COLLEGE STATION, Texas – If Texas A&M's scrimmage Saturday night at Kyle Field was an indication, the Aggies have every intention of playing Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the Aug. 31 opener against Rice.
Manziel took the majority of snaps in the Aggies' first and likely only open scrimmage of preseason camp. The sophomore is under NCAA and A&M scrutiny about whether he accepted pay from brokers for autographing memorabilia.
Manziel occasionally flashed his celebrated quickness out of the backfield, but primarily worked on his pocket presence in throwing two touchdown passes along with an interception to linebacker Tommy Sanders, a junior-college transfer.
"He was disappointed, you could see it at the end," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said about Manziel's overall average outing. "He was trying to make every play. But that's about how he does things all of the time." Sumlin said Manziel "blames" him for blowing the whistle too soon during scrimmages, which doesn't allow Manziel to showcase his scrambling abilities as much as he'd like.
"And that's probably true," Sumlin said, smiling.
But, as Sumlin pointed out, the coaches know what Manziel's capable of — a Southeastern Conference single-season record of 5,116 total yards — it's his backups they're still learning plenty about.
On that front, junior Matt Joeckel turned in a steady showing on Saturday before about 10,000 fans, as did true freshman Kenny Hill, who ran a similar offense at powerhouse Southlake Carroll High School near Fort Worth. Redshirt freshman Matt Davis struggled the most of all four quarterbacks, but Sumlin said he was pleased overall with his backups' efforts.
"We gave them plenty of turns with different lines and different situations," Sumlin said. "They've all improved their mechanics. None of them were particularly poor, it was just a degree of how they were doing things. We've got time."
The Aggies feature 31 newcomers on their 105-man camp roster, and Sumlin said it was imperative for the new players to get on the field in a game situation — and in front of fans — with the opener two weeks away.
"There were a bunch of (newcomers) out there today, and we played them all," Sumlin said. "Every one of the 105 on the roster played."
Sumlin said the coaches paid particular interest to the defensive line and the secondary, and an overhauled receiving corps searching for a leader for the departed Ryan Swope, the school's all-time leading receiver. Sumlin also went out of his way to praise the play of sophomore running back Trey Williams in the scrimmage.
"Trey Williams is turning into an every-down back," Sumlin said. "People ask, 'Why didn't he play more against LSU last year?' and so forth. He wasn't ready. There were a lot of different schemes and blitzes that came from the elite teams last year, and he wasn't an every-down back. He's shown us through camp that his game has changed, and he can play every down."
Sumlin was the only A&M coach or player to speak following the scrimmage, which lasted about an hour and a half. Manziel has yet to visit with the media in camp, after the autographs story broke the day the players reported on Aug. 4.
A&M, 11-2 last year in its first season in the SEC, is ranked seventh in the AP preseason poll, its highest such distinction in an AP preseason poll since also starting seventh in the 1999 rankings.