COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It was part pro day, part spectacle. But it was 100% Johnny Football.
Johnny Manziel — former Texas AM quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, friend of LeBron James and former President George H.W. Bush and NFL hopeful — put on a pro day performance Thursday like few in the NFL had ever seen.
“I wanted to put on a good show for them,” Manziel said.
And what a show it was for representatives of 30 of the 32 NFL teams, including eight head coaches and eight general managers. Only the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears were not represented.
Those NFL talent evaluators who did come to College Station left with a greater understanding of the Manziel phenomenon. He is more than just a quarterback — Manziel is a celebrity.
“There’s a little bit of Hollywood to it. But the guy came out and he threw the ball well,” Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told USA TODAY Sports.
Manziel warmed up for his workout in private before strutting into the Aggies’ field house as rap music — the uncensored variety — blared from speakers. Manziel wore a matte black helmet, shoulder pads, a black No. 2 jersey and shorts in a camouflage print — part of a special line of Manziel gear being marketed and sold by Nike.
None of the NFL coaches or personnel executives on hand who spoke to USA TODAY Sports could remember seeing a prospect, let alone a quarterback, go through a pre-draft workout in football gear.
“You play the game in shoulder pads on Sundays, why not come out here and do it?” Manziel asked. “I’ve never understood why that was a trend. To me, it was a no-brainer when coach (George)] Whitfield and I talked about it. Come out here and treat this as a business day, treat this as a game day.”
Were this a game and not a scripted throwing session without a defender in sight, Manziel’s stat line would read 61-for-64 passing, including one drop, one pass caught just out of bounds and one throw that Manziel just missed.
“It’s a controlled environment, so you expect that he would be (accurate). But the way that the ball came out, and the way that he handled himself was impressive,” Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “The leadership that he showed, the accuracy that he showed, all those things — it was a good day for him.”
PHOTOS: More from Manziel’s pro day
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Manziel took every snap from under center (he played almost exclusively from the shotgun in college) and spent nearly half of the session working on short throws in the flat. There was also plenty of play-action and bootlegs and a variety of deep throws, with passes down each seam and to each sideline.
“We took a lot of time trying to lay out that script. Every throw in that deal is part of NFL offenses and concepts,” Whitfield, the quarterback guru who has been preparing Manziel for the draft, said. “From the footwork, to the reads, to the eyes, the thing that he’s been so challenged about — and what people aren’t willing to give him (credit for) — is he can be a systematic player.
“Everyone thinks he has to work off script, that he’s a jazz artist and can’t read script music. We tried to iron out some Mozart out here, and hopefully people’s ears caught it. That was the deal, and I’m proud of him.”
Manziel concluded the day with a deep bomb to Mike Evans, the Aggies’ top receiver and a likely first-round pick who was also showcasing his abilities for NFL teams. When Evans caught that pass in the end zone, Manziel reacted with a yell.
“Boom!” he screamed before jogging downfield to celebrate.
Bush, his wife, Barbara, and their two small dogs were driven onto the field midway through Manziel’s workout, causing a brief distraction as their two golf carts maneuvered down the sideline and into prime viewing locations.
Manziel was unfazed.
Compared to what he experienced as college football’s biggest celebrity after his meteoric rise in 2012, when he became the first freshman to the win the Heisman Trophy, a few honks from a golf cart horn and a handful of secret service officers were hardly a big deal.
“We felt a big movement on the sideline, and all of a sudden he turned back around and goes, ‘That’s the President.’ We all snapped around,” Whitfield said.
“That’s pretty special when that happens. I’m glad he has that no-flinch mentality, because I don’t know how I would have been if I’m playing my heart out out here and a president rolls up into the audience and sits right behind you. That’s not an easy thing.”
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman were scheduled to meet privately with Manziel after the workout. Zimmer didn’t seem overly amused about the unconventional nature of the pro day.
“It was interesting. Different. The sideshow, everything,” Zimmer told USA TODAY Sports.
“I think for some teams, it’s a turnoff. For some teams, they maybe like it, I don’t know. It’s a sideshow. The whole thing is a sideshow, it looked like.”
But ultimately, it was an indicator of what life could be like for the team that drafts Manziel.
“It’s just part of the package and part of what you have to consider. You take everything into account,” Allen said.
“The ultimate goal is to go out and win football games, and if you feel like that is something that can be part of the package and still be able to win football games, then you go do it.”
Manziel was expected to meet with at least the Vikings, Raiders, Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, each of whom had their head coach at the pro day, over the remainder of Thursday and into Friday.
In the coming days and weeks, Manziel is expected to participate in private workouts for teams that request them. One club expected to do so is Cleveland given neither general manager Ray Farmer or head coach Mike Pettine attended the Aggies’ pro day. The Browns brass did not attend the pro days for top quarterback prospects Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater earlier this month, either.
Teams will also host Manziel at their facilities for more meetings and interviews. Those will be his opportunities to show prospective bosses that he’s more than just Johnny Football.
“I’m extremely serious, extremely dedicated to this process going forward, and I want to go into this and show these teams who I am as a person, who I am in the football facility that not everybody gets to see,” Manziel said.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones