Confident rookie quarterback Manziel erratic early with Browns
BEREA, Ohio — Amid the incessant chants of “Johnny, Johnny,” Cleveland Browns prized rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel played to an appreciative crowd of more than 4,000 by taking a few extra snaps after Sunday's practice.
Already, the former Heisman Trophy winner seems to be the people's choice to get the starting nod in the season opener against the Steelers on Sept. 7 at Heinz Field.
However, first-year coach Mike Pettine appears far more practical — if not more realistic.
In an effort to alleviate some of the inevitable pressures and scrutiny Manziel likely will endure, Pettine designated journeyman Brian Hoyer as the preseason starter long before training camp opened Saturday.
“Coach Pettine called it a competition, and I believe that it is,” Manziel said. “I'm just trying to get here every day and hone my craft. Whatever my role is on this team will be decided in the next few weeks.”
As the Browns wrapped up their second day of camp, general manager Ray Farmer left plenty of wiggle room for Pettine to change his mind.
When asked if he would be shocked if Hoyer isn't the starter on Opening Day, Farmer stayed open-minded.
“I don't think I'll be surprised or shocked at anything,” Farmer said. “What we're focusing on now is driving competition, meaning Brian will have to play and Johnny will have to play.
“I've seen a young man (Manziel) who is prepared for competition, and that's what we want. We've seen him in the building putting in the work to be the starter.”
On Sunday, Manziel hardly looked like a starter.
He appeared confident but largely was erratic during passing drills. He rifled the ball between the numbers of wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on 10-yard curl route but missed low and wide on a simple sideline route to receiver Miles Austin.
“I don't know if I want to stand here every day just walking off the field and evaluate the performance,” Pettine said. “Until we watch the tape and look at the grade sheets and kind of know what was asked of him and what he did and making sure the guys around him are doing the right thing, I don't know how much true evaluation I'll be able to offer.”
As he often did at Texas A&M, Manziel proved resilient when a play unraveled. He fumbled the snap in the shotgun formation but recovered quickly to toss a dart to receiver Taylor Gabriel.
Hoyer, who last season suffered a season-ending knee injury after leading the Browns to three straight wins, seemed far more poised after a shaky start Saturday.
“Obviously, the competition will bring out the best in me,” Hoyer said. “I think, for the most part, I'm competing for myself. I was held back in the spring, but now it's time to go.”
Said Pettine: “I think anybody coming off (an ACL injury), it's just human nature, may be a little flighty early with lots of big bodies flying around. I think he'll only get more comfortable as we go.”
So far, few are questioning Manziel's athleticism.
But Manziel, generously listed as 6-foot in the Browns' program, was erratic enough over the first two days of training camp to cause some to wonder if he could stand up to the immeasurable demands of being the franchise quarterback.
“I'm not going to shy down from competition,” Manziel said. “As time goes on, I'll get better. I'm going over things again and again. There will be times when I make mistakes, but I'm not worried about that because I'll get better.
“My main thing is that people in this building and this organization — including my teammates — have been involved in getting on the same page. I'm living football 24/7, because it's what I love doing and it's what my job is.
“What I want is what's best for the team,” he continued. “It's not about me or about Brian Hoyer. It takes 22 positions to make this whole thing work.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.