A small step forward for Johnny Football.
Johnny Manziel took his first team reps at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ training camp Tuesday. The former Heisman Trophy winner spent much of the first two days of workouts watching incumbent Jeremiah Masoli and the other quarterbacks call and execute plays.
Once again, Manziel, 25, threw to receivers prior to position drills. But this time, he took snaps against a full defence as well as during the seven-on-seven session at Ron Joyce Stadium.
“The first day I came out and was just looking over everything, learning from the guys, just kind of watching to see how they progress through things,” Manziel said. “Now we’re just kind of piecing it together, a couple of team reps here, more seven-on-seven reps so you see it without the pass rush and the whole thing coming together.
“(On Wednesday) we’ll take some more team reps and get more live reps because at the end of the day we’re pretty close to the first time we’ll get out there and actually play.”
Hamilton hosts the Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts on June 1 in the first exhibition game for both teams.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner completed his first two passes of the team segment with the second offensive unit. The six-foot, 210-pound Manziel rolled out to his left on his second play then threw the completion.
Head coach June Jones reiterated Hamilton is taking it slow with Manziel.
“When he opened up the playbook it’s like learning Chinese, it’s all different,” Jones said. “He’s trying to put what’s similar to what he’s done before and categorize all those things as he goes.
“Obviously he’s a few weeks away from really feeling comfortable, I’m sure, but every day he’ll get more reps.”
Jones is hopeful Manziel will play against Toronto.
“I would think he’ll get in there,” Jones said. “Obviously you don’t want to put a player in a situation where he can’t have success if he’s not really comfortable with what he’s doing.
“We’ll see how that is when we get to that first game.”
Manziel showed a definite feel for receiver Brandon Banks, hitting the speedster in stride. But he said it will take time to develop a rapport with all of his new teammates.
“It’s just reps,” Manziel said. “That’s the thing coach Jones and I have been talking about.
“Just continuous reps to get it down and then it becomes second nature.”
Masoli showed Tuesday why he’s clearly Hamilton’s starter. The 29-year-old, who’s entering his sixth season with the Ticats, looked very comfortable making his progressions and threading the needle in tight coverage.
But that’s nothing new to Jones, who watched Masoli lead Hamilton to a 6-4 record last year after making Masoli the starter after becoming the Ticats’ interim head coach. However, what’s impressed Jones more is Masoli tutoring Manziel.
“It just confirms to me he’s who I thought he was,” Jones said. “He’s just a first-class person on top of being a great quarterback.
“I’m excited for him to get that opportunity to be a starter.”
Manziel has shown he can be a quick study. After red-shirting at Texas A&M in 2011, Manziel became the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy as U.S. college football’s top player.
The Cleveland Browns took Manziel in the first round, No. 22 overall, in the 2014 NFL draft. But Manziel was released in March 2016 after posting a 2-6 record over two tumultuous campaigns.
On Monday, Manziel spent an hour going through many of Masoli’s camp reps on a virtual reality unit. It’s an experience that proved very beneficial.
“You can look down and see his feet,” Manziel said. “Then you can see the progression of the route, what person we’re keying on and the reason why he made certain throws.
“This is my first time really having that detailed and high quality of a VR like that. You can definitely take reps without having to be out on the field every time.”
Still, Manziel faces an uphill battle and that’s not just about getting to know new teammates and Hamilton’s playbook. There’s adjusting to a vastly different game played with three downs on a longer, wider field, 12 men aside and unlimited motion.
But Manzeil has spoken to Doug Flutie, another former Heisman Trophy winner who won three Grey Cups and six outstanding player awards during his illustrious eight-year CFL tenure (1990-1997). After leading Toronto to a second straight league title in ’97, Flutie played another eight NFL seasons with Buffalo (1998-2000), San Diego (2001-2004) and New England (2005).
“He (Flutie) thought this game would translate to what I do very well,” Manziel said. “He spoke very highly of everything up here and how it shaped him and where he is in his life.
“I’m very appreciative to have somebody like that who I could reach out to any time.”