Even before news broke that the NCAA is investigating whether Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel accepted money to participate in organized autograph signings for memorabilia dealers, questions regarding the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner's focus were everywhere.
"Does he care about his celebrity status more than the team?"
"How can he focus on football when he's out partying 24/7/365?"
Now, that conversation has shifted a bit. The question has become whether Manziel can stay focused with his eligibility hanging in the balance.
Of course he can.
In fact, the firestorm caused by the autograph scandal will help him as an Aggie.
Sure, there have been some inconsistencies during fall camp.
But according to the Associated Press (via FOX Sports), Manziel showed flashes of brilliance, tossing two touchdowns and one pick in Saturday's open scrimmage. He primarily worked on his downfield passing game and was doing so against a defense that, according to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, was dropping eight into coverage because it knew he couldn't show off his scrambling ability.
That's an encouraging sign for the Aggies because, by all indications, Manziel is taking the majority of first-team snaps and is still up to his old tricks on the field.
For Manziel—and other high-profile players involved in scandals pertaining to eligibility—the practice field is the safe haven. The oasis. An escape from the noise allowing him to focus on the thing that got him here.
Despite the public perception that he's been jet-setting around the globe all offseason, he did actually make a concerted effort to improve himself. His trip to San Diego in May, when he threw out the first pitch at a Padres game, was centered around a week of work with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.
He's not "Johnny Drama" when he's on the practice field; he's "Johnny Football," the same guy who dazzled the college football world with 5,123 total yards and 47 touchdowns en route to becoming the first redshirt freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy.
Manziel hasn't quit yet. His actions since the news of the autograph scandal broke indicate he plans on playing in 2013. If you don't think that silencing his critics is a motivating factor, you're kidding yourself.
The Manziel camp going into hibernation mode only limits the noise and keeps football first.
Fair or not (and it's not), Manziel is going to be held to a much different standard in 2013. Video-game numbers are nice, but he's become the most polarizing player in college football since Cam Newton. Because of that—and the shadow of last season's Heisman Trophy hanging over his head—Manziel is fighting an uphill battle if he wants to repeat.
Becoming insular and focusing on football may actually help the 2013 Aggies, because Manziel shouldn't have to do what he did last year with all the weapons around him. With a four-headed monster at running back and an ultra-talented wide-receiving corps led by Mike Evans, relying on his teammates is probably the path of least resistance anyway.
We already know what he's capable of in the running game, and a defense that drops eight and challenges him as a passer helps him become more familiar with those receivers and more comfortable in the pocket.
Distractions? Come on. Manziel is using football as his distraction, and that's going to make him better in the long run.
That is, of course, assuming he's eligible.
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