MEMPHIS — Johnny Manziel arrived at Express headquarters with a wide-eyed determination.
Memphis general manager Will Lewis, in an interview with The Commercial Appeal on Monday, likened the polarizing quarterback to a college freshman on the first day of classes.
“Just the normal excitement that comes along with the unknown of doing something you love doing but not really knowing everybody,” Lewis said. “But he came in with a really natural excitement about the opportunity.”
Manziel, who signed with the AAF and was claimed by the Express on Saturday evening, began entertaining the idea of continuing his playing career with the upstart league in earnest after he was unceremoniously dismissed by the Montreal Alouettes – and the rest of the Canadian Football League – in February. On a March 6 conference call, AAF co-founder and head of football Bill Polian said the league had put “feelers” out to people close to Manziel. He added they were going through their due diligence and were approximately halfway through that process.
Less than two weeks later, Manziel was throwing passes on the field at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and attending routine meetings with the coaching staff.
The question now is: Will Manziel get on the field Sunday (7 p.m., NFL Network) when the Express (1-5) hosts the Birmingham Iron (4-2) in a crucial Eastern Conference showdown? In short, maybe.
“In most cases when you get into a situation like this, you have to figure out how familiar the new guy is with what (offensive system) you’re running,” Lewis said. “And that’s part of the initial conversations and more conversations that will take place (Monday and Tuesday).
“(But) going back to what he ran at Texas A&M and comparing that to the concepts we run here, there’s a good amount of familiarity, which leads you to believe you can put together a package or two for him where he’d be comfortable.”
While it’s far from a given that Manziel will start, Memphis at least will consider it since the team’s quarterback situation is a bit in flux. Zach Mettenberger, who started the last three games, left last week’s game with a left ankle injury, did not return and probably is headed to injured reserve. Christian Hackenberg started the team’s first three games but was benched at halftime of a loss at the Orlando Apollos. Brandon Silvers replaced Mettenberger in last week’s loss to the Salt Lake Stallions and put up 242 passing yards and a touchdown in his first extensive playing time of the season.
While giving Manziel a shot at playing time in his first game as a member of the Express isn’t out of the question, Lewis said the team will make sure he is prepared.
“I think you can give him some things he can execute at a good level,” he said. “But you don’t want to throw him out there before he is ready just because people want to see him. I think there was some of that in Canada. So you want to make sure he’s prepared and set up for success.”