October 19, 2018

O’Leary: High-stakes football for Manziel, Franklin

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

You barely have the words out before Johnny Manziel steers the idea in a different direction.

His team out of playoff contention, Manziel wasn’t about to hear that the Montreal Alouettes’ remaining three games don’t mean as much. Not to him, anyway.

“I’m not treating them any different,” Manziel said on Friday, shortly after the Als had landed in Toronto to kick off their home-and-home series with the Argos.

Saturday’s game between the two 3-12 teams will be Manziel’s sixth start of the season. He’s made 72 of 116 passes for 872 yards and two touchdowns, with six interceptions. He’s still looking for his first win.

“The beginning of the season for me, I was on the bench (in Hamilton). I wasn’t getting a chance to play. I was learning and trying to speed that process up,” he said.

“Now I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I feel like…my last couple of starts have been my first ones where I really feel comfortable and where I need to be to play at a high level. I feel like I’m inching up and creeping up to where I want to be.”

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James Franklin is in a similar place with the Argos. He assumed starting duties in Week 4 after Ricky Ray’s season-ending neck injury but lost the job to McLeod Bethel-Thompson after four games. Argos coach Marc Trestman went back to Franklin last week and said this week that he’d likely stick with him through these final three games.

Franklin has made 124 of 193 passes for 1,365 yards and seven touchdowns, with seven picks. He’s also rushed for 12 touchdowns this season.

“It stinks that we’re out of the playoffs,” Franklin said.

“I was hopeful that once I got the start (in Week 4) I thought, ‘OK cool, I’ll get almost a full season and see what I can do and get that experience.’ The last few games I’m pretty excited about it. I want to be really good. I want to try to make up for all of the time I missed.

“I think I have to throw for…800 yards a game, maybe 10 touchdowns a game,” he said, laughing. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Franklin is back to his upbeat self, after admitting to facing the most adversity he’s seen in his career since he was injured when he was playing at Missouri.

“The things that I was seeking, as far as approval and wanting to be a people pleaser, you can’t please everybody. It doesn’t matter who it is. You can’t get away from the player that you are and that’s what I was doing. That’s my own fault,” he said.

“I got a really good refresher on that, to have that confidence and belief in myself and to play my game and not worry about too much about trying to please everybody.”

 

While Franklin at least has the previous three years spent in Edmonton as a backup to give him footing in the league, Manziel is still trying to take in everything that he can in these final three games. Als coach Mike Sherman mentioned the possibility of looking at his other quarterbacks, Vernon Adams Jr. and Antonio Pipkin over these final three games. Listening to him, you get the feeling he’ll take every rep that’s left this season if Sherman will allow it.

“For now in this week, in the moment, I’ve got the reps and I’ve been the guy. I plan on holding on to that as tight as possible for as long as possible and get some people around here to fully believe in buying in,” he said.

“I’ll obviously be back next year and continue to be the guy for this team. That’s what I want.”

He points to the gradual increase in his numbers. He had a pair of touchdowns against a tough Saskatchewan defence and the Als had a chance to win that Week 16 matchup. Against another stout defence a week later, Manziel threw a season-best 250 yards against Calgary. He’s focused on this season but is already thinking about how the offseason will look and what a full training camp will do for him (he signed with the Ticats the day before camp opened this year). From the onslaught of learning a new league with new rules to being dealt a third of the way through the season, it’s felt like everything has unfolded in fast forward for him this year.

“Just knowing,” Manziel said. “Knowing that I have a place to come back to, knowing where I’m going to be and the situation that I’m in.

“By that point I’ll have a firm understanding of where things are. I’m looking forward to the first bit of consistency and the continuity of things.”