Through the first five games of the 2012 season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was just starting to introduce himself to the nation as college football's best dual-threat quarterback. He had thrown for 1,285 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 69% of his passes; on the ground, he'd carried the ball 73 times for 495 yards and 7 scores.
This year's numbers are a little different. Manziel's rushing totals are noticeably down, to 48 carries for 314 yards and three scores (though he did rush for 102 yards against SMU and 98 against Alabama). His passing numbers, on the other hand, are up, in spite of sitting for more than entire game between Rice, SMU and Sam Houston State. He's completed 71.4% of his passes (100-140) for 1,489 yards and 14 TDs, including his 464 yards against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
In last week's 45-33 win against Arkansas, Manziel had 9 carries for a relatively modest 59 yards -- but there was a catch.
"We didn't have a designed run in the gameplan for him," offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said.
As far as head coach Kevin Sumlin is concerned, that's just fine; it shows Manziel is making the transition from athlete to quarterback. Instead of making one or two reads and then taking off, Manziel is buying time to remain in the pocket and continuing his progression.
"I think he's done a better job of seeing the field and not bailing right away," Sumlin said of Manziel.
A&M's head coach smiled when he said that the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner is now doing something "we begged him to do."
"He's used pretty good judgment in getting out of bounds and sliding," Sumlin said. "He's probably slid more in the first five games than he slid all of last year, which is another sign of growing up."
Manziel has been the unquestioned offensive spark for the Aggies for the past 18 games, he was relegated to handoffs during A&M's nine-rush drive when Trey Williams and Tra Carson hammered away for 68 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter at Fayetteville. The nation's best-known player didn't utter a word of complaint as running plays continued to be called.
"That's another sign of maturity," Sumlin said.
The most tangible sign in the transformation of 2012 Manziel to the 2013 version, Sumlin said, is his command of the offense. In recent weeks, Manziel's teammates have commented on his increasing ability to change the offensive play calls for the better, sometimes doing so as late as when the snap is in the air.
"He's protecting the football and not being reckless. What you also see is his understanding of the offense and freedom to adjust the play," Sumlin explained. "He's got some parameters, but he's been able to get us into some good plays. Everybody talks about the quarterback calling the perfect play. That's not what it's about for us. His job is to keep us out of horrendous plays. He understands that a lot more this year than in year one."
While both coach and quarterback have been the national spotlight for the better part of the year, many college football writers have speculated about the nature of their relationship. Even though Manziel said in one interview that people don't realize how close he is to "Summy," some in the national media have gone so far as to claim Manziel showed open contempt for Sumlin by ignoring him when he was yelled at after receiving a taunting penalty against Rice. Sumlin shot those claims down the following Tuesday -- "The worst thing he could have done is responded," he said -- and elaborated on the relationship between the two this week.
"I'm just a firm believer that, as a head coach, the relationship with the starting quarterback is a very unique one, in that, unlike the other players on the team in that the starting quarterback gets way too much credit when you win, but you get most of the blame when you lose," he said. "The ability for you to communicate with that young man is very important. From a relationship standpoint, I would categorize it as a close one."