Johnny Manziel’s first game in the Spring League last week was about getting his feet wet, after not playing in an organized football game since December 2015. On Thursday, in his second and final game with the league, the former Browns quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner showed what he could do with his feet, and his arm.
While splitting time at quarterback, Manziel completed 10 of 16 passes for 188 yards, and he rushed for two touchdowns and 27 more yards (per ESPN). His performance included 145 yards on 8-of-10 passing in the first half, and the outing represented a distinct improvement over Saturday’s performance, which Manziel had described as “disappointing,” albeit “a huge step” in his comeback, one he hopes results in a return to the NFL.
Players pay to participate in the two-week Spring League, which has goals of helping them develop skills and providing a showcase for teams from the NFL and other football leagues. While attempting to prove he’s past the substance-abuse and maturity issues that led to his departure from the Browns, Manziel has already drawn some interest from the NFL, and he has a standing offer to join the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who hold his rights in that league.
While playing Thursday at Kelly Reeves Stadium in Austin, the 25-year-old Texas A&M product wasted little time showing off the playmaking skills that garnered so much acclaim in college and led to him becoming a first-round pick by Cleveland in 2014.
On his first drive, Manziel rolled to his right and found former Baylor wide receiver Antwan Goodley for a 50-yard gain. He again moved to his right on the next play, but this time he kept the ball and sprinted around the edge for a 14-yard touchdown.
On an ensuing drive, Manziel stepped up to avoid pocket pressure and pulled away from an attempted arm tackle to pick up a first down on 3rd-and-2. He later avoided another pass rush long enough to flip the ball to running back and former Browns teammate Ben Tate for a big gain.
Manziel ran to his left for his second touchdown, a four-yard effort in which he escaped a linebacker. In two seasons at Texas A&M, Manziel rushed for 2,169 yards, averaging 6.3 per carry, and 30 touchdowns, while throwing for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns, with 22 interceptions.
Of course, NFL teams are going to want much more than rushing ability, and after his side’s 34-17 loss, he acknowledged that his passing skills needed some work. However, he told ESPN that he “can still throw the ball,” and that his Spring League experience has “been beyond [his] wildest dreams.”
“There was a time there I didn’t know if I would actually do it. … I’m extremely happy just to be healthy, just to get to throw the ball around,” Manziel said. “I’ve missed this.”
The CFL’s rookie training camps open on May 16, and Manziel said he has until then to decide whether to join the Tiger-Cats, while he waits to see if an NFL team makes him an offer. “We know when deadlines are,” he said. “We have another month or so to work out and not worry about anything.”
In the meantime, Manziel is content to continue his self-described “#ComebackSZN,” following an exile from the NFL that included numerous videos of him hitting trendy nightspots, ugly details of alleged domestic violence against a former girlfriend and reports of destruction of property. On Thursday, he said of his return to the gridiron, “I got to do exactly what I want to do and what I’ve been missing for the last two years.”
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