The Cleveland Browns kicked off Johnny Manziel’s NFL career with the Heisman Trophy winner taking practice reps as the third string quarterback in OTAs. Incumbent Brian Hoyer remains the starter, as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL suffered last season. The surprise of the practice was that Head Coach Mike Pettine used veteran journeyman QB Tyler Thigpen with the second unit instead of Manziel. The reason for running “Johnny Football” with the third unit in organized team activities (OTAs) is unclear. While team owner Jimmy Haslem stated earlier that Manziel must learn to act like a back-up quarterback, no one expected him to begin his NFL career that far back.
By all accounts, Manziel moved well and showed good accuracy on the run. The rookie QB threw well, whether rolling to the left or the right. He appeared to understand what he was doing, but sometimes spent too much time making sure that everyone was aligned as required for each play. While Manziel’s accuracy was good, General Manager Guy Farmer tweeted that Hoyer is the better quarterback by a substantial margin. The Browns management appears to be doing everything possible to prevent any kind of quarterback controversy as the rookie kicks off his career. By running Johnny Manziel with the third string in the OTAs, the Cleveland Browns are telling the world that he will not begin his NFL career with a starting nod just handed to him.
The team took a couple public relations hits last week in regard to their management of Manziel. First, the team restricted press access to club activities to only local media. Of course, the limitation on press access did not play well, but the team is well aware of the ESPN inspired media circus that surrounded that New York Jets with the arrival of Tim Tebow. Every move made by Tebow and incumbent starter Mark Sanchez received intense scrutiny and coverage. With Manziel just learning the ropes and Hoyer recovering from serious injury, the Browns decided to slow down coverage from the start. The Browns also committed a public relations snafu by allowing an assistant coach, Dowell Loggains, to opine that a text message from Manziel to Loggains played a part in his draft selection. Most teams speak with a single voice from the coaching staff and having an assistant state that a first round selection hinged on a text message, at least in part, made the team look bad.
Observers at practice thought Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan used Manziel in similar fashion to the plays run by Kirk Cousins of the Redskins against the Browns in a late season 2012 game. Shanahan is no stranger to mobile quarterbacks after coaching Robert Griffin III the last two seasons. While Coach Pettine offers no information about when and how much Manziel will actually play in the regular season, he did note that any use of Johnny Football would involve capitalizing on his mobility.
Johnny Manziel will no doubt continue to show progress in the OTAs, even though the Cleveland Browns have relegated him to begin his NFL career calling signals for the third string. The coach and GM are showing the rookie that he works for them and he must respond to their directives and none other. They even appear inclined to show the media they are the boss too, at least when it comes to press access for viewing “Johnny Football’s” initial foray into the pros. Hopefully, the Brown’s brain trust knows how to mold a young quarterback.
Commentary by William Costolo