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Why Johnny Manziel will be playing pro football in 2018 … somewhere – NFL Nation

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AUSTIN, Texas — The wind was howling, with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. The temperature had fallen to 39 degrees, which is unconscionably bone-chilling for these parts. About 500 fans remained in the stands of a high school stadium, hoping that Johnny Manziel could spin the kind of magic he was known for as a high school and college player in central Texas.

Manziel sprinted onto the field, eager to lead his Spring League team to a final scoring drive that would cap his first game in 832 days. Then a teammate jumped offsides. Two players dropped his passes and then, on fourth down, came a defensive jailbreak he could not elude.

This is where Manziel found himself on a Saturday night in April, not in an NFL offseason program, but instead in a minor league game surrounded by long shots and never-will-bes. And with it came the realization that whatever attributes he can demonstrate to NFL scouts here in two Spring League games, it won’t be his best, and it certainly won’t be enough to sway a skeptical team to make him an offer. Those decisions will rest in an evaluation of his off-field behavior and maturity, not whether he is leading game-winning drives in April.

Speaking emotionally afterward, Manziel acknowledged his own mistakes in the game — including a fumble — and said his most important achievement Saturday night was simply being on the field.

“I would hope that people know that football nonetheless is a team game,” he said. “It takes all 11 of us in sync with the snap count, with the blocking, with the routes, with everything.

“I don’t think I have to play perfect. I just have to play.”

So where does that leave the NFL — or the Canadian Football League, for that matter — as offseason rosters are being finalized? From what I can tell, the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats covet Manziel while NFL teams know they will get limited insight at best from a two-week stint in a developmental league.

Regardless, I spent some time in Austin this week seeking the same answers as pro scouts from both leagues. I was told that Manziel has been attentive and interactive during twice-a-day meetings, which is a notable contrast to his admittedly poor work habits when he was with the Cleveland Browns. Terry Shea, a longtime NFL quarterbacks coach who leads the Spring League’s football operations, said Manziel has peppered him with questions.

“And they’re not elementary questions, either,” Shea said. “We’ll introduce him to, say, a play where a quarterback can go to the line of scrimmage and have a ‘check with me’ to one run or another. And then he’ll say, ‘Coach, I understand doing it that way, but would you ever consider it this way instead, and here’s why?’ He’s not challenging. He’s inquiring, and that shows me an active and engaged mind.”

To be clear, we award no prizes when professional athletes act professionally. But Manziel’s past shortcomings in that area are probably the biggest concern NFL teams have. So for the past 10 days at least, we can say that Manziel has put his full attention on his job.

Fellow Spring League quarterback Cody Keith, who played at East Carolina and UNC-Charlotte, said Manziel has called him daily to discuss play installation and options.

“He’s taking it very, very seriously,” Keith said. “I promise you, he knows his past has creeped up and he is taking this very, very seriously. He wants another shot.”

What should NFL executives know about Manziel’s performance in Austin? Shea, for one, has no doubts about the review he would give.

“My bottom line is that there is no doubt in my mind that someone should sign him,” Shea said. “I’ve seen enough of the quarterback skill. His endurance has not been an issue.

“I’ve never been around Johnny Manziel until this moment in time, but I see a very quick arm. I see very active eyes. He sees things and particularly when he’s on the move, those classic Johnny Manziel plays, I’ve seen those come up here.”

Three more days of practice and one final game await Manziel in the Spring League, after which he’ll hit an important leverage point in his comeback. He has a standing offer from the Tiger-Cats, which according to league rules would require a two-year commitment.

Two of the Tiger-Cats’ top scouts — general manager Eric Tillman and assistant general manager Shawn Burke — were in Austin for Saturday’s game. Camps open in mid-May, giving Manziel roughly a month to wait out any NFL interest before the CFL clock starts ticking.

Speaking Saturday night, Manziel said he would either sign with an NFL team this spring or “work until I get back there.”

No one is going to anoint Johnny Manziel a changed man just yet. But if he has turned a corner in his professional comportment, he’ll be able to point back to this time in Austin as a pivotal moment. In his own words, he has demonstrated “everyday behavior” befitting a professional athlete. It still might not be enough to merit an immediate NFL roster spot, but its continued manifestation means he’ll be playing — somewhere, quite possibly in Canada — in 2018.

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Seattle Seahawks sign ex-Packers, Browns DB Damarious Randall

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With injury issues in their secondary, the Seattle Seahawks have signed former Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns defensive back Damarious Randall to their practice squad.

