INDIANAPOLIS — The news that circulated Friday morning was far from breaking. Everyone already knew Johnny Football was small in stature.
But this is the NFL Scouting Combine, where heights, weights and 40-yard dash times are overanalyzed ad nauseam.
Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel officially measured at 5 feet 11¾. When the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner met with reporters a few hours later, it did not take long for the subject to come up.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,” Manziel said. “I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number.”
Later in the afternoon, Denver Broncos president John Elway, the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer, was asked what he thought of Manziel.
“I think he’s a great little player,” Elway said.
After the laughter stopped, Elway smiled and said, “I shouldn’t say little.”
It might have been a Freudian slip, but stature is hard to overlook in the NFL, even after 5-11 Russell Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks past the Broncos in the Super Bowl earlier this month.
It’s one of the reasons there are concerns in NFL circles about Manziel, who is competing with Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Blake Bortles of Central Florida to be the first quarterback taken in the May draft.
Manziel wowed with his play in his two seasons as the Aggies starting quarterback. But there were some tumultuous times off it. He admitted Friday to meeting with a counselor while at Texas A&M after reports surfaced that he was asked to leave the Peyton Manning Passing Academy because he missed assignments and practice sessions.
When he was asked Friday if he was willing to change his lifestyle to be the face of an NFL franchise, Manziel said: “Absolutely. I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There are guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line.
“For me, it’s nothing. It won’t be a hard thing to kick, or anything really, a hard deal to not do. I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team.”
Savage admits mistake
Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage once had to deal with hype on a much smaller scale. He was a high school All-American and started as a freshman at Rutgers. Now, after two transfers and only two full seasons of college football under his belt, he is trying to get on the NFL radar this week.
“You go from high school thinking you’re the man, all these offers, being overrated or whatever,” Savage said. “All these people, these analysts, want to hype up these kids. You have to earn it. You have to do it.”
Savage earned his way here, but it was a long journey. He is the only quarterback at the combine to play for three college teams. When NFL coaches and general managers have asked this week why he is so well-traveled, Savage told them he made a mistake by leaving Rutgers after he was beat out by a freshman, Chas Dodd.
If he could have a mulligan for his college career, Savage said: “I would just stay at Rutgers, be patient, and earn my job back. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t be here.
“But looking back, one virtue I didn’t have was patience. I had early success and didn’t know why I had early success. I kind of made a mistake and left.”
Savage transferred from Rutgers to Arizona. After one season at Arizona, he decided to transfer again. He wanted to go back to Rutgers, but was denied an NCAA appeal. His final option was to walk on at Pitt, where he earned a scholarship and started for one season.
“You see someone transfer twice your immediate thought is probably a red flag, there is something wrong,” said Savage, who threw 21 touchdown passes and nine interceptions last season for the Panthers. “Obviously, my journey has been a little different.
“I got hurt. I lost my job. The kid went in there and played great for the team. Coach [Greg Schiano] went with the hot hand. I was an 18-year-old kid, bitter and ticked off. I thought I had all the answers and decided to leave. Obviously, looking back now, I could have handled it a different way. But I definitely matured from the whole process. I grew from it and I’m happy to be where I am now.”
Savage is a pocket passer who struggled at times last season because he was under duress from opposing pass rushers as the Panthers allowed 43 sacks.
Savage said those less-than-ideal circumstances prepared him well for the NFL.
“I think it helps you,” he said. “It’s all fun and games when you have four or five seconds back there. But you have to learn how to adapt when you get hit every play. It trains you, it really does, for the league.
“These guys are fast. They’ll come and hit you. I think it prepared me well. My line did great. They’ll be phenomenal in the future, but I think it trains you well to take some hits.”
Savage, who measured 6-4 and weighed 228 pounds, is projected as a late-round pick or free agent. He can improve his standing this weekend when he throws and runs in front of coaches and scouts.
“Just be myself, go out there and sling it, just smile,” Savage said. “Hopefully, I’ll turn some heads running and doing the short shuttle, just going out there and competing. Other than that, I can’t control the rest of it. Just go out there, have fun and enjoy it.”
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.