Alouettes’ Johnny Manziel feeling no pressure ahead of first CFL start


Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL — Johnny Manziel isn’t looking to take the Canadian Football League by storm, he just wants to get the Montreal Alouettes winning again.

The former NFL quarterback who is trying to get his career back on track will make his first CFL start when the Alouettes (1-5) play host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-4) on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium.

Manziel will be leading a team that has won once in its last 17 outings dating back to last August, but which hopes it has found the quarterback it needs to be a contender.

But as used to the spotlight as the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is, he isn’t piling pressure on himself.

"I’m hoping to come in and just provide above average, solid quarterback play and give us something consistent week in and week out," Manziel said Thursday. "I don’t feel I need to come up here and completely light everything on fire and throw for 500 yards a game and do this and do that.

"I just want to come in and be a solid starter, eliminate turnovers and hopefully make some plays when needed. I feel I can contribute that for sure. I feel our offence is ready to go out and execute."

Manziel will facing the team that traded him two weeks ago. The Tiger-Cats signed the former Cleveland Browns first round pick with the troubled past this season after he was given clearance to play in the CFL.

But after playing in pre-season games, he never saw the field in five regular season games behind Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli. He was traded to Montreal along with offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice for receiver Chris Williams, defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman and two first round draft picks.

Now the two quarterbacks will face each with second place in the weak CFL East on the line. Both teams are on three-game losing streaks, despite Masoli throwing for more than 300 yards in five of his six starts. Masoli will have one of his favourite receivers, Luke Tasker, back after missing two games with a lower body injury.

"If we win this game on Friday night we’re back to where we want to be, even after the mishaps that we had at the start of the season," said Manziel. "It’s a great opportunity for us.

"We’re in a division that is a little down and that’s good for us because we can capitalize on that and maybe get on a bit of a winning streak and put ourselves in contention to get in the playoffs."

The Alouettes have missed the playoffs two straight years and have been a shadow of the club that dominated the East through the 2000s when CFL all-time passing leader Anthony Calvillo was behind centre. Manziel will be the 14th quarterback to start a game for Montreal since Calvillo retired after the 2013 season.

The Texan nicknamed Johnny Football hopes to stop the revolving door.

"That was a different time than we have now in Montreal and it’s something we’re trying to get back to — being in contention every year and having a good playoff run and putting ourselves in position to win a Grey Cup," he said. "But right now we’re trying to build something, a championship team, and that takes time."

Manziel dressed as an Alouette for the first time last week as backup to Vernon Adams, who had a solid game despite a 44-23 loss to Edmonton. Some fans chanted for Manziel, but coach Mike Sherman resisted the urge to send in a player who had not even had two complete practices with his new team.

Some may think it too soon to put him in even after a full week of meetings and practice, but Sherman said that with Manziel’s talent and intelligence, the time was right.

"What defence does John know better than any other defence in the league?" said Sherman. "He played against (Hamilton) every day (in practice).

"He’ll have to start eventually and he’ll have some growing pains. He’s not going out there with any expectations. He’s going out there to do a good job moving the football for us and I believe he’ll do that."



Friday night, Percival Molson Stadium

THE OTHER PIECES — Williams, Westerman, Washington and Rice are all listed to play in the season’s first meeting between Hamilton and Montreal.

HOT MASOLI — The Ti-Cat pivot is second in the CFL with 1,914 passing yards, but only five of Hamilton’s 12 touchdowns have come via the pass.

TWENTY-THREE POINTS — That’s Montreal’s single-game season high, achieved twice, and a target Manziel will be looking to beat.

LAST OUTING — Manziel’s last game that counted was a 17-13 loss by Cleveland to Kansas City on Dec. 27, 2015.

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