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Column: Johnny Football should be Johnny Heisman

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Column: Johnny Football should be Johnny Heisman

Johnny Football finally got a chance to speak Monday.

This was it, our first opportunity to hear from the quarterback himself why he feels he should win the Heisman Trophy.

Turns out, he's not much of a lobbyist.

Off the charts when he's got that ol' pigskin in his hands, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel sounds like just another boring QB when asked about his chances of becoming the first freshman to claim college football's highest individual honor.

He says it would be ``a dream come true.'' (Boooring!) He says ``whatever is meant to happen will happen.'' (Give this man an award for cliches.) He deflects credit to his teammates and coaches, pointing out time and time again that none of his success would be possible without those around him. (Wake us when he's done.)

That's OK. Nothing more really needs to be said.

Johnny Football, meet Johnny Heisman.

With a nod to Notre Dame defensive star Manti Te'o, a dominating linebacker with a bittersweet back story, Manziel's numbers are simply too outlandish to be denied.

- He's rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.

- He's thrown for 3,419 yards and another two dozen TDs.

- He's already surpassed Cam Newton's totals from two years ago by 273 yards (in two fewer games), and the former Auburn quarterback won the award in a landslide.

Manziel deserves a similar rout.

``The way Johnny has performed this season, the numbers speak for themselves,'' said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who had barred Manziel from talking to reporters until Monday. ``He's a tremendous competitor, a tremendous leader. That's something you really don't see in a player as a redshirt freshman. But all his leadership - on and off the field, all throughout the season - made our season a real special one.''

Sumlin's policy of denying media privileges to all his freshmen, even those like Manziel who are in their second year of school, has only added to the mystique.

Here was a guy with the cool nickname and enough highlights to fill his own YouTube channel, but we didn't really know anything else about him other than what was in the biography. The small-town Texas kid who initially committed to Oregon but really wanted to play in the Lone Star State, who signed with the Aggies when Mike Sherman was the coach but didn't get a chance to play until Sumlin took over the job.

Otherwise, our impressions were formed by what he did with the helmet on.

How he ran circles around opposing defenses, how he threw touchdown passes off the wrong foot, how he chased down and tackled two Louisiana Tech players after a turnover, how he led the Aggies to a surprising 10-win season in their Southeastern Conference debut, including an upset of mighty Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Now, after an hour-long conference call with media from all over the country, we know a little more.

Manziel is cool with the nickname. He enjoys playing video games, including the college football version, though apparently not so much as himself. He's still getting used to all the attention he receives when he does something as simple as going out to dinner.

``I don't see myself as Johnny Football. I see myself as Johnathan Manziel,'' he says. ``When people want to take my picture or ask for an autograph, I'm shocked by it. I'm not used to the whole thing, even though it's kind of becoming a daily thing.''

He tries to avoid watching highlights of himself, like the ones posted in countless tribute videos, or the more humorous attempts to pay homage to his growing legend. No, he hasn't seen the video by the woman old enough to be his mother, who croons to the camera with her own version of early-1960s hit ``Johnny Angel'' while surrounded by Aggies gear.

``Johnny Football, how we love him,'' she warbles. ``He's got something Aggies can't resist. And he doesn't even know impossible exists.''

In other seasons, when the race wasn't so clear-cut, Te'o might've been positioned to join Charles Woodson as only the second defensive player to capture the Heisman.

The Notre Dame senior certainly has the stats to back up his candidacy (103 tackles and seven interceptions), but there's so much more to his resume.

He's the undisputed leader on the nation's top-ranked team, a major reason the Fighting Irish went unbeaten in the regular season for the first time since 1988 and landed a spot in the national championship game against either Alabama or Georgia. It's hard not to shed a tear every time he makes a big play, either, remembering how he's still dealing with the grief of losing both his grandmother (who died after a long illness) and his girlfriend (who succumbed to leukemia) just a few hours apart on an awful day back in September.

A special season, to be sure.

But Manziel's debut season goes beyond that. It's transformational, like the first time you saw Herschel Walker flatten a defensive back, or Michael Vick cutting this way and that on one play, then unleashing a 70-yard pass on the next.

It's beyond Heisman-worthy.

``This is something you dream about as a kid,'' Manziel said. ``When you're playing those NCAA (video) games as a kid, you create players who can win the Heisman by putting up some crazy numbers.''

When he used to dream up his perfect player for that make-believe world, it looked more like Newton.

You know, 6-foot-6, about 250 pounds, stronger and faster than anyone else on the field.

In real life, Manziel didn't turn out that way. He's just a smidgen over 6-foot. He tips the scales at around 200 pounds. Solid, but not imposing.

``I did get tackled a couple of times and heard people say, `You're really small' or `You're not as big as we thought,''' Manziel conceded.

Turns out, he was better than the guy on the video game.

The one with the Heisman.

---

Paul Newberry in a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     
  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.