There are several approaches we can take in trying to answer this question:
- How well quarterbacks in Manziel’s situation have historically done in this league: Manziel has frequently been compared to Doug Flutie. I watched a lot of Flutie’s games when he was up here. If Manziel really is a comparable talent, we Alouettes fans are in for a treat. However, Flutie wasn’t an immediate success right out of the box. His first year with the BC Lions saw Flutie post a 53% completion rate, throwing for 2,960 YDS, 16 TD and 19 INT and a QB rating of 71.0. He also ran for 610 yards. Oh, and the BC Lions went 6-11-1. That rushing statistic is significant. As Matt Dunigan never tires of mentioning, it took him a few seasons to “get it all figured out” as a quarterback. In the meantime, Dunigan used his legs to flatten out that CFL quarterback learning curve. Speaking of Dunigan, here’s a sobering note in an interview on TSN: “This is about winning football games and I just pray to God that they understand the importance of not rushing this guy out there. But everything tells me that this is a very urgent situation, and they feel like they’ve addressed it, and they’ll throw him out there to the wolves. And it could be a very ugly situation very quick.”Back to Flutie, that first season with BC would be Flutie’s only losing campaign of his 8-year CFL career. Flutie appeared in 4 Grey Cups and won 3. His career CFL statistics include 41,355 passing yards and 270 touchdowns. He holds the professional football record of 6,619 yards passing in a single season. He led the league in passing five times in only eight seasons. He once held four of the CFL’s top five highest single-season completion marks, including a record 466 in 1991 which was surpassed by Ricky Ray in 2005. His 48 touchdown passes in 1994 remains a CFL record. He earned three Grey Cup MVP awards, and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player a record six times (1991–1994, and 1996–1997). He passed for 5,000+ yards six times in his career and remains the only player in pro football history to pass for 6,000+ yards in a season twice in his career.On November 17, 2006, Flutie was named the greatest Canadian Football League player of all time from a top 50 list of CFL players conducted by TSN. In 2007, he was named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the first non-Canadian to be inducted. -Wikipedia. Who knows if Manziel can live up to the promise of his undeniable talent. You don’t win a Heisman Trophy by accident. Still, this league has been a meat grinder for American pretenders thinking they have a quick route to success north of the border.
- Assessing the talent Manziel has around him: Speaking of meat grinders, ask Rakeem Cato what it’s like trying to be a successful quarterback without receivers and/or a solid O’line. Despite dealing Chris Williams in the Manziel deal, the Alouettes would seem to have a talented receiver corp, given the right pivot to get them the ball. Eugene Lewis is IMO a diamond in the rough. BJ Cunningham is coming into his own, despite a succession of truly BAD offenses in general. Ernest Jackson has been somewhat of a disappointment. With the right quarterback under center, and some renewed hope for this offense with the arrival of Manziel, maybe Jackson can find the stride he had in Ottawa. The Alouettes may need to go out and get a deep threat to replace Williams, but we’ll see how that pans out*. Meanwhile, in the trenches, Kavis Reed has been quietly stockpiling offensive linemen. Veteran Luc Brodeur-Jourdain and Kristian Matte form a pretty solid one-two punch at center. Newly signed rookie Tyler Johnstone (winner of the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best college football interior lineman in the United States, in addition to winning the Rotary Lombardi Trophy, awarded annually to the best college football lineman or linebacker) will now have competition at left tackle from Tony Washington, Hamilton’s behemoth left tackle acquired in the Manziel deal. Add veteran Ryan Bomben and injured Philip Blake, and that’s one promising o’line.
