Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

July 18, 2013

Some substance, please

Uncovering the real meat of media days

BRADEN LAYER
Daily News

---- — HOOVER, Ala. — Inside the Wynfrey Hotel, in front of a horde of more than 1,100 reporters and media professionals, Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel sat down to one lonely microphone on Wednesday and braved an onlsaught of uber-personal questions. Wearing a black suit in front of a black curtain, you could barely make out his shadow under the bright Southeastern Conference media day lights.

Yet despite his chameleon-like dress attire, whether intended or by accident, there was no hiding Manziel's presence. This was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, the SEC's single-season record holder in total yardage (5,116 yards, shattering Cam Newton's 4,327 mark in 2010). This was "Johnny Football."

He had just been sent home from the Manning Passing Academy the week prior, after all, and those in media row wanted their answers in the most anticipated college football interview since Nick Saban delivered yet another championship speech on Jan. 7 following Alabama's second consecutive national title.

Was Manziel hung over at the Manning Passing Academy? Had he overslept due to too many drinks the night before? Had his wild offseason finally caught up with him?

By my count, of the first 12 questions sent Manziel's way from reporters, 10 were centered on offseason issues such as the Manning debacle or his whirlwind of courtside appearances and celebrity encounters. Only two focused on, well, the real reason Manziel was there, which was to discuss the upcoming Aggies season and promote the positives that are surrounding Texas A&M in its second year of SEC play.

The 10-2 ratio of questions skewed in favor of offseason indulges is in no way surprising, as the articles that focus on his partying behavior, fair or not, gather the most hits and subsequent attention. ESPN.com's homepage linked two stories to the Manziel presser immediately thereafter, titled, "Manziel: 'Overslept,'" and "Still going to live life to the fullest."

Maybe I'm too much of a football purist, but I would have loved to see an article that devoted some attention to, you know, the actual game of football. I want to know how he's changed his game, how he's going to adjust to being the unquestioned centerpiece of Texas A&M football. The Aggies have a massive target on their backs after an 11-2 debut, and I want to hear how the offense has been tweaked, what new formations we can expect to see or if Manziel is going to stay in the pocket just a smidge more to project his slightly diminutive frame.

Here's my take on Manziel and the Mannings. He has already been asked to come back and be a counselor next season. Done and done. We don't need to hammer him on the mistake he made. 

"[It] had nothing to do with activities the night before," Manziel said during the presser. "Just a really busy schedule—probably bit off a little more than I could chew."

He wasn't arrested, didn't get into trouble with Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin and won't be suspended for any part of the 2013 season. The kid made a mistake, let's move on.

I applaud the two reporters that braved the sea of repetitive questions on his public perception to ask about the X's and O's of the upcoming season. One was a question about how Manziel expects SEC defenses to adjust this season to his playing style, a unique blend of speed, agility and unmatched instincts that was seldom scripted last fall as he danced around the pocket in an unpredictable manner. The only thing that was predictable was the outcome: touchdowns, 47 of them in all. 

Now he's going against a hungrier Jadeveon Clowney and a league that is putting all stock in limiting his impact on a football game. Manziel said he expects to maybe see more blitzes in his second season as a starter in an attempt to rattle him early in a ballgame.

The other question was about the departure of former offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to take over at Texas Tech, his alma mater. Manziel fielded the question, like most of those he answered, with poise and a confident demeanor that has helped him win over the Aggie huddle at such a young age (he turned 20 in December). He said he still speaks with Kingsbury regularly, but that's he confident in the new staff to continue where last season left off.

Those are the questions that should be analyzed, picked and prodded. In the three-day circus that has become the SEC media days, it's not often that the meat of material gets analyzed. Will Muschamp's comment on Ohio State and its involvement in reportedly turning Florida in for recruiting violations (of which the NCAA found no such violations) stole the show, not the Gators' approach to solving an offense that was 104th out of 124 Division I teams in total offense. 

Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry received plenty of media attention not for his comments on football, but for a bright pink suit that only TNT's Craig Sager could love (and has no color-connection to the Rebels).

With the Big Ten's media days one week away (July 24-25 in Chicago), it's pretty much predetermined what stories will be featured. Urban Meyer will take the stage and likely field as many questions about Aaron Hernandez as he will about the 2013 Buckeyes. Brady Hoke will be coaxed into calling OSU "Ohio," and new Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson will undoubtedly be asked about departed coach Brett Bielema's blasting of the Badgers' way of underpaying assistant coaches.

But if the Manziel interview can teach us anything, it's that the football purists are still there, and will still ask the pertinent information true football fans desire, if only in a rising sea of superficial fodder. Pay close attention and you will stumble across articles highlighting Meyer's need for an entirely new front-four on defense to play beyond their years, the importance of having Devin Gardner back in the Maize and Blue and how James White can finally take the next step at Wisconsin and lead a rushing attack without Doak Walker winner Montee Ball. 

Look past the major national media outlets and you'll find discussions on Tim Beckman's young Illinois squad and Nathan Scheelhaase's final season to leave a mark in Champaign. There are indeed pieces that focus on the Illini's unproven wideouts, or the strength of the linebacking core to try and lead the team to more than last season's 2-10 mark. The real, gritty material is there, you just have to wade through the fluff.

Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at braden.layer@effinghamdailynews.com