Friday, May 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Browns praise Johnny Manziel's effort, attitude

BEREA, Ohio — There is the public Johnny Manziel, the one making money signs with his fingers at the NFL draft, the Johnny Football of Nike T-shirts, Vegas parties and cell-phone paparazzi.

And then there is the Johnny Manziel not yet seen, the Browns rookie quarterback whom teammates view as quiet, even humble. As he battles for a starting job, teammates in training camp insist that you don't know the Manziel they know.

"One hundred percent," says Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron, asked for the difference between Manziel's public image and what he has encountered. "He's brought a lot of energy. Excitement is around him. There's a lot of buzz with fans, in the media. It's good for our team, brings attention to our team, brings relevance to our team."

In the locker room, however, away from the fans and the media and more than 1 million Twitter followers, Cameron has seen a different side of the 21-year-old, who was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M in 2012 and a first-round draft pick whose orange-and-brown No. 2 jerseys are national bestsellers.

"He doesn't talk much. He's not in the locker room going off, and older people respect that," Cameron said after an afternoon practice. "They see a guy who doesn't think he's The Man, doesn't walk around with his head up. He's humble in the locker room. He doesn't have that arrogance that people might think he has. We see that side, and that's all we care about."

Manziel isn't assured of the starting job. He is battling closely with Brian Hoyer, a 28-year-old who had two touchdown passes as a backup in his first four NFL seasons then went 3-0 as the Browns starter last year before a knee injury ended his season.

The two quarterbacks have split reps with the first-team offense, and Manziel's preseason debut Saturday was modest, throwing for 63 yards and rushing for 27. The rookie said his focus hasn't been on the competition for the starting job so much as learning a complex and new offense in a short amount of time.

"It's me vs. the playbook. There's nothing else," he said, addressing dozens of reporters at the Browns' practice facility. "I have to know the stuff to be able to come out here and execute. I'm a rookie. I don't have all this stuff figured out. I don't know the ins and outs and every little nook and cranny. You make sure you don't make the same mistakes twice. It's going to take time. It's a process for me."

The challenge for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is to harness the wild scrambling ability Manziel showed in college while getting him to work within the parameters of a structured NFL offense.

"Johnny's continued to progress as a quarterback, doing some things he didn't do in college, at the same time, trying to not lose what he is," said Shanahan, whose NFL coaching career started with the Bucs in 2004-05. "You've got a rookie quarterback, and you've got another quarterback who's really only played in 3-4 NFL games. They're both learning new offenses."

Blocking for Manziel, for instance, requires a lineman to hold his block, not necessarily knowing where the mobile quarterback may end up throwing.

"That is never a very fun experience," said another Pro Bowl player, center Alex Mack. "It's important as an offensive line, when you're pass blocking, you pass block for forever and a day. The play's never over 'till the whistle blows. It's a practice you need to develop, no matter who's back there, you need to give protection."

Manziel is trying to embrace the saddle and reins placed on him by coaches after a successful college career marked by wild improvisation. Trusting an offense, resisting the urge to take off running, is a work in progress.

"I'm not going to have a lot of freedom," he said. "I'm going to run the plays that are called. We'll have certain checks we can do that are allowed within our offense. If something's not there, if something breaks down, then I can 'do what I did in college' a little bit and be smart about it."

Cleveland, like Tampa Bay, went 4-12 a year ago but enters the season with the optimism of a new coach, and perhaps a new quarterback. The arrival of Manziel, like LeBron James, has brought a spark of hope to a sports city known for its perpetual disappointment.

At practice, in the locker room, even with microphones in his face, Manziel is saying the right things, stressing his patience and learning as he adjusts to the NFL after just two seasons of playing college football. The Bucs travel to Cleveland on Nov. 2, the midpoint of a 17-week season, and by then, Johnny Football may or may not be an NFL phenom.

"Everything else will take care of itself," Manziel said. "I want to be a team player, a guy who can help this team get better. I don't know if they drafted me necessarily thinking I should come in and start Week 1. Whether it's not playing this year, playing this year, whatever the situation may be, I want what's best for this team."

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.

     
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