AFC North: Johnny Manziel

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It’s not fair to make too much out of Johnny Manziel’s gesture to the Washington Redskins' bench.

Manziel
It’s a gesture many have used.

But it is fair to say it matters, and it should matter. The Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback did what he did in a nationally televised game with many watching to see how he played. Coach Mike Pettine explained why it matters to him.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Pettine said. “We talk about ‘Play like a Brown.’ We want our guys to act like a Brown. We want to be a first-class organization. We have hundreds, thousands of kids who have come to our training camp practices. That type of behavior is unacceptable.”

Spot on.

Pettine then added something that is obvious about the camera-ready Manziel: “He should know more than anyone that all eyes are on him.”

Manziel will be fined and life will go on. His teammates will rally around him.

But it matters.

And here’s why.

Manziel plays in a city that raised Jesse Owens, who went on to win gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler.

He plays in a city that was home to Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League who dealt with constant and bitter racism.

He plays in a city that was home to Jim Brown, who overcame racism and spoke out against it throughout his career.

All of them dealt with far more than Manziel does on the field, and they handled it with dignity and pride, not with a junior high gesture.

Manziel is friends with LeBron James, who competes as hard as anyone and has never done anything like that on the basketball court.

Finally, Manziel is teammates with Joe Thomas, who has played every down of every game since he was drafted and made the Pro Bowl every year. He has lived through all the 10-loss seasons, yet he has shown up every season committed and dedicated to the team. He never complains, never makes a show of himself -- despite living through annual shenanigans year after year after year.

Manziel's gesture matters because he couldn’t get through his second preseason game without a classless act. He’s competitive. He has done and said a lot right since he started camp. But that gesture will be among the more remembered things of his first training camp. He can absolutely put it behind him with how he acts in the future, and he deserves that chance.

But it’s not exactly the best way to start a career.

Nor is it the best way to follow those who paved the way for him.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't shocked when Cleveland Browns rookie Johnny Manziel extended his middle finger toward the Washington Redskins' bench in Monday night's preseason game. Actually, he's surprised by the attention it's received.

Flacco
"I think we've all seen the middle finger before and we should get over it," Flacco said Tuesday.

Manziel may have been reacting to what he heard from the Redskins' bench, because he extended his middle finger over his right shoulder and into the direction of the Washington sideline.

Flacco said he never got harassed to the point where he lashed out like Manziel. But Flacco also said he never dealt with the amount of pressure that's been placed on the Browns' first-round pick.

Instead of criticizing Manziel, Flacco was more emphatic toward him.

"When people say stuff to you, what do you do? You react," Flacco said. "And you usually react in a way that you might not necessarily want to or not necessarily always react that way. I hate to say it, and you don't want to make it that way. But a football field is a place where there is a lot of emotion. Sometimes, those things happen. Obviously, you want to limit to the point where no one else sees it."

Flacco said he's surprised that these types of incidents don't happen more often in football.

"When bullets are flying, it can be pretty crazy out there," he said. "When you watch it on TV and even when we got back and watch it on film, you don't account for all the things that are actually going on out there. Guys are tired as can be. People are saying things to each other. So, that kind of stuff can happen. You don't want it to, obviously. But I always think those things are blown out of proportion and they want something to talk about. This is it today."

Flacco is known for his low-key demeanor. That's why he's known as Joe Cool in Baltimore.

When asked if he had ever extended the middle finger on a football field, Flacco said, "Yeah, I flipped Suggs off the other day in practice."
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No coach should face a crisis midway through the preseason, but Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine has one with the team's quarterback position. He must take decisive action, starting with these 10 suggestions:

