By Brett Dolan

Kevin O’Connell starred in college as a quarterback with San Diego State. He played in the NFL, backing up the likes of Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez. He has knowledge and experience to share. He might also be molding the potential number one pick in the NFL and the future of the Houston Texans.

O’Connell assists San Diego based quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. with his clients, breaking down game film, tutoring prospective NFL players and helping to prepare them for the combine’s interview process.

O’Connell has one very eager pupil whose willingness to learn has generated more than a little interest. That comes when the client won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman, produced an even better sophomore season and could potentially be the number one pick in May’s draft. Ah yes, Johnny Manziel.

O’Connell and Manziel have been spending hours and hours in the video room watching game film from Texas A&M, the NFL and games involving Bill O’Brien. Did I mention O’Connell also played for Bill O’Brien?

“I speak very highly of Bill O’Brien,” O’Connell said. “I think he is a fantastic football coach. I had a chance to be around him. I think he is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He is also very competitive. I think Johnny sees both of those things and wants a chance to spend some time with the Houston Texans in Indianapolis and hopefully as this process continues to go forward.”

O’Connell believes for a lot of players, it takes exposure to the NFL before they realize just how much they need to learn. Manziel seems to be in a hurry to find out what he doesn’t know.

“He is going into the NFL game, hungry to learn and knowing that he doesn’t know stuff and have all the answers,” he said. “He is excited to embrace the whole process of being not only a rookie, but also a rookie who has a chance to be a starting quarterback and potentially a very successful NFL quarterback. That is the coolest part for me. Just the idea that he walks in so hungry to continue to learn the game and not only learn the game but he wants to figure out why things may have happened during his college season.”

O’Connell leaves little doubt as to what he believes is possible.

“I think Johnny is immensely talented,” he emphasized. “I think he is incredibly talented. I think the next step for him comes from two things, learning the NFL game, learning how his offense can best suit him and how he can get the ball to the receivers around him. Number two, learning the pro game of how to take care of yourself. How you withstand the punishment to play 16 games and hopefully more if you make the playoffs.”

Manziel’s “Johnny Football” gun slinging style would seem to be counterproductive to staying healthy. O’Connell finds his on-field personality intriguing because the learning curve is still steep.

“A lot of that comes from being a redshirt freshman quarterback who had an ability to make plays in and out of the pocket,” he explained. “Not really learning the intricacies of protection or not really knowing exactly how to protect yourself. The best thing he is going to do is learn the game and learn the inside and outs of an NFL playbook and I think you will start seeing less and less of Johnny Football running around making crazy plays and more of the rhythm and timing and reading coverages and getting the ball out of his hand. Which will do two things: it will get the ball into his playmakers hands and let them make big time plays and that will keep him healthy”

O’Connell recognizes Manziel has a “special” ability to make plays but emphasizes the NFL might require some moderation. Making the JFB plays one or two times a game instead of 10-12 times would keep him upright and also make him a better teammate.

O’Connell also sees Manziel growing into the role of a professional and learning what that means on a daily basis. He emphasized as a pro, Manziel will learn much more once he gets into a locker room with guys who have been in the league five to ten years. O’Connell referenced individuals he played with such as LaDainian Tomlinson in New York and Tom Brady in New England. He observed their preparation habits and tried to copy them.

O’Connell’s biggest value to Manziel remains inside the video room. Most people don’t travel to San Diego to spend time inside watching television. But the duo spends hours watching games, breaking down plays and discussing football. O’Connell offers an interesting observation on Manziel’s make-up.

“He’s got a photographic memory,” he said. “He can remember what he was thinking, why he made the decision he did and why a protection went a certain way it did. He just constantly wants to be learning and understanding the bigger picture.”

All are attributes that might impress an offensive minded rookie NFL Head Coach. O’Connell stops short of predicting where Manziel might be drafted but he offers an endorsement of what the future holds.

“All the things that make Brady and Manning special, Johnny Manziel is capable of doing those things,” he said. “Now it is on him to continue to learn it and apply it to his game.

“Wherever Johnny goes I think he will be a great pro and I think he is going to work extremely hard to become the best possible player that he can be. I think the sky is the limit. The NFL has a funny way of allowing the cream to rise to the top no matter where you are picked.”



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