Johnny Football era begins in CFL

HAMILTON — The Johnny Football era has begun in the Canadian Football League, however it took a little longer than the quarterback and coach both wanted.  

It wasn't until late in the first half quarterback Johnny Manziel took to the field in the black and gold colours of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 

When he finally did enter the game for his first series in Friday night's CFL pre-season game against Toronto, the hometown crowd at Tim Hortons Field gave Manziel a raucous applause. 

The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round NFL draft pick took his first professional snap since late December 2015 with 3:36 remaining on the clock before halftime, following undisputed Hamilton starter Jeremiah Masoli. 

"I wasn't really nervous going into this. I just went out there and let the ball rip," Manziel said. "I think everyone wants to play more but I also think I got more plays than I expected coming into it."

Manziel's first pass in the CFL was a nine-yard completion to Jalen Saunders. He followed that up by scrambling out of the pocket on the next play and completing a pass for 12 yards. What looked like a promising drive in Manziel's first touch faltered quickly, however. He was sacked behind the line of scrimmage on a third down gamble resulting in a turnover. 

Johnny Manziel earned his stripes in his CFL debut, completing 9-of-11 passes for 80 yards, but it was the Toronto Argonauts who sailed to a 36-18 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the preseason opener for both teams. 2:12

He immediately went to the bench, sat down and looked over what broke down on the play.  

After the game Manziel said he handled his first CFL situation well but admits there are going to be growing pains along the way. 

"That was fun," he said of his first CFL experience. "I made some completions. Drove the ball down the field on that last drive."

Manziel played five series totalling 23 plays. He finished the game with nine completions in 12 attempts for 80 yards. He was in for two Hamilton turnovers on downs. 

Turnovers wreak havoc on Hamilton 

Turnovers plagued Hamilton all night, leading to a 36-18 Toronto win. Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli started the game for Ticats and threw two interceptions to go with four other turnovers during his play in the game. 

With Masoli in the game, Manziel stood on the sidelines obsessively studying every move made by the team's offence, standing directly beside quarterback coach Dan Morrison. Play-after-play, Manziel would look over his playbook and then engage in conversation with Morrison about what just took place on the field.

Now that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has some reps on a CFL field under his belt, 3DownNation founder and editor Drew Edwards talks to CBC Sports' Devin Heroux about Manziel's first impressions. 5:49

He knows the learning curve will be steep but is committed to being a quick study in his new surroundings.

"I don't know what my expectations were. I didn't know what I was getting into up here," Manziel said.

"I've loved our practice schedule. I've loved our coaches and more than anything I love my teammates. It's been fun and easy to transition into a new place."

Trash-talking ramps up 

During his postgame press conference, Manziel spoke candidly about some of the trash-talking taking place on the field during the game.

He said there were different times throughout the game Toronto players said "fowl" things.

"I'm not here to be pushed over," Manziel said. "You can come at me because my name is in the paper and on TV. You can come at me but I'm not backing down."

He went on. 

"I'm here for a reason. I'm here to play ball. It's football but just know I'm not backing down."

Coach says Manziel has 'game presence'

After the game Hamilton head coach June Jones admitted he would have liked to have gotten Manziel into the game earlier but five first quarter turnovers got in the way of that. 

"Had we not had the turnovers and scored earlier then he would have been in there earlier. I wanted Jeremiah to finish positively," Jones said.

The coach said he liked some of the things Manziel did on the field Friday night. 

"He has a game presence about him as you all know. He knew where he should be throwing the ball," Jones said. "He knew what was going on in the game. He wasn't rattled. He wasn't flustered. He has a demeanour about him."

All that said, Jones has made it clear Masoli will be the starting quarterback for Hamilton to begin the regular season, despite what happens in the pre-season. 

Manziel seems prepared for the challenge to work towards earning that No. 1 spot. 

"There are going to be growing pains. Coach Jones told me that when I got up here and I'll take it in stride. I felt I was able to get in there and handle the situation well tonight."

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