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COLUMN

If Texans are bold, they'll take Johnny Football

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For more on the NFL, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Chances are, Houston will play it safe with Bridgewater

Monday, February 24, 2014 - 3:04 am

INDIANAPOLIS – The final verdict on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be determined in private interviews, film sessions and debates among NFL coaches and general managers, but it seems to me he's only guilty of two things:

1. Being short.

2. Being a college kid with too much free time.

The first one is a bit relevant, until the point where Drew Brees and Russell Wilson come into the conversation as short guys with big games. The second, if Manziel has turned the page to professional football player as he claims, can become irrelevant in a hurry.

“Whenever I decided to turn professional, it was time to put my college years in the past,” Manziel said during a media session at the NFL Combine on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “This is my job right now. There are guys, coaches, with family, jobs, all kinds of things on the line.”

In other words, he's serious now. This self-described “small-town kid” got caught up in the cult of celebrity, mixed with drinks and smart phones, and earned a reputation as a bad boy or at least a party animal. Imagine that. College kid runs wild, with the benefit of being enabled by “fans” and “friends” who come along for the ride. Yes, it's possible to avoid such pitfalls if you're a college football player. But it's not so easy when you're a year or two removed from being a teenager, you've won the Heisman Trophy and people call you "Johnny Football."

Manziel's task becomes more interpersonal than physical. He has to convince skeptical scouts that his questionable behavior is in the past. If he can do that, and it's a significant if, then it comes down to whether NFL people believe he can get it done as a starting quarterback.

One of the biggest tidbits upon his arrival in Indianapolis was the fact he was under 6-foot (about a quarter-inch), but that was offset by the fact that he has big hands. In fact, his hands are bigger than the taller Teddy Bridgewater's hands. When it comes to gripping a football, bigger hands are an asset.

The Houston Texans have the real choice with their No.1 draft pick in May, presuming they don't trade down or decide to go with defensive tackle Jadeveon Clowney.

If they believe Manziel can walk a relatively straight path off the field, then the question is whether he can get the job done on the field.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock studied film of Manziel and said at times he resembles a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie, which reflects both Manziel's size and style and Mayock's age in referencing those old-school quarterbacks. Mayock doesn't see Manziel as similar to Russell Wilson, the contemporary quarterback that draws the most often comparison.

Manziel's bad games, including LSU and Missouri, should temper scouts' enthusiasm with him, Mayock said, because he was easily frustrated by containment and abandoned the pocket too soon.

Those flaws could be changed with more NFL coaching and more time. But the Texans, despite the horrific 2013 season, believe they're a starting quarterback away from Super Bowl contention. They don't have time on their hands to develop Manziel.

Here's what they'll get on the field: A playmaker who will sometimes be erratic, but can bring a certain level of confidence and aggression to the quarterback spot. Maybe passion is the best word.

“I think I'm one of the most competitive people on the face of the earth,” Manziel said, eschewing understatement. “Whether I'm sitting here playing tic-tac-toe or rock-paper-scissors, I want to win. This dates back all the way to being a kid. I don't like the taste of losing, it's a sour taste in my mouth. I'm an extremely competitive person. At the same time, I want to be a great leader as well.”

The Texans need a quarterback and they should take a quarterback. Unfortunately for them, there's not an Andrew Luck for the taking.

Manziel is worth taking a risk for some team because he could be the type of scrambling, innovative quarterback who can spur a team to a comeback win. No less an expert than Brett Favre said Manziel reminds him of a younger version of Favre. Because Favre became somewhat of a joke with his trouble retiring and extracurricular texting, people can forget how dynamic a quarterback he was in his prime. There's a reason his name sits atop so many NFL records.

So here's the dilemma: Should the Texans gamble on Manziel with the potential of having a game-changer? Or should they go a safer route and take Bridgewater?

“Bridgewater is the most ready-to-play NFL-style quarterback in this draft,” Mayock said.

The only problem for Houston in playing it safe with Bridgewater is that playing it safe might not cut it in a division where Andrew Luck is entrenched for the next decade.

The bold choice would be Manziel, a Texas gunslinger in every sense of the NFL phrase. If his “college kid” antics are history, his future is wide open.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.