Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Local Sports

Just call him Johnny Backup


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— On one knee and far from the action, quarterback Johnny Manziel leaned on his orange helmet and watched.

This is his new position.

As Browns starter Brian Hoyer worked with Cleveland’s first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills Thursday, Manziel, for now relegated to the second string, observed from the side. He took mental notes as he waited for his turn.

This rookie has been no sensation. He’s not ready to start.

Failing to make any magic happen in his first two NFL preseason games and unable to close the gap enough to beat out Hoyer, Manziel will begin the season as Cleveland’s No. 2 quarterback, matching his uniform number. It’s not a major surprise given he’s had to learn a complex offense and he entered training camp behind Hoyer.

But Manziel’s inability to leap-frog Hoyer, a journeyman who has made four career starts and is coming off knee surgery, shows the jump from college to pros is gargantuan — even for Johnny Football.

“Obviously I didn’t want this to be the outcome,” Manziel said. “But at the same time, I didn’t necessarily feel I was ready, I felt like there were steps that I needed to take, and I need to take, to get better.”

Manziel has shown flashes, just not enough.

Still, the Browns have seen promise in him, and Manziel’s immense fan base now has members inside Cleveland’s locker room.

“We got arguably the best No. 2 in the NFL,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson. “I’m a Johnny Football fan. Not only was I a fan before he got here, but now he’s family because we play for the same team. I’ll always be in his corner.”

Trouble is, Manziel may have damaged his chances to win the starting job before camp with his well-documented partying. The photos of Manziel chugging champagne while floating on an inflatable swan, talking into a phone made of money, and rolling a dollar bill in a bathroom brought him unwanted attention.

The Browns were privately concerned about Manziel’s behavior and warned him about it. He obliged, but had two recent missteps: being late for a team meeting and flipping his middle finger at the Redskins’ sideline Monday night on national TV.

Manziel said he was reacting to taunting by the Redskins during Monday night’s nationally televised game.

Browns coach Mike Pettine was “extremely disappointed” by Manziel’s conduct and said the 21-year-old’s on-field behavior factored into the team’s decision in naming a starter.

We talk about ‘Play like a Brown.’ We want our guys to act like a Brown,” Pettine said. “We want to be a first-class organization. We have hundreds, thousands of kids come to our training camp practices, and look up to our players. That type of behavior is unacceptable. It’s something that’s part of football that you have to maintain your poise and your composure, especially at that position, and he should know better than anyone that all eyes are on him.”

Sitting and waiting is nothing new for Manziel. He was so far behind when he got to Texas A&M that the Aggies redshirted him as a freshman. It wasn’t long, though, before he was the big man on campus and quickly the biggest name in college football, a one-man scrambling highlights machine.

Manziel, who has completed 14 of 27 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, said nothing has surprised him so far.

“It’s exactly what I thought it would be,” he said. “I knew it would be a big step, a big learning process. If people would have seen me my first year at A&M they would’ve said no way this kid could get to where I’m at today. People don’t understand that my first year-and-a-half at A&M I was terrible.

“I just continued to try and get better, learn the playbook, got more comfortable around everybody, around the coaches with the system, and then good things happened for me.”

Manziel isn’t the first prominent rookie to take a back seat in Year 1. He’ll find his path, and knowing Manziel, it won’t be a straight one.

“You don’t have to come in from your first day of your rookie season and play right away,” he said. “There’s no exact guideline to how this process works with young quarterbacks. For me, I need to continue to do what I need to do to get better as a football player, get smarter and learn more, control what I can control and everything will work out fine for me.”

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