Welcome to the Lockr Room. The youngest student-athlete to ever play quarterback for a major college football team, former Texas A&M star David ‘Moon’ Walker, provides his weekly insights on the Aggies and the SEC.
Lockr Room Legends Q&A: David “Moon” Walker, 12th Man QB
First Quarter Action
I believe bias is bias, whether it’s regarding age, classification, race, university or conference affiliation, or anything else that enters into it. Any individual who publicly or secretly reveals such bias should be stripped of his or her authority immediately as a voter for the Heisman trophy.
To even promote the notion of such should be considered heresy and an actual threat to the integrity of the game. Every player has just completed playing the 2012 regular season, and is, therefore, eligible to win the Heisman as a by-product of his participation. Rightly so, and the 2012 season is the onlyseason to be assessed.
There is no future and there is no past in these matters.
Individuals are voters only because they have earned the right to represent all of America’s football fans with their choices, with ALL past precedents and current biases pushed aside for the good of the game.
Soon A&M will own not only the youngest quarterback to ever play college football in myself, but also the only “freshman” quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in Johnny Manziel. I put quotation marks around the word “freshman” because technically Johnny is not a “freshman,” but a sophomore who will be allowed an additional senior season to play. Having personally redshirted in college, I simply felt when I was playing my final season not with with my class, but that underneath mine, I’d been extended an extra senior season. This is the difference and the separation of the two schools of thought. Johnny is a sophomore academically and will soon become a junior.
In an interview with David Harris of the Bryan/College Station Eagle prior to the season, I gave this advice to the first-year starter, based on my experience as a 17-year old starting quarterback as a true freshman: “Be on top of your game,” I said. “Do not be intimidated by anything. Know you’re the best quarterback at this university and that everybody has confidence in you. Be quick and be smart. You’ll have some bad plays but remember to keep your head up.” It’s what I’ve told all my quarterbacks as a high school football coach — and I know this university. George Bush chose this university to house his library because of its integrity.
So let’s talk about how all these Xs and Os come together so easily for this A&M team offensively. The West Coast offense was built on timing routes in which the quarterback took a five-step drop and released the football. Boom, it had to be gone right now! Plant and throw! I always felt the quarterback on a five-step drop was too close to the onrushing linemen to successfully make the necessary underneath throws in this ‘nickel and dime’ offense. Throwing lanes are difficult to find with such close proximity.
[Check out David 'Moon' Walker's in-depth look a the Stun Gun offense here]
The shotgun formation automatically negates this problem completely, which is why I went to it in 1989 with the Memorial High School football team I was coaching in Houston. While “hot routes” are best thrown on a three-step drop from under center, because they’re quicker-breaking routes, the shotgun resolves the problem of having smaller quarterbacks operating the quick passing game without the effort involved in physically making the sprint seven yards deep and cutting it loose. On most five-step drops your receivers are on nine-step routes, at least in college and high school, and a five-step drop into the pocket will get the quarterback approximately seven yards deep.
This was the drop-back passing game we had in my days at A&M, but my high school coach had me going nine steps back in our high school offense. That is 12 to 13 yards deep. Yes!
I once questioned the five-step drop that the Houston Texans were using in their early years of operation and had myself quoted in the Houston Chronicle. That night the Texans lost miserably in a preseason game, and the five-step drop did them in with several interceptions thrown under pressure.
The radio talk shows were ablaze with why the Texans were using this system that obviously was allowing too much pressure on their quarterback, David Carr. Several weeks later the team’soffensive coordinator was let go, partly because of the public outrage and the obvious problems the five-step drop caused this particular quarterback. I was accustomed to watching that nine-step drop of Namath’s and it seemed to work extremely well.
You may remember the Cowboys and Roger Staubach in the ’70’s using the shotgun formation extensively because it freed up the quarterback in so many ways. I’m sure many thought a little less of Dallas coach Tom Landry for going with this “gimmicky” offense, even as he was taking his teams to Super Bowls.
But, so what if “real man” football now looks more like a two-below game going on ‘helter-skelter’ in the back yard? ‘Look what they’ve done to my game, Ma,’ cries Alabama’s Nick Sabin. This system is smarter and much more efficient and demands top-flight conditioning from the big boys up front. It’s fast and has no regard for the noise level of a hostile crowd. It’s streamlined to the point of not even needing an official playbook, just as Bear Bryant streamlined the Wishbone by deleting the triple option and thus never using a playbook either.
And now we’ve been introduced to the true master of the ‘Sumlin Stun Gun’ offense run from the shotgun formation now being implemented so successfully by the Aggies. Johnny Football doesn’t mess with the Zone Read play, which had always been the core of any spread offense. He does what he does in other ways, some predetermined, and many others — not so much.