The Seahawks announced that move Tuesday while also signing defensive back Ryan Neal to their 53-man poster and linebacker Tim Williams to their practice squad. Seattle still has one open spot on its 53-man roster.

A first-round pick by the Packers in 2015, Randall has made 56 career starts, including 26 over the past two seasons with Cleveland. He’s played cornerback and safety, two positions where the Seahawks are banged up.

They didn’t have starting right cornerback Quinton Dunbar (knee) or backup Neiko Thorpe (hip) for their win over the Dallas Cowboys last week. They lost strong safety Jamal Adams late in the game to what coach Pete Carroll has called a first-degree groin strain and were playing without one of his backups, Lano Hill (hip).

They also lost running back Chris Carson and linebacker Jordyn Brooks to what Carroll called first-degree knee strains. Right guard Damien Lewis sprained his ankle, though Carroll said it’s not a high-ankle sprain. Carroll said none of those injuries appear serious enough to bring injured reserve into play, though he said he thinks Adams will have a hard time making it back in time for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

The Seahawks have allowed a league-worst 430.7 passing yards per game.

Neal replaced Adams and sealed Seattle’s win with an interception of Dak Prescott in the end zone on Dallas’ final play. He and linebacker Shaquem Griffin had been elevated just for game day, which meant they automatically reverted back to Seattle’s practice squad on Monday.

Carroll has said Griffin earned an opportunity to play again at Miami after his strong showing in 17 defensive snaps against Dallas. It’s not clear if he will be signed to Seattle’s 53-man roster or elevated again just for game day. The Seahawks protected Griffin and tight end Stephen Sullivan on their practice squad, meaning they can’t be signed by other teams this week.

Griffin and Williams give Seattle depth at linebacker, another position that’s been hit hard by injuries. The Seahawks lost Bruce Irvin to a season-ending ACL tear in Week 2. Brooks, their first-round pick, was making his first career start when he injured his knee against Dallas.

Williams, a third-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2017, has appeared in 20 games with no starts.

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NFLPA president JC Tretter calls for all teams to use grass fields

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NFL Players Association president JC Tretter is calling for NFL teams to change all field surfaces to natural grass to reduce the risk of injury to players.

Tretter, the starting center for the Cleveland Browns, wrote in a newsletter that players have a 28% higher rate of noncontact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf compared with grass. Tretter added that those rates are even higher for noncontact knee injuries (32%) and noncontact foot and ankle injuries (69%) on turf compared with grass.

“The data stands out,” Tretter said. “Those numbers are staggering, the difference in injury rate in turf and natural grass. It’s possible to get grass in every location, and it’s about pushing for that. We all should be working toward the safest style of play. We know the dangers of playing on turf. That’s not good for anybody. Not good for players. It’s not good for the GMs and the head coaches. It’s not good for the owners. It’s not good for the fans. Increased injures is not good for anybody.

“Until we can find a way to get synthetic turf to respond and react like natural grass, it’s too much of a danger to play on and expect different results.”

Currently, 13 NFL stadiums use artificial turf.

San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and his players had expressed concern about the turf at MetLife Field, where the team recently lost a number of players, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and defensive end Nick Bosa, to injuries.

Tretter attributed the data to NFL injury analysis collected from 2012 to 2018 and said a “committee of engineers” has been tasked with examining field surfaces. Tretter also advocated for a “better regimen” for surface testing, noting that the Clegg Impact Tester presently used by the league measures hardness of a surface, “but not performance and safety.”

He said teams shouldn’t use climate or indoor stadiums as an excuse not to implement grass, given that several cold-weather teams, including the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, use grass already, and the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders have natural grass despite playing indoors.

“This is something from here on out we need to make a priority,” Tretter said. “Players safety will always be a priority for us and the union.”

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Who is Trey Lance? Meet the NFL draft darling playing only once this fall

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Carlton Lance remembers only two of his son’s passes that could have been intercepted during North Dakota State‘s 16-0 season in 2019.

There was an out route in a 27-16 victory against UC Davis when a cornerback cut under the Bison receiver and nearly picked off the pass.

And there was a throw down the middle in a 22-0 shutout of Missouri State when Lance’s son didn’t see the backside linebacker, who dropped the ball after it hit him in the hands.

Otherwise, much like the Bison’s third straight national title-winning campaign (and eighth in nine years!), Trey Lance‘s first season as North Dakota State’s starting quarterback was pretty much perfect.

