While they are rivals for the starting quarterback position on the Montreal Alouettes, there is no ill-will between Johnny Manziel and Antonio Pipkin.
The two trained together at the George Whitfield quarterback academy in San Diego before they became teammates this season in Montreal.
“We’ve known each other, we’ve hung out before,” Pipkin said Wednesday. “He’s a good guy and you just want see everybody succeed.
“The controversy thing is not in our (quarterbacks) room or in our locker room at all.”
That said, Pipkin looks to be getting a third straight start Friday night in Ottawa even though Manziel is out of concussion protocol. Coach Mike Sherman never says definitively which quarterback will start, but Pipkin has taken the lion’s share of snaps with the starters this week.
Manziel, who returned to practice after sitting out two games, was cleared to come off protocol on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m easing my way back in, slowly but surely,” said Manziel. “I won’t go into a ton of detail about it but I started to feel more normal towards the beginning of last week, and once you feel normal is when you really start the protocol stuff.
“They told me early last week it was looking unlikely I would be able to play. I know I wanted to. I’ve never missed two weeks in the past when I’ve had a concussion. So this has been a longer, slower process for me than I’m accustomed to and I think it’s definitely been frustrating. I want to play and I’m itching and eager to get back but we’ll see how things play out.”
The Alouettes sent two veterans and a pair of first round draft picks to Hamilton for Manziel on July 23, looking to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Brown to stop the revolving door at their quarterback position. He made two starts, both losses, and took a heavy hit to the head while trying to score a touchdown.
While he finished the game, he was placed under concussion protocol a few days later, feeling no bitterness toward the Redblack who hit him, cornerback Jonathan Rose.
“It was a good hit,” said Manziel. “It was unfortunate I had to miss two games because of it.
“It’s easy to sit back and look at the film and say I should have slid at the one-yard line but I’ve played football my entire life and come across a lot of situations like that and it hasn’t played out like that before.”
In Manziel’s absence, Pipkin stepped in and gave 2-8 Montreal perhaps its best quarterbacking of the season. Last week the Tiffin University product passed for 303 yards as Montreal beat Toronto 25-22 to end a six-game losing run.
It was a surprise for many. Pipkin spent last season with the Alouettes but got into only the final game of the season. He was released in June and called back Aug. 6 only when a string of Montreal pivots fell injured.
Now he’s pushing Johnny Football for the starting job.
“Me and Pip have known each other for a while,” said Manziel. “I thought the last two weeks he handled himself well and played well.
“We needed a win last week and we got one, so I’m proud of him. It’s fun to have him around.”
Pipkin was at the Whitfield academy in 2016 preparing for his draft year. Manziel was there to sharpen his game and try to get back into football after a disastrous two seasons in Cleveland. He got his chance when Hamilton signed him in the spring, but he never got into a game for the Tiger-Cats.
The Alouettes invested heavily in Manziel and it would not be surprising if, at some point, he’s back in the starting job. After the Ottawa game, they have a bye week before facing the B.C. Lions at home on Sept 14. That’s when the tough decision comes, and whether pressure comes from upper management to give Manziel the ball.
“I haven’t felt that pressure from anybody,” said Sherman. “My pressure is to play the right quarterback to help us win the game.
“That’s the only pressure I ever feel. John’s healthy right now and that’s a good thing. And Pip had a good game last week. I’m really happy with his performance. So we’ll just have to wait and see.”
And Pipkin said he’s not going into games feeling that he is on a short leash – that one bad quarter will lead to getting pulled in favour of Manziel.
“I’m just ready to go have fun and try to win another game,” he said. “I think anything that comes from a short leash or anything like that is just outside pressure that’s trying to create some kind of controversy.”