Size Matters: Johnny Manziel and the NFL Combine

Johnny Manziel has faced questions over his height as he prepares to enter the NFL

Every Spring the top prospects in college football assemble in Indianapolis for the NFL combine to be poked and prodded by their potential future employers before they participate in a number of physical assessments. These include the 40 yard dash and the bench press, each of which should give NFL executives an idea of just how fast and strong each prospect is.

However, while the results of these drills often gain all the headlines at the combine this year it’s been the measurements of Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny “Football”, that have caused a stir. The former Texas A & M quarterback was one of college football’s most explosive players during his two seasons in action in Texas and he became the first ever freshman to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy after his excellent 2012 season. NFL legend Brett Favre recently said that watching film of Manziel felt like “watching film of a young me”, and most mock drafts have him pegged to go within the first four picks. Yet despite all of the positive hype surrounding the young QB there remain a few concerns, chiefly his lack of prototypical quarterback size.

Before the combine began Manziel proclaimed that he would measure in at “72 inches on the dot”, which equates to exactly six feet tall. Unfortunately for Johnny Football he came in a mammoth quarter of an inch under that mark, spurring questions about his ability to succeed in the NFL where players are bigger, stronger and faster than in the college game. Traditionally NFL quarterbacks are large physical specimens, tall enough to deliver throws over the pass rush while large enough in the body to absorb hits from ravenous defensive ends. Manziel is neither, unlike NFL contemporaries such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who stand six feet four inches and six feet five inches tall respectively.

While Manziel is certain to face many questions from teams who are sceptical of his ability to succeed in spite of his lack of height, there is hope for the gunslinger. There have been examples in recent years that being tall doesn’t necessarily correlate with success at the quarterback position. Drew Brees has developed into one of the great passers of his generation, winning a Superbowl and eclipsing 5,000 yards passing on multiple occasions. Yet he stands just six feet tall. Russell Wilson has also become a star in the league, winning the Superbowl this past month with Seattle despite dropping to the third round of the 2012 draft because of concerns over his five feet eleven inch frame. Both Brees and Wilson have overcome their lack of size to win titles in the NFL, and as a consequence they might be the biggest reason Manziel is in a position to be selected early in the first round of this May’s draft. It’s also worth noting that while many people are aware of Wilson slipping in the draft, many forget that Brees himself was a second round selection back in 2001. There isn’t much precedent for selecting an undersized QB early on, putting Manziel in a unique position as he prepares to enter the league.

Another positive for Manziel this weekend has been the measurement of his hand size. He measured in at 9 7/8 inches, larger than those of fellow first round QB prospects Teddy Bridgewater (9 1/4) and Blake Bortles (9 3/8). Former NFL passer Daunte Culpepper once fumbled the football 66 times over a three season stretch. Guess what? Small hands. The same could be said of fumble machine Mike Vick: small hands. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly once said he’s more concerned with a quarterback’s hand size than his height because it promotes ball security. Manziel’s hands would certainly stand him in good stead with a coach like Kelly, and whether or not the executives of teams such as the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars agree could determine if Manziel goes as early as number one overall in a few weeks time. Just the fact that these measurements carry such weight makes this much clear: size matters in the National Football League.

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Sacking KP A Gutless Move From the ECB

End of an era: Kevin Pietersen looks to have played his last game in an England shirt

End of an era: Kevin Pietersen looks to have played his last game in an England shirt

Cautious. Unimaginative. Scared. Spineless. All of those words could have been used to describe England’s performance in Australia over the past three months as they suffered the biggest humiliation in the history of English cricket, and all of those words could also be used to describe the English Cricket Board’s decision to sack Kevin Pietersen, England’s all-time leading run scorer across the three formats, from international cricket.

Some have praised the ECB’s new managing director Paul Downton for taking the ‘bold’ and ‘courageous’ move to ostracise the South African-born batsman from the England set up, yet they are overlooking the fact that for all of Pietersen’s apparent misdemeanors, which have yet to be revealed, his value to the team is unarguably greater than any other player save for captain Alistair Cook, another who is reported to have been in favour of axing Pietersen. An additionally perplexing aspect of the decision is the fact that Cook isn’t even England’s twenty20 captain and may not survive as the country’s one day skipper either, while the favourite for the vacant role of team director is the man who called Pietersen a “million dollar asset”, former England spinner Ashley Giles. Perhaps the decision hints at a coach other than Giles being offered the vacancy yet that would make little sense with interviews for the role yet to be held.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan, the man who brought Pietersen into the international set-up alongside then coach Duncan Fletcher, has criticised the decision and accused the ECB of taking the easy route out of a difficult situation. Simply put, he is right. It may be difficult to harness an awkward personality and integrate him into a successful team environment, but for all the talk of cricket being a team sport it is also one where individuals can find themselves mostly isolated. Ask a fielder on the fine leg boundary if his relationship with mid off is particularly relevant when he’s focusing on a potential catch, or a batsman if he’s concerned about his wicket keeper’s social habits when he’s at the crease. These players are all professionals and it is required of them to do their job to the best of their ability. If they think Kevin Pietersen is arrogant, unfriendly or whatever else it still shouldn’t affect their work. It’s not uncommon for colleagues within an office to dislike each other or not be on friendly terms. Yet until one of them crosses the line in a severe way they are forced to find a way to co-exist. England’s cricketers, from Cook to the likes of Stuart Broad, should be made to follow the same path and they should want to follow the same path if they genuinely harbour ambitions to return to the summit of world cricket following this winter’s humiliation down under.

