’ plays in the Wildcat due to the fact that his job was to catch the ball and run forward).
When the time came for Sumlin to make a choice, no matter which quarterback he went with, he would be travelling into uncharted waters. While it made for no easy decision, the chosen quarterback would start with a clean slate. You can’t give have expectations when there is no precedent for the season the Aggies will experience. Nevertheless, Sumlin had three routes to choose. Joeckel represented Sumlin’s stint at UH. His skills replicated a Case Keenum-type that stands firm in the pocket and spreads the wealth around to whoever gets open first. Showers, not by any fault of his own, represented the safe choice. Of the three, he was the one Aggie fans knew the most. They knew he was Tannehill’s backup and saw some action on the field last season. Choosing him to start the season would not cause backlash. He would be accepted and allowed to have his growing pains because the whole program will have growing pains this year. Manziel played the wild card.
With “Johnny Football”, as some refer to him, one can see OMG-like amazement but also an OMG-like agony. He can give you the Sportscenter Top-10 and Not-Top-10 in the same game. He plays with (And I’m going off of what I saw in the Spring Game and his YouTube highlights) a reckless abandon that will make fans chew their nails to the nub but the confidence of a man who has nothing to lose. Which if one thinks about it, he may not.
Consider what Manziel must have done to earn the starting job. After his arrest in June for fighting and carrying a fake ID, it wouldn’t have been beyond reason to think that Manziel could be on the path of a recruiting bust. On top of that, he came into fall camp as #2 on the depth chart at best. It’s no easy task to get out of a coach’s doghouse, and Manziel not only earned his way out of it, he thrived and grew as a football player. Sumlin said Thursday that Manziel, “had to do a lot of things internally to get back in the team's good graces.” Some of the greatest achievements come from those who are given a second chance. It gives one a new confidence he did not have before. The real victory was earning back the coach’s trust, now the rest is icing on the cake. Johnny Manziel may be the riskiest choice, but he has the potential to achieve the highest reward.