INDIANAPOLIS — Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel came up short in the measurement Friday, but that was inevitable. He was a shade under 6 feet, his official listing: 5-11¾ and 207 pounds. That’s 5¼ inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Central Florida’s Blake Bortles.
Perhaps bolstered by the tape measure, Bortles also tried to beat Manziel in the news conferences inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bortles lives in the shadow of Manziel and, to a lesser degree, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, but is considered in the mix to be the first quarterback taken and possibly the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans. He spent a good chunk of his 10-minute interview casting himself as the anti-Manziel.
“All I know is that I’ll be trustworthy, I won’t embarrass an organization off the field by making any bad decisions or anything like that,” Bortles said. “Won’t embarrass my family’s name, and will be a trustworthy guy, a trustworthy player.”
Manziel, who became the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in 2012, is trying to distance himself from the “Johnny Football” persona that included underage drinking and flying around the country to hang out with stars.
“I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people,” he said. “It gets lost in kind of the people who make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, really just still a small-town kid.”
Manziel developed a bit of a bad-boy reputation during his time with the Aggies. He was arrested after a bar fight, suspended for the first half of a game for signing autographs for memorabilia dealers and left the Manning Passing Academy early as a counselor.
He said he’s prepared to change his lifestyle to become the face of an NFL franchise.
“I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past,” he said. “This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line. For me it’s nothing, it won’t be a hard thing to kick or really a hard deal to not do.
“I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team.”
Manziel wants to stay in Texas and go No. 1 to Houston. He’s expected to be a top-10 pick, but must convince interested teams he has the right character.
“Just be myself,” he said. “Now it’s a chance for them to sit and know me personally, ask whatever questions they want. I’m not shying away from anything they do have to ask me.”
For Bortles, the contrasts with Manziel extended to size, style of play and the decision to throw at the combine. He didn’t take any shots directly at Manziel – “He’s a great kid,” Bortles said – but he wasn’t shy about accentuating the areas where he appears to have an advantage.
“I think being able to do things in the pocket,” Bortles said. “Being 6-5, 230, being able to throw off platform, extend plays with my feet. Able to handle a lot of offense, able to make throws, being trustworthy, I think are all things that are key in being the top quarterback prospect.”
Bortles, who completed 67.8 percent last year for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions, said he was recruited out of high school by only four colleges, and two wanted him to play tight end. Despite the unexpected rise to prominence, he believes he belongs.
“I believe that I can compete with any guy here,” he said. “That’s why I’m throwing, that’s why I’m running, doing all this stuff. The goal is to be the top quarterback prospect, and I believe I can do that.”
Bortles has a lot of athleticism for a big guy and compared himself to Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck in that regard. But he believes one of his strengths is that he can deliver the ball from the pocket.
Manziel is at his electrifying best on the move and needs to prove to teams he can succeed as a passer when confined to the pocket.
“I’m looking forward to shoring up all the people that are saying that I’m just an improviser,” he said. “I feel like I worked extremely hard this year to all-around hone in on my game, so continuing to do that and getting better as a pocket passer and as a quarterback in general.”
Manziel was professional and poised during his 15 minutes at the podium. He initially denied reports he saw a counselor for alcohol and anger management, then acknowledged he did see a counselor for an extended period but was fuzzy on the details.
What was missing was the magnetism he’s known for. He was subdued and couldn’t match the neon yellow No. 8 on his Under Armour combine sweatshirt.
Bortles handled the moment well and delivered his message, though he looked a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, fidgeting and cracking his knuckles.
They and Bridgewater, who didn’t come into the media room but is expected today, have a lot at stake in the next couple of months. Houston, Jacksonville at No. 3 and Cleveland at No. 4 are looking for quarterbacks, but none is a lock to take one. All three quarterbacks could go in the top five, or they could all slide.
The goal is to be the first quarterback off the board.
“It would be awesome,” Manziel said. “It’s been a long process, not just a short road to get here.”
There’s that word again. Hall of Fame quarterback and Broncos general manager John Elway even had a little fun with Manziel’s height.
“I think he’s a great little player. I shouldn’t say ‘little,’ I’m sorry,” Elways said, laughing. “He’s a guy that’s fun to watch on film. He can move around and he can still make all the throws. But I think his No. 1 quality is his competitive nature and wanting to win.”
Manziel refuses to be defined by the tape measure.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,” he said. “I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number.”