Remarkably, Lance didn’t throw an interception in 287 attempts, setting the NCAA all-division record for most passing attempts in a season without one. He completed 66.9% of his passes for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns, while running 169 times for 1,100 yards and 14 more scores. He led the FCS in passing efficiency (180.6) and established single-season school records for passing efficiency and total offense (3,886 yards).

He was named the most outstanding player in North Dakota State’s 28-20 victory against James Madison in the FCS national championship, which helped the Bison achieve the first 16-0 season in college football since 1894. He won the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS and the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman, becoming the first player to win both honors.

Lance and the Bison will take the field on Saturday for the first and only time this fall against Central Arkansas at the Fargodome (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+ and ESPN app), which typically seats 18,700. Only 8,400 fans are expected after many season-ticket holders opted out because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It also could be most fans’ last chance to see the player they might have read about but never seen in action.

Lance, a draft-eligible sophomore, is projected as the third-best quarterback available for the 2021 NFL draft, behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Both analysts project Lance among the top 10 picks overall.

Lance says he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll enter the NFL draft or return to North Dakota State for another season. The Bison are scheduled to play eight more games from late February through mid-April. The draft is scheduled for April 29 to May 1 in Cleveland.

“We’ve talked about it,” Lance recently told ESPN. “My family has been up here to talk about it. Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’m just 100 percent focused on this game. I’ve had conversations with the coaching staff and my family, and I’m gathering information and getting as much feedback and advice as I can get.”

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, Lance has the size, arm strength, mobility and decision-making that NFL teams covet. The only thing he lacks is greater experience at the collegiate level. After redshirting in 2018 and playing behind current Los Angeles Chargers backup Easton Stick, Lance would have only 17 career starts if he elects to leave before the Bison resume their season in February.

“It’s all about what other people think,” Lance said. “It’s not really about what I think. I’ve done everything I can to play as many games as possible. If that was my decision at the end of the fall, I’ve played as many games as I possibly can. I’m loving it here at North Dakota State, so we’ll see what happens.”

Former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz faced similar questions after he missed much of his senior season because of a broken wrist in 2015. Wentz went 20-3 as a starter before he was the No. 2 pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2016 NFL draft, the highest selection of an FCS player in the draft’s history.

Stick, a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in 2019, is the winningest quarterback in FCS history with a 49-3 record.

“I think it all depends on the individual,” Bison coach Matt Entz said. “When Carson Wentz was going through the same process, people were concerned about whether [23 starts] was enough. I think it depends on the organization and what they’re looking for. I know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Quarterbacks are going to be drafted in the first round, regardless if they’re top-15 talent or not, because everybody needs to have one and everyone wants to have a game-changer at that position, just like we do.”

Lance wouldn’t be the first quarterback selected in the first round with limited starting experience in college. Since the 2006 NFL draft, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, six quarterbacks have been taken in the first round with fewer than 20 college starts: Mitchell Trubisky (13), Cam Newton (14), Dwayne Haskins (14), Mark Sanchez (16), Kyler Murray (17) and Ryan Tannehill (19).

“That’s not our decision at all, so it doesn’t matter what I think,” Carlton Lance said of his son’s decision to enter the draft. “It is what is. It’s what he has. That’s one thing you’ll find out about Trey and the Lance family, period: We don’t work in what-ifs or should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. If he moves forward, he moves forward. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. There’s no use in us being worried about that decision. We have no control of it.”

As they did with Wentz, Power 5 programs largely ignored Trey Lance coming out of high school. (Stick’s lone Power 5 offer was from Rutgers.) Teams from Group of 5 leagues such as Air Force, Boise State, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan offered Lance an opportunity to play quarterback. Power 5 coaches, however, only liked him as a receiver or defensive back, despite Lance throwing for 3,026 yards, running for nearly 1,200 yards and scoring 51 total touchdowns during his career playing in a wing-T offense at Marshall High School in Minnesota.

Lance attended summer camps at Minnesota and Nebraska, but offers to play quarterback never came.

“Boise State was the biggest offer he had,” his father said, adding that Lance rarely played quarterback in the second half of games because the scores were so out of hand.

“I tell everybody: Being from Marshall, they really didn’t believe what they were seeing, probably,” the elder Lance added. “He checked a lot of the boxes: He had the height, he could run the ball, he could throw the ball rolling out right or left. He was accurate. I’m just stating the facts.

