Johnny Manziel is not the only Montreal Alouette who will be facing his former team when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit Percival Molson Stadium.
Offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice were part of the same five-player, two-draft pick deal that brought Manziel to Montreal on July 22. Washington is to start at left tackle and Rice at right guard when the teams meet on Friday night.
But all eyes will be on Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Browns bad boy who will see his first CFL regular season action after backing up Jeremiah Masoli but not playing in the first five games with Hamilton.
“He’s a great teammate,” Washington said Wednesday. “He clowns around. He learns. He talks. You can tell he’s a football player.
“He lives with pressure on him all the time. This is a whole new situation for him and I think this time around it helps him stay humble and really appreciate the situation he’s in and to take advantage of it.”
The Alouettes marketing department kicked into high gear when coach Mike Sherman announced this week that Manziel will start. With only two practices after the trade, he dressed as a backup to Vernon Adams in a 44-23 loss at home to Edmonton before only 16,654 spectators last week.
Fans were chanting Manziel’s name, but Sherman felt there was a risk of injury in sending an unprepared player onto the field. And Adams was playing well despite the score.
Now Manziel will have had a full week of preparation to take the field and at least begin to show what the fuss is all about.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to be a starter again,” said Manziel, a former Cleveland Brown who has not played a game that counts in two years. “This is what I’ve wanted since I got up here.
“I wanted to come to the CFL to get an opportunity to play. I felt that was what I was missing. The situation didn’t work out in Hamilton and I got somewhere where I could. I’m excited about that.”
If he struggles, Adams will be ready to step in. Both took snaps with the first-stringers this week. But Manziel isn’t anticipating any problems.
“I’ve been told I was brought here to be the guy, so I don’t know if there even is a leash,” he said. “I feel that I’m extremely prepared.”
The Alouettes invested heavily in Manziel, sending their top receiver Chris Williams and Canadian defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman as well as two first-round draft picks to Hamilton for the quarterback they hope will make a 1-5 team, which went 3-15 last season, into a contender.
No one doubts his talent, either throwing the ball, scrambling to make plays or running with it. But his time in Cleveland was marred by off-field issues and he has said he is being treated for bipolar disorder. He now appears to have his life under control and is trying to be a top player again and perhaps work his way back to the NFL.
Sherman waited until Tuesday to announce Manziel as the starter. He wanted to see how the 25-year-old handled meetings last weekend and the first two days of practice. By the end of the second workout, he was convinced.
“There’s something about him that elevates people around him,” said Sherman, the former Green Bay Packers coach who had Brett Favre as his star quarterback. “I always felt great players make those around them better.
“I thought we practised better when he was out here Monday and Tuesday. It wasn’t until the Tuesday practice that he performed at a high level that I felt comfortable to make that statement.”
Now he wants Manziel to do the same in a game.
“He was a great college player, now he has to prove it at this level,” said Sherman, who recruited Manziel to Texas A&M University. “No one would argue that he wasn’t a phenomenal collegiate player, one of the best that ever played.”
After practice, the Alouettes got an inspirational talk from Dino Masanotti, a former junior hockey coach who was pronounced dead twice but revived each time. Perhaps just as inspiring was seeing defensive back Mitchell White walking about in street clothes. White was stretchered off late in last week’s game after suffering a spinal injury. He looks fine but Sherman said White will be out for “quite some time.”