The cricketing public deserve to know exactly what KP has done if they are to accurately form an opinion on the ECB’s decision to remove him from the international game. England supporters pay to be entertained and they pay to see a competitive on-field product. Paul Downton and co will have a hard time explaining how the axing of Kevin Pietersen, England’s one true match winning talent, won’t dilute that product over the next 24 months.

Superbowl Rout Signals End of One Era, Beggining of Another

Pete Carroll hoists the Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium after winning Superbowl XLVIII

As he trudged off the field at MetLife Stadium last night having seen his Denver Broncos defeated handily by a score of 43-8, Peyton Manning must have wondered if the chance to win a second Superbowl title had passed him by. At 37 years-old and coming off of the best season of his or any quarterback’s career Superbowl XLVIII represented the perfect opportunity for Manning and the Broncos to win their first ring together, the leagues number one offense complimented by a stout defense with the legendary Manning leading the way. Yet from the first play last night, a safety following an airmailed snap from centre Manny Ramirez, the writing was on the wall for Manning and his teammates. While Manning has 11 post-season victories during his storied career last night’s loss was the twelfth defeat to stain his play-off resume, while head coach John Fox has an equally unimpressive play-off track record after the defeat dropped his Superbowl record to 0-2 following his first defeat ten years ago while in charge of the Carolina Panthers.

With age working against him and both the Chiefs and Chargers on the rise in the AFC west it’s no certainty that Manning will get another chance to play in the biggest game the sport has to offer, especially after the boisterous Seattle defense showed the rest of the league exactly how to stifle Manning and the high octane Denver offense. His arm devoid of the strength it once possessed, the Broncos QB no longer is able to burn defenses deep and that enabled Seahawks safety’s Earl Thomas III and Kam Chancellor to squat on underneath routes, punishing receivers for even thinking about catching the ball and conceding just a few yards upon each rare completion. After Denver found themselves in an early 15-0 hole offensive coordinator Adam Gase changed tac and ditched crossing routes for screen plays, often to wide receivers on the perimeter, and although the tactic reaped initial reward the Seattle defense soon adjusted and their speed to the ball and ability to shed blocks soon stifled that plan. Former Patriot wideout Wes Welker is another whose bad luck in Superbowl’s continued, the diminutive pass catcher losing his third title game after two defeats with New England. Eight catches for 84 yards represented a respectable haul for Welker, however with Denver chasing the game from the outset there was little he could do to turn the monumental tide.

While one of the games greats may be seeing his chances of success diminish another star may have already emerged. Russell Wilson didn’t have an outstanding game last night, thanks to the work of his defense he didn’t have to, yet he performed efficiently and by completing 18 of 25 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions he helped his team turn the screw and not let a dangerous Broncos offense back into the game. In many ways Wilson is reminiscent of a young Tom Brady, an unheralded prospect chosen relatively late in the draft who has almost immediately burst onto the scene as a fully fledged superstar. His coolness under pressure also mimics Brady’s and with the pieces in place around him it would be no surprise were he to match the Patriot gunslinger’s tally of three Superbowl rings by the end of his career.

Wilson’s coach, former USC head honcho Pete Carroll, is another man who has enhanced his legacy with this win. After winning a national title with Southern California in 2005 yesterday’s victory made Carroll just the third head coach to win a title at both collegiate and professional level, joining former Cowboy’s coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Much like Wilson, perhaps even because of him, Carroll has every chance of adding to his success with the strong core of players and staff he has built in the Pacific north west. Throughout the history of football many great coaches have been partnered by great signal callers, from Joe Montana and Bill Walsh through to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It may be early days but Wilson and Carroll are good enough and are certainly on the right path to belonging in that esteemed company.

Back in 2001 when a young Brady led the New England Patriots to a famous upset of the St. Louis Rams, then the greatest show on turf, many people anticipated Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and company would be back on the biggest stage of all in the not to distant future. Faulk never returned, while Warner had to change organisations and wait eight years before he got another opportunity with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. Unfortunately Peyton Manning he doesn’t have that kind of time, and rightly or wrongly when discussing his career it’ll be difficult not to mention his puzzling post-season record. Yet as one icon exits the stage, another has appeared. Enter Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, the golden boy and golden team of football’s new age.