- Determining whether the Alouettes have the playbook and play calling talent for a quarterback like Manziel: This has been a vexed question for the Alouettes since Calvillo’s “retirement”. While it’s not that surprising that ownership right down to the ballboy would like to see the second coming of AC, the truth is, solid pocket passers can be a difficult commodity to come by in the CFL. And with a broken “line of succession” since Calvillo was mysteriously dropped by Ricky Foley, days after the Alouettes acquired Troy Smith as his potential replacement…having a quarterback like Manziel, who can use his legs to “fill in the blanks” as he learns to read defenses in this league, would seem to be the best option, going forward. The problem is the coaching. When Rakeem Cato was in town, he had to contend with the redfaced “tough love” approach from Turk Schonert, and the incompetence of an Anthony Calvillo drawing exclusively from his experience as a pocket passer. How anyone thought that was going to work is a mystery to me. And when Cato finally had someone who could design and call plays for a mobile quarterback, the Alouettes unfortunately forgot to acquire an o’line to protect his skinny ass. Perhaps Reed has learned from these mistakes. Khari Jones arguably has the required experience. After all, Jones was OC when Jennings hit the CFL like a hurricane in BC. Without him, Jennings is a step away from being cut from the Lions’ team. And if Jones doesn’t “click” with Manziel, there’s talk that HC Mike Sherman might disentangle himself from his headset long enough to start calling plays. Either way, the Alouettes will need to fight the tendency to turn every quarterback that comes into town into a zombie-clone of one Anthony Calvillo. Time to move on from that bullshit**.
- Honestly appraising the competition, especially in the East Division of the CFL: This is where things get really interesting for the Alouettes. Six weeks into the season, Ottawa is the only East Division team with a winning record, at 3-2. If Manziel can make an early, if not immediate impact of the Alouettes offense (they seem determined to throw him into the fire)…if the Alouettes can suddenly field even a moderately competent offensive squad, and our defense and special teams can continue to play some solid football (they have, despite what the stats say), the Alouettes stand a good chance of leapfrogging both Toronto and Hamilton before mid-season. That means the playoffs, for the first time in eons. That means, in the CFL, anything can happen. Can anyone imagine how crazy thing’ll get if Manziel leads the Alouettes to a Grey Cup in his first season? OK…it’s not a lock. It’s barely plausible. But considering the competition in the East, and the nature of the CFL beast – it’s not exactly FAKE NEWS either.
*UPDATE – An hour after I wrote this, the Alouettes announced they’ve acquired receiver Adarius “Dropsy” Bowman from Winnipeg for an 8th round draft pick in 2019. OK, Bowman has had some decent seasons. And Bowman’s just the kind of big body receiver (6’3″ 219lbs) Manziel will need on his inevitable scrambles around the backfield. Let’s just hope Bowman can top 60% on his receptions/targeted ratio. Bowman’s definitely a big play receiver, and a potential deep threat the Als needed to replace Williams. Bowman, Cunningham, Lewis and Jackson: how’s that for some targets, Johnny CFL Football?
**UPDATE 2: “That’s the thing that Coach Sherman said that he really looked forward to having in terms of the quarterback play is guys that can extend plays. One of the things we wanted to do is get our quarterbacks in the same genre, guys like Matt Shiltz, Vernon Adams fit that same mould and that’s very important to us that we don’t have two different types of quarterbacks,” Reed said – 3DownNation
Who is this guy, and what did he do with Kavis Reed’s body? Is it possible? Maybe Reed’s been studying this BLOG and has decided to implement all my ideas. After all, he signed Adarius Bowman hours after I wrote they needed to replace Chris Williams. Don’t even think of saying “great minds think alike” unless you’re cruising for a bruising.
UPDATE 3: According to TSN, Schiltz, Adams and Manziel are all available to play on Thursday against the Eskimos.
Word is; Schiltz has an injured non-throwing hand, but Sherman says he’ll be good to go. Word from Herb is; VA has taken the majority of reps in today’s practice. Sherman’s not telling anyone who his starting QB will be.
Apparently in his 2nd practice, Manziel has taken the majority of red-zone reps. That means read-options and misdirections with the intent of Manziel/Sutton running the ball into the end zone, or scrambling around with his eyes downfield, ala Johnny Football. Could be exciting. Could be disastrous. FOR THE ESKIMOS!