Hartman: Sumlin sees Manziel as a winner, leader

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2014 - 5:49 AM

The former Gophers assistant believes the Texas A&M star became more than just an athlete last year.

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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel passes the ball during a drill at pro day for NFL football representatives in College Station, Texas, Thursday, March 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

Photo: Patric Schneider, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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Kevin Sumlin was a Gophers football assistant from 1993 to ’97 under Jim Wacker and Glen Mason and is now the coach at Texas A&M.

For two years, Sumlin has coached All-America quarterback Johnny Manziel. He was asked to predict how well the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner will perform in the NFL.

“I think so many times, guys have to get in the right place,” Sumlin said. “You know that. It’s hard on young quarterbacks in the NFL, but does he have the potential? Does he have the talent? Yes. His best days are ahead of him.

“He played two years really, started two years in college, so he redshirted as a freshman before I got here and he started the last two seasons. He really improved last year as a quarterback, and the challenge for him was to go from an athlete playing quarterback to a quarterback that’s an athlete. He’s still improving and he knows that. I think he has got the tools and he has the smarts and the work ethic to get it done.”

Sumlin, who married a local woman in the former Charlene Sirois, said every team in the NFL has shown interest in Manziel. He was asked to compare Manziel to another young quarterback such as former Stanford star Andrew Luck, who has had a lot of early success with Indianapolis.

“I don’t know. Andrew is a different kid,” Sumlin said. “A lot bigger guy. It took him a little while, too, and he’s still developing. That league is hard on young quarterbacks right off the bat, but I think [Manziel] has the potential, given the right situation. I think he has the potential to grow. He is an exceptional athlete and an exceptional talent.”

Sumlin also was asked if he had heard anything about the meeting Manziel had with new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and the supposed red flags that popped up.

“I talked to Mike during the workout, and I haven’t really talked to him after he interviewed [Manziel],” Sumlin said. “I mean, I talked to them during the pro day, before the pro day and during it. But I know Johnny has been on some visits and they did some interviews with him after that, but I haven’t really spoken to him since.”

Manziel hasn’t talked about Minnesota?

“No, we just talk in general,” Sumlin said. “He’s on the tour right now, visiting all kinds of teams. He hasn’t been back here. He’s traveling all over the place doing interviews and teams are flying him in. He’s working out in between and working out at different places just about every day, too.”

Is Manziel a good kid?

“He’s a competitor. The thing that makes him good is he’s hard on himself,” Sumlin said. “He wants to be great. He’s driven by trying to be really, really good. Guys that have that sometimes, you know, as a coach, it’s a little bit easier on you when it comes to football because of their own drive inside of them to try to be the best guy on the field. He has that. He has that to him.”

Is he a leader?

“I think he is,” Sumlin said. “I know when it comes to playing football, he is. I know our team, I think he added a dimension to the team that the game was never over.”

Yes, the Vikings have spent time with Manziel and there are rumors from good sources that they have interest in drafting him, among other quarterbacks, in the first round.

Drafting Manziel or another quarterback might also involve the Vikings making some deals to move their first-round pick, No. 8 overall, like they did in the 2012 draft, when they were able to land USC tackle Matt Kalil fourth overall and then drafted Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with the 29th pick.

But my guess is their top pick will be the best defensive player left on the board.

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