But there is something else this young man is doing. He is redefining the qualities and abilities coaches will be looking for in a quarterback from here on. Some quarterbacks stereotype themselves into being in the same mold as the professional guys; those kinds of guys who don’t run much, stand in the pocket and throw a football. Ho hum. The days of ‘quarterback sneaks’ leading the way with the likes of Bart Starr and Johnny Unitus are long gone. You’d better become an ATHLETE if you wanna play. Don’t be lazy and don’t be a dummy, young guy.
Now-a-days, these aspiring quarterbacks had better be thinking about speed and quickness and becoming a cottontail rabbit out on that football field. Speed, quickness and endurance need to be part of your repertoire. If you assume your arm alone is going to get you a job, there may be a little Johnny Football who shows up who gums up the works for you.
Personally, as I described in my book, I worked extremely hard in high school increasing my speed and quickness. It was imperative I become an all-around threat, which obviously was the key in taking over a Wishbone triple option offense in college at 17 years of age and becoming A&M’s first Freshman of the Year.
Now, let’s replay this season game-by-game as Johnny became Johnny Football and then finally became, we hope and expect, Johnny Heisman. These are verbatim observations of the young outstanding quarterback as seen through the eyes of the youngest quarterback to ever play, and I’m proud to say the Maroon and White lineage we share is both exciting and rewarding. I hope you’ll enjoy. Gig’ Em!
[This dude's Johnny Football haircut is a work of art]
Pre-Game Read for the Florida Gators
Our starting quarterback now is a young man from Kerrville, Texas who the Aggie Press Machine is raging about as the first “freshman” to start a season opener for A&M since 1944. But here’s a couple of things they don’t tell you. Johnny Manziel spent all of last year going to classes, practices, team meetings, doing film study, going through spring drills, playing understudy to the No. 8-overall NFL draft pick and has been through two sets of two-a-days. Freshman? Hardly. He’s a guy who gets to play two senior seasons, the way I look at it. I know because I also red-shirted; only it was my third year — and I got to play two senior seasons as well. That’s how it works.
What I’m saying is, you can throw out the redshirt tag. Johnny is a second-year player with a wealth of knowledge that is readily accessible and stored up ready-to-go on the college game. He is equipped with a whole lot of valuable mental experience and great talent. If he turns this game into a “practice” mentally and gets into the zone that he needs to be in, he has the tools to be a real class act. So let’s just call him a sophomore with no actual playing experience, sort of like what we called all players between the years of 1946 to 1972, the time period that freshmen were not allowed to play varsity football after World War II. I know– how old-school! Remember when girls could only play half-court in basketball? Very similar thinking.
But just for grins, let’s allow the Ags’ publicists to call it the way they spin it. After all, it’s their program they have to sell even though this game doesn’t need selling. Just don’t be expecting a timid kid with no background or clue showing up all wide-eyed and scared at the prospects of leading his team in front of a sold-out crowd and national TV audience. Bradshaw, Bert Jones, Joe Ferguson, Joe Namath, Spurrier, Stabler; they were all quite good after not “playing” in their first year of college.
[College GameDay student ambassador, Florida at Texas A&M; Video]
Post Game Read for the Florida Gators
As I stated last week when I reintroduced myself to the Gator Nation via Florida Gators Gamedayr, I now am the only A&M quarterback who has ever beaten the University of Florida. Of course, with A&M’s 1-2 overall record against UF, this isn’t saying a whole lot but I stand by it, as far as bragging rights are concerned. The most recent A&M QB to have this opportunity, Johnny Manziel, looked to me like the fastest quarterback this school has seen since the Texas high school high-hurdle champion who succeeded me in the late ’70s, Mike Mosley. Unfortunately, none of us average-Joe onlookers will get the opportunity to know Johnny Manziel until next spring because Coach Sumlin has standing orders that freshmen are off-limits to the media. I guess this also includes ‘Redshirt’ freshmen, since this is what Manziel actually is – a sophomore academically but a “rookie” to be seen but not heard, otherwise.
The obvious question is how does this band of coaches go from having the highest scoring team in the land one year to not being able to pick up a handful of first downs the next? Not a single second half play was run in Florida territory. Very disturbing stuff, one might say. Unless the QB was making a ton of misreads which I personally didn’t see, then finding the proper play calls to win a three-point game escaped the offensive staff, pure and simple. This past Saturday night’s realization was a rather somber enlightenment with which to open a brand new season, especially for this newly-inspired and highly boisterous crowd that rolled in, a crowd faced with many dissenters around the state and even within its new conference, wishing it nothing but failure. Step one, accomplished with amazing predictability.
Post Game Read for Southern Methodist
Fortunately what we also saw here, unlike during the second half of the opener against the Florida Gators, was a team that was making some necessary offensive adjustments while the defense was impressively holding the Mustangs in check. This “warm-up” period allowed the offense, with redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel settling in firmly at the controls, to begin ripping apart these eight-game winners from 2011 with a wonderful combination of quick jabs, left hooks and fancy footwork that took SMU totally out of the game on both sides of the ball from the second quarter on.