“What I dislike hearing is that he bloomed late or something like that. He was 6-3 and 200-something pounds when he left high school. He could play. I’d like to see which box he didn’t check.”

Getting college recruiters to come to Marshall was a challenge in itself. The town of about 15,000 residents is 150 miles west of Minneapolis. Lance’s father grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and was a football and track star at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall from 1988 to 1991.

Ed Meierkort, later the head coach at South Dakota, recruited Carlton Lance for the SMSU Mustangs. When Meierkort first contacted him, a hurricane was headed for South Florida. Meierkort asked him how long hurricane season lasted.

“About 30 days,” Lance said. “How long does winter last up there?”

“About 30 days,” Meierkort replied.

Lance also was under the impression that Marshall wasn’t too far from the Twin Cities. When he arrived for preseason camp as a freshman, two SMSU players picked him up at the airport. They took him to a Twins game and then drove him to Marshall that night.

Lance fell asleep in the back seat of his teammate’s car, checked into his apartment late that night and finally saw the town the next morning. He was surprised to find a cornfield across the street from the team’s practice field. It wasn’t quite Minneapolis.

As a junior cornerback in 1990, Lance helped lead Southwest Minnesota State to its only conference championship. The team also qualified for the NAIA national playoffs for just the second time in school history.

Lance played one season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and was named to the Canadian Football League’s all-rookie team in 1993. He also played for the London Monarchs of the World League in 1995 and was in training camp with the NFL’s Houston Oilers and San Francisco 49ers.

After he retired, Lance and his wife, Angie, whom he met in college, returned to her hometown of Marshall. Lance put a football in his son’s hand shortly after he was born. He has been a volunteer coach at Marshall High, where Trey’s younger brother, Bryce, is a senior wide receiver. The Bison are among the teams that have offered Bryce a scholarship.

Randy Hedberg, the Bison’s passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, loved Trey Lance’s competitive nature and the physical way he played quarterback.

“He’s very athletic and has size,” Hedberg said. “He plays the game and quarterback position with a defensive mentality. His dad was a defensive coach and coached the secondary, and Trey played in the secondary in high school. I think that’s the way he plays. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to play that way at the next level, but he plays a very physical type of game.”

Carlton Lance said he encouraged his son to lower his shoulder or get out of bounds but never to be on the wrong end of a big hit.

“If it’s him and a guy, you’ve got to make a business decision,” he said. “You better make sure that he feels you, rather than you feeling him if you pull up. I always tell him that there wouldn’t have been a Tom Brady if Drew Bledsoe didn’t pull up by the sideline.”

What sold Trey Lance on the Bison were the program’s quarterback tradition and its offense. While other teams are running up-tempo offenses with no huddle and signaling plays from the sideline, the Bison still huddle and call plays in the huddle. North Dakota State’s quarterbacks are tasked with setting protections and making run-and-pass checks at the line of scrimmage.

During game weeks, Lance studies hours of tape in preparation. On Mondays, he reviews the opponents’ overall schemes; Tuesdays are for third down; Wednesdays for red zone; and Thursdays for two-minute offense. On Fridays, after cutting film the previous day, Lance presents the game plan to his receivers, telling them where they need to be in particular concepts.

“He studies the game very hard,” Hedberg said. “I’d say he’s a football junkie.”

In Lance’s first game at North Dakota State in 2018, he scored on a 44-yard run against North Alabama. In his second game against South Dakota, he fumbled, kicked the ball twice and still scooped it up and scored on a 23-yard run.

In his first start against Butler at Target Field in Minneapolis last season, he completed 10 of 11 passes for 185 yards with four touchdowns and ran for 116 yards with two scores.

“He doesn’t get flat and he doesn’t get rattled,” Entz said. “This young man is different.”

Lance met Fields at the Elite 11 QB camp in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this past spring, and he has only communicated with Lawrence on social media. While they might be separated by a level of NCAA competition and hundreds of miles, Lance is confident there isn’t much different about them when it comes to playing quarterback.

“They’re both faith-driven guys and great guys,” Lance said. “I don’t know if there’s any other schools, maybe Oklahoma, that’s doing what we’re doing at the quarterback position. The last three quarterbacks before me have all had legitimate NFL looks, and the last two have been drafted.

“Realistically, if you’re in the transfer portal or being recruited out of high school, if you’re really thinking about your future and where you want to be, I think bigger isn’t always better and the grass isn’t always greener. If your goal is to play at the next level, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to come to North Dakota State.”

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