Doug Flutie to Johnny Football: ‘It’s very easy to get lazy’ in the CFL

Doug Flutie has a lot of wisdom for Johnny Manziel.

The greatest quarterback ever to play in the CFL joined Pro Football Talk Live with Mike Florio to discuss Manziel playing the Canadian game.

Mike Florio: If you’re playing well in Canada and the NFL calls – because Johnny Manziel may find himself in that situation – would you prefer to keep playing or put yourself in a position where you’re a backup on an NFL team?

Flutie: Eventually you’d rather be a backup on an NFL team because you think there’s going to be an opportunity at some point to get on the field and prove yourself. I did initially go because you wanted to play, I had gotten labelled as a backup, I had been around for five years in the NFL, I had a couple opportunities to go work out for teams and yet it didn’t really sound promising. So when I had a chance to go up there and get an opportunity to get on the field – you’ve only got a limited amount of time to play the game. The No. 1 thing, especially in Johnny’s situation, very similar to me, there’s a learning curve that goes on up there. And you’re competing against guys that are veteran players in that league and know what they’re doing. You can get away with it short term as far as just being athletic, and you can win some games, but really have to learn that game and get efficient at it to win championships and be at that calibre or that level that you want to get to.

Florio: What’s the hardest part about learning the CFL game?

Flutie: There is some open space which actually becomes easier once you’re used to that. The learning of the game, there’s 12 men on the field. The fronts are the same, mostly you see the 4-2 nickel situation, but there is an extra nickel back on the weak side of the field as well. So you don’t have weak side coverages you have two strong side coverages from what you’re used to reading in the American game. You had a lot of usually Canadian offensive linemen going up against glass cut kinda pass rushers on the defensive ends and you’ve gotta get rid of the football. Pass protection is not all that great at times and you’ve got to learn to take your read quickly and get rid of the football.

Florio: When you made the transition to the CFL how long did it take to become the starter?

Flutie: I wasn’t thrown into being the starter but they wanted me to be the guy, so I was splitting time with a guy named Rickey Foggie out of Minnesota. We were in British Columbia and for the first part of that season he would play a half and I would play a half. The first time I was on the field I threw for 300 in a half, but I was inconsistent the first four or five games that I played and then it started getting comfortable. There’s guys up there that are NFL calibre guys and you don’t just go in and take over. The blessing is that Johnny or for me my athleticism carried me early where you could scramble, take off, get away – there is more space on the field. You had a lot of space out there to make people miss, it almost felt like you were cheating when you took off and scrambled.

Florio: How frustrating was it for you that the phone wasn’t ringing from NFL teams wanting to make you the starting quarterback after putting up video game-like stats in the CFL?

Flutie: It is a different game but it is frustrating. I felt that my whole career as far as getting an opportunity early, I was winning football games in the NFL but you were never seen as a franchise guy because of your size. Where nowadays, if I came out now with the spread offences, I would get a much better look right away and I would be given that opportunity. All the stuff that you see in the NFL right now with the spread offences, things called at the line of scrimmage that was and is the CFL game or was for me. You don’t give the defence a chance to react. And then I used myself as a runner, which the zone read stuff is all about. A lot of the things that the NFL has adapted basically came from the Canadian game.

Florio: What advice would you give Johnny Manziel about playing in the CFL?

Flutie: Put your head down and work your tail off. In the CFL, the key there, and I think what everyone is looking for out of Johnny is consistency and work ethic, he’s got the tools. He needs to be a leader on the team, show that he’s serious about football again and just put his nose to the grindstone and go. By collective bargaining agreement, it was originally set up as a part-time job, so they can only keep you for 4.5 hours a day, by rule. So the young guys especially have a tendency to go out and party, sleep in late, they get to the facility at noon and they’re outta there by 5. It’s very easy to get into that mindset there. For a quarterback, you’ve gotta be in there early with the coaches, help game plan, organize so you can be a coach on the field. Even though it’s not demanded of you to be there in the mornings, you should show up and do a lot of the game-planning with the coaches and be a big part of that. It’s very easy to get lazy within the work structure of that game up there.

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