SMU’s defense had a nice game going by keeping Manziel and the A&M offense somewhat off balance for almost a quarter and a half before becoming a little too predictable. The five-man front had kept sufficient pressure on both A&M passing and running games and allowed only the occasional completion to redshirt freshman wide receiver Mike Evans, normally aligned opposite the three-receiver side of the A&M shotgun spread formation. Because of the rush, quarterback Manziel was forced to scramble on several occasions and the normal running game was providing little support. With less than nine minutes to go in the second quarter, Manziel looked up to find veteran slot receiver Ryan Swope “uncovered” to his right side by anyone underneath. For most offenses, this is a pre-snap “hot read” which turned into exactly that on this play.
On this second-and-eight situation, the SMU defense brought both linebackers, its left defensive end, nose tackle and a defensive five-technique (tackle) from the right side. A&M was set up in a balanced one-back formation with two receivers split to each side, catching the defense in a cover 2, a popular coverage with two deep safeties and each cornerback aligned tightly on his respective wide receivers. The backside defensive end dropped into coverage while the play-side defensive tackle, with his side’s defensive end blitzing, rose out of his four–point stance to try to retreat back into coverage, hopefully into the passing lane between Manziel and the slot receiver, Swope.
This “coverage swap” approach employed by the SMU staff, commonly referred to as a zone blitz, had worked earlier for the Mustangs resulting in some behind-the-line tackles and confusion in the Aggies’ blocking assignments. This time, however, the defensive tackle saw only the football zipping by his head as Swope ran a quick post pattern and caught the perfect throw, then targeted a spot that would split both safeties as he went into the end zone standing up. Junior offensive tackle Jake Matthews did an outstanding job of recognizing the swap and swiftly picked up the defensive end before being outflanked instead of the tackle he’d originally been assigned.
Offenses, such as A&M’s, love gifts and when they are offered on silver platters via pre-snap misalignments such as this one, they gobble them up without even a “thank you.” The lesson to be learned here is that Ryan Swope cannot be covered by defensive tackles or headed off at the pass by unassuming defensive safeties who get caught flat-footed. Any defensive player must be cognizant of one indisputable fact: if a player lines up on a D-1 football field, he can beat you.
Leading 7-0 after an SMU three-and-out on first down from the SMU 48, Johnny Manziel tucked the ball away in his left arm (as he always does) on a scramble through the left side, scooting past a defensive lineman who’d been hurled to the ground by offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. Manziel then sped by pursuing linebackers, juked another defender and went untouched into the end zone. When I played at A&M and was running the Wishbone, you never saw me carrying the ball in my right arm either. Regardless of what the coaches said about having it in the arm away from the defender, I believed it much more important to always have the ball in my strongest arm. Perhaps Johnny has this same belief, although he throws the football right-handed. Whatever the case, he was only getting warmed up.
Next, he completed a 78-yard drive after an A&M interception by hitting Uzoma Nwachukwu with a 36-yarder after rolling out of the pocket to his right and throwing down the middle of the field to his veteran receiver. This was a perfectly executed “scramble drill” which requires a great amount of practice time. The appearance of improvisation doesn’t make it a reality. The Aggies had just scored two touchdowns within two and a half minutes and suddenly held a 20-0 lead at the half. Strike up the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band!
Johnny Manziel reminds me of another college quarterback who was a little smaller of stature and wore two number 2’s on his jersey, a guy named Doug Flutie. Manziel only got better in the third quarter, acrobatically whirling around and pin-pointing a touchdown pass that no one else on the planet would have even attempted, primarily because they’d probably have taken the sack or said, “The hell with it,” and thrown it away. Johnny delivered. He set a Texas A&M single-game freshman record by passing for 294 yards (breaking Kevin Murray’s 29 year-old record of 280 set against Rice) and accounted for six touchdowns — four through the air and two on the ground. That’s right, and he also ran for 124 yards. Just like in the song, the boy said, “My name’s Johnny and it might be a sin, but I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret, cuz I’m the best there’s ever been.” Could be.
Only time will tell, and there will be a lot of armchair quarterbacking going on trying to get into his head. I say, “Let him be and don’t screw him up.” Ol’ Johnny might be the phenom A&M has been waiting for, and all the wondrous things that phenoms bring with them could soon be within the Aggies’ grasp.
Next up for the Aggies isn’t South Carolina, but South Carolina State, a team that lost to Arizona last week, 56-0. Arizona had 43 first downs while South Carolina State had 8. Arizona had 689 yards of offense, while South Carolina State had 154. Arizona punted only once. And as they say, the rest was history.
[Johnny Football knows how to enjoy himself]
Next Up: Post Game Read for South Carolina State
Latest from around Gamedayr >> Check out where Johnny Football ranks in our final Heisman Trophy Watch List