COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Next up, Johnny Football.
Those are exciting words for draftniks, because they mean Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel – perhaps the most polarizing, exciting player in the 2014 NFL Draft – is working out for NFL types at last.
That will happen at his individual throwing day on Texas A&M’s campus, where Manziel is expected to throw about 60-to-70 passes in the Aggies’ indoor practice facility around noon eastern.
Manziel declined to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, and also did not work at A&M’s scheduled Pro Day earlier this month. Thursday in effect serves as his individual Pro Day.
Thus, general managers, head coaches and personnel officials at various levels from around the NFL will gather in College Station. Among them are expected to be Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, General Manager David Caldwell, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and Senior Vice President Football Technology and Analytics Tony Khan.
They’ll gather Thursday as they have for Pro Days throughout March. They want to see live what they have seen on video, but mostly by mid-April they want something – a vibe, an idea, a better trust of what direction to go come March 8, the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft.
“You’re looking for a feel,” Bradley said this week during the NFL Annual Meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando.
That as much as anything is what the Pro Day season is about:
That’s particularly true for head coaches and general managers, who don’t visit every Pro Day throughout April, but who do sometimes attend the more high-profile days.
Bradley, Caldwell, Fisch and Khan attended last week’s Central Florida and Louisville Pro Days, where they watched and then met with quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, respectively. They are expected to meet with Manziel after his workout Thursday, according to Caldwell.
Bradley said he likes the exchange of information that comes from a face-to-face meeting.
“You get a feel for where they are in their career mentally,” Bradley said. “I like to visit with them about their approach going into these Pro Days. Teams are coming in and they’re asked to perform at their best. What is their approach? Because that’s no different than preparing for an NFL season.”
Bradley said when talking to a quarterback before the draft it’s often about trying to figure out an admittedly tricky question.
“Can he handle it?” Bradley said, adding of the top quarterbacks such as Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles, “They’re all mature, but can he lead this team? It depends on what your definition of leadership is. If you’re looking for a guy to be vocal and come in and take over the team, and challenge guys on the field – if that’s your definition of leadership – then that’s what you’ve got to try to find out. Ours is to help others get better. That’s all he has to do is help his teammates get better.
“That’s what I’m talking to him about. I want to see his mindset and his approach. How does he handle positive things? How does he handle things that don’t go in his favor? I want to get a feel for those things.”
A reality of the Pro Day visit and interview is one that holds true throughout the pre-draft process – that no interview or stop means a team necessarily will draft or even has interest in the player. The Jaguars hold the No. 3 overall selection in the draft, and with the team searching for a long-term franchise quarterback, the team’s decision-makers are researching the draft’s top quarterbacks.
But Caldwell has made clear there is no guarantee the team will take a quarterback No. 3. Though many draft analysts project Bridgewater/Bortles/Manziel as possible Top 5 selections, some believe one, two or all could slip significantly.
Caldwell has said one reason for re-signing quarterback Chad Henne before free-agency this offseason is that if the Jaguars do address quarterback in the draft, the player likely won’t be ready to start immediately.
“It’s really intriguing,” Bradley said. “You could have four or five guys (quarterbacks) go in the first round, or it could be like last year where guys drop out. Teams are still trying to get a feel for how they fall into place. But there’s a lot of depth. There are a lot of guys in this quarterback class who can play good football for teams in the NFL.”
Bradley said one key with scouting a quarterback is having a firm idea of the strength of a player. He said that was the case when he was defensive coordinator in Seattle and the Seahawks drafted quarterback Russell Wilson. He said this week that would be the case if the Jaguars drafted Manziel, though he emphasized “if.”
Mostly this week, Bradley did what he and Caldwell have done throughout the quarterback scouting process this offseason – that is to talk less about the quarterbacks specifically and more generally about what they seek when scouting players and how the scouting schedule works.
Bradley said one thing he likes specifically about the Pro Day process is the chance to travel to and from the event with key decision-makers, and said flights to the ensuing stops aboard Owner Shad Khan’s plane are particularly valuable.
“We have conversations all the way back ... in that environment,” he said. “How much better is that?”
And Bradley, like most NFL types, said it was dangerous to attach too much emphasis to the Pro Days, a part of the draft process that scouts said matters far less than most other facets.
“You have to be careful,” he said. “I’ve been involved in going to the (NFL Scouting) Combine and Pro Days where you watch them do the Pro Day and get enamored by their workout, then you take them and the same thing happens in practice happened on tape. You have to be careful of that.
“I still think it goes back to tape. It still goes back to the game. There might be certain things you look for in a combine or a Pro Day to reassure you, but the majority of your evaluation should come off the tape.”
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