INDIANAPOLIS — Every year at the NFL scouting combine, at least one high-profile prospect — often a quarterback — stands in a spotlight that is closer to a blinding interrogation lamp.
The questions are prying and relentless. The answers are unknowable — at least in the short term.
Was Matt Leinart too Hollywood?
Was Cam Newton sufficiently focused on football?
Was Russell Wilson too short?
Was the partying of Ryan Mallett a liability?
Was Tim Tebow’s style a fit for the pros?
For Texas A&M; quarterback Johnny Manziel, all those questions come into play.
The potential No. 1 draft pick is under intense scrutiny this week for less-than-prototypical size, his improvisational and unconventional playmaking and his off-field lifestyle.
Here he is twisting away from would-be tacklers and throwing another touchdown pass. Here he is spinning a broken play into gold. Here he is accepting the Heisman Trophy. Here’s a video of him outside a Hollywood club, pulling down his sweatshirt hood to avoid the TMZ cameraman. Here he is partying in his Scooby Doo costume — ruh roh.
In his 15-minute session with the media Friday, Manziel said he’s ready to answer any question NFL teams might have, and he’s determined to show he’s Johnny Manziel and not just the fun-loving Johnny Football.
“People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, [I’m] really just still a small-town kid,” he said. “Sometimes you get caught up in certain things, but at the same time continuing to learn and continuing to adapt to everything that’s going on in my life. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but continuing to be who I’ve always been is a big thing for me.”
He denied a report he had sought counseling for alcohol and anger-management issues while in college, but conceded he regularly met with an “in-house” counselor for two years at Texas A&M; at Coach Kevin Sumlin’s request.
“I was more than willing to learn whatever I could from him and sit down and have meetings with him,” Manziel said. “Had a great relationship with him. It was really nothing more than that.”
If this were just another player, it might not cause a stir. But because Manziel is regarded as such a talent, and he could go first to Houston, third to Jacksonville, fourth to Cleveland, fifth to Oakland, eighth to Minnesota … he will be the face of some NFL franchise next season.
“I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past,” he said. “This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line. For me it’s nothing, it won’t be a hard thing to kick or anything really a hard deal to not do. I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team.”
Manziel got a ringing endorsement from his college teammate Jake Matthews, the top offensive tackle prospect in this class and son of Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews.
Asked whether Manziel is a “me-first” guy, Matthews said: “No, I don’t consider him a me-first guy at all. My whole experience with him coming in as a quarterback was nothing but good things. When he was on the field, he was just a tremendous competitor, great leader, someone that I loved playing for, and I was glad to have him as my quarterback.”
A few years ago, Manziel’s scrambling style would have been exotic in the NFL. Now, the league has several quarterbacks who can get first downs with their feet, including Seattle’s Wilson, who has a Super Bowl ring.
This draft class is deep with quarterbacks — Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Louisiana State’s Zach Mettenberger are among the best — but none has attracted the media attention of Manziel, whose news conference was standing-room only.
The first question was about his height. He measured at 5 feet, 113/4 inches, a shade shorter than his college listing of 6 feet but three-quarters of an inch taller than Wilson measured here in 2012.
“I feel like I play like I’m 10-feet tall,” Manziel said. “A measurement to me is just a number.”
Not everyone feels that way. Arizona Coach Bruce Arians, who isn’t in the market for a starting quarterback, said Manziel’s height could give teams pause.
“There are a bunch of 6-5 successful guys who are athletic,” Arians said. “The 5-11 guys, it has to throw a question mark out there.”
Of course, there are a lot of questions about Manziel, who has spent the last six weeks in San Diego polishing his game with quarterback expert George Whitfield. During the next few days, Manziel intends to systematically chip away at any doubters — or at least the doubters who count, the ones who will be making decisions in the draft.
He said he’s “continuing to learn from my mistakes and continuing to grow up.
“I have an opportunity now moving into a professional phase. This is life now, this is a job for me, taking it very seriously and I’m really excited about the future.”
He has heard all the questions. Manziel’s ready to answer.