INDIANAPOLIS: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is trying to convince NFL decision-makers that he has matured. Central Florida’s Blake Bortles is pointing out that he doesn’t need to repair his image.
In other words, Bortles is pushing the idea that he’s the antithesis of Manziel.
The dueling sales pitches are likely of particular interest to Browns General Manager Ray Farmer, because he said his main focus during the NFL Scouting Combine “is to truly get to the core character of the kid.”
The Browns have the fourth overall pick in May’s draft. The top-rated quarterbacks, Manziel, Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, could be Farmer’s primary targets. The Houston Texans, who have the No. 1 overall pick, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own the third selection, also represent logical landing spots.
Bridgewater didn’t appear in front of the media Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium, but Manziel and Bortles did, and teams pay attention to the way prospects handle themselves in those sessions. About an hour after Manziel gave his spiel, Bortles went out of the way to tell the world he wouldn’t be an off-field distraction, which is one of the chief concerns about Manziel.
“Making the right decisions on and off the field, not embarrassing the franchise or your last name I think is huge,” Bortles said while answering a question about his skill set. “Especially when you’re playing quarterback in the National Football League.”
Bortles was later asked about having an edge on Manziel in terms of maturity.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to [Manziel] a little bit these past two days,” Bortles said. “He’s a great kid. I’ve enjoyed talking to him. I can’t speak on how I do this compared to how he does that. All I know is that I’ll be trustworthy. I won’t embarrass an organization off the field by making any bad decisions or anything like that. Won’t embarrass my family’s name and will be a trustworthy guy, a trustworthy player.”
Manziel, meanwhile, is trying to gain trust by insisting that the partying and controversies are in the past. He described himself as a small-town guy from Kerrville, Texas, not the “big Hollywood guy” often depicted on TMZ and Twitter.
But is he prepared to change his lifestyle when he becomes the face of an NFL franchise?
“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,” Manziel said. “This is a job now. There’s 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.”
Manziel denied an ESPN report from last summer about him undergoing counseling for alcohol abuse and anger management, but then said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin had him meet with “an in-house” counselor.
“After last spring, coach Sumlin kind of came to me and said they have an in-house guy, wanted me to sit down and meet with him,” Manziel said. “I was more than willing to learn whatever I could from him and sit down and have meetings with him. Those [meetings] continued throughout the next couple years.”
Bortles labeled himself “trustworthy” five times during his 11½-minute group interview, but it wasn’t the only perceived difference he tried to establish between he and Manziel. Bortles is among several prospects planning to throw at the combine Sunday when the quarterbacks go through on-field workouts. Manziel won’t throw in front of teams until his pro day March 27.
“I want to compete,” Bortles said. “That’s kind of who I am. That’s what I want to do. I look forward to doing everything [at the combine]. That’s kind of the way I was brought up and who I am.
“I believe that I can compete with any guy here, and that’s why I’m doing everything I’m doing. That’s why I’m throwing, that’s why I’m running, doing all this stuff. Why wait till pro day when you have an opportunity to make your first impression here in Indianapolis? I grew up watching this as a kid and dreamed of competing in it. Why would I sit anything out?”
It’s not uncommon for high-profile quarterback prospects to elect not to throw at the combine, and it remains to be seen whether Bridgewater decides to do it.
“[It was an] extremely hard decision for me not to throw here,” Manziel said. “I’m an extremely competitive person. It’s something that my agent really kind of advised me on.”
Of course, the glaring difference between Bortles and Manziel is size, and the official measurements were unveiled early Friday morning. Bortles is 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, Manziel 5-11¾ and 207 pounds and Bridgewater 6-2⅛ and 214 pounds. Manziel had the largest hand measurement of the three at 9⅞ inches, then Bortles at 9⅜ and Bridgewater and 9¼.
“I feel like I play like I’m 10-feet tall,” Manziel said. “A measurement to me is just a number.”
That’s the type of response that makes many believe Manziel will inspire a fan base with his “wow factor.” As for Bortles, he doesn’t have much interest in being flashy.
“I have no clue how I could inspire a fan base,” Bortles said. “I know I’d do everything I could to win, and that should be inspiring enough for a fan base and make them as happy as they can be.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.