  1. End this competition nonsense immediately. The incessant attention to every throw, the nonsensical sharing of snaps, the inability of Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel to take the job ... it's all hurting the team. Continuing the silliness might lead to one guy playing well in one quarter of the preseason, but more likely it would lead to more struggles and a schism on the team. What's happening now isn't helping Hoyer or Manziel. End it.
  2. Make Hoyer the starter. Tell him it's his job. Tell him to stop thinking it might not be his job. It's his, and he's the guy. Not because he earned it; he didn't. But he at least has a two-game track record from last season to lean on, has some experience in an NFL offense and understands what it takes to play and act professionally. Let the team start to coalesce behind him and step toward unity. And let the team take a breath and find itself with one quarterback in charge.
  3. Show that Manziel isn't ready. He's especially not ready for Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, the first three teams the Browns face. The Browns' system is too cumbersome for a guy to learn quickly. Manziel has moved from a spread college system based on speed and running plays quickly to one with play calls longer than the Gettysburg Address. If the Browns wanted Manziel to start immediately, they needed to tailor the offense to him, not fit the proverbial square Manziel peg into the hexagonal Kyle Shanahan/Dowell Loggains hole. Manziel gives every indication that this offense is that complex to him.
  4. [+] EnlargeHoyer
    AP Photo/Evan VucciNaming Brian Hoyer as the Browns' starter could help the team get behind one quarterback in preparation for the season opener.
    Sit Manziel down and talk to him about what it means to be a professional. This isn't a game anymore. Teammates have their livelihoods depending on how he plays and acts. Wagging a middle finger at the Redskins' bench might seem funny to him, but it's not. He might seem like the feisty competitor, but he's not. It's a sign of concern, and Pettine should be credited for not sugarcoating that reality. At this point, Manziel's signature moment with the Browns is an obscene gesture on national TV. Isn't that wonderful?
  5. Explain to Manziel that he's not in College Station anymore. The NFL is full of loud, nasty, belligerent guys who are eager to get under someone's skin and throw him off his game. Manziel's celebrity appearances on the party circuit make him a target of every barb known to the sports world. If he thought Monday night was bad or if he thought other experiences were bad before Monday, what's ahead will be worse. Washington proved it could get into his head.
  6. Stand up and say that the way things have progressed is Pettine's fault. Much as it's the quarterback's job to accept blame and spread credit, it's the same for the head coach. Hindsight says it might have been wiser to name Hoyer the starter heading into camp. There's the assumption that it would have helped him just play and not play like he's wearing a straitjacket. It might help the entire team if the coach simply said he made a mistake, he let the scrutiny get into people's heads and it's his fault.
  7. Then, channel his inner Blunt Force Trauma (his nickname) in a sit-down with Hoyer. Tell Hoyer he wants him to be the guy. Tell Hoyer he's rooting for him. Tell Hoyer he learned behind Tom Brady, for crying out loud. But add that Hoyer must back up his coach and go play. Stop worrying. Just play the way he did last season. If Pettine wants to be touchy-feely, he can remind Hoyer of the note he wrote him after his injury in 2013. Then he can call Hoyer's high school coach, Chuck Kyle of St. Ignatius, and ask Kyle to have the sympathetic father talk with Hoyer.
  8. Don't let a decision be made on anything other than football. Manziel is not a read-option quarterback to be experimented with; he can make plays with his feet and throw on the move. Move the pocket. Roll out. Forget the pistol and forget the other nonsense until Manziel proves he understands the game. If the Browns want to make it simple for Manziel as he learns, have at it. What's being thrown at him right now is too much, and it shows.
  9. Don't say the decision is not for the long haul -- something Pettine said last week. Pettine has been wonderful to deal with, but that slip was a head-scratcher. Former Browns general manager Phil Savage used to say that every person in the building had to be on board with the quarterback decision. When the coach says he doesn't want the starter to believe it's his team because he's starting the first game, the quarterback himself can't believe.
  10. Meet with the offense and channel his father, the original Blunt Force Trauma. The message: Take your heads out of the sand and start to play football because we're all in this together. Josh Gordon, you barely look interested on the field. Are you? The other receivers, who were brought here to help. Are you ready? Hoyer is the quarterback. The decision is made. Put your heads into the fresh air, breathe deep and play football.
BEREA, Ohio -- Johnny Manziel knew how it sounded the second he said it.

So he quickly advised not to take it out of context.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Mark DuncanJohnny Manziel is aiming to show more progress during the Browns' preseason game on Monday night.
But Manziel had a candid admission after the Cleveland Browns' final training camp practice: “I’m not ready for Pittsburgh right now.”

In the Manziel world, which he admitted Saturday includes “chaos,” “overanalysis” and “hype,” this statement could officially be called a doozy.

Except in the real world of what someone means and intends, a little perspective comes in handy. Manziel wasn’t saying he could not be ready to start the Browns' season opener Sept. 8 in Pittsburgh, just that if he had to play the Steelers now, he would not be. He said he has two more weeks of practices and two more games to prepare, and he said he gets more comfortable each week. Too, coach Mike Pettine altered his stance to say that the starting quarterback probably would get playing time in the fourth preseason game, which if it’s Manziel, gives him more playing time to prepare.

As training camp ends and the regular season gets closer, Manziel is doing his best to downplay expectations. In one media gaggle Saturday, he said, “I need to stay in my lane,” and, “I don’t look at it that I was drafted to come in Day 1 and save the franchise,” and learning the offense “is a process,” and “I’ve only played one game,” and “my expectations are not through the roof.”

This is the humble Manziel, the one who is barely noticed behind the scenes at the team’s office. The confident Manziel is in there, but he’s smartly and wisely leaving that guy to show up on the field. The contrast is stark between the guy who appears on every NFL fan’s social media timeline and the guy trying to win a starting job in his first NFL training camp.

If Manziel was upset about not starting the Browns' second preseason game -- at Washington on Monday night -- he didn't show it. Asked about the fact that Brian Hoyer is getting the start, Manziel said, "I'm taking it with the same approach I've had the past three weeks of camp."

This is a guy who handles questions very adeptly. It’s obvious he’s been through the wringer before, and it’s obvious he understands there is a hierarchy in the NFL, one that states young players should not be heard too loudly until they've produced.

Manziel even shrugs off the louder elements of his life -- the constant attention off the field.

“It’s been a constant in my life,” he said. “It’s been the one thing that’s been the most constant in my life for the past two years. So I don't even pay attention to it anymore, I don't ever really see it; it never really even fazes me.”

It will be interesting to see how Manziel reacts if he is not the starter two years after winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.

He had one blip in camp when he misread the schedule and was late for a morning meeting, but otherwise, the only complaint about him is the same one fans of Hoyer might have: He hasn't seized the job. Manziel has worked hard, done his best and tried to go from a simple one-side-of-the-field offense to long play calls and much more complex reads.

At this point for both the quarterbacks, what happens Monday night matters the most.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns ended the last open practice of training camp with a line of folks taking the Ice Bucket Challenge to fight ALS, and with some stone-cold realities facing them as they head toward the rest of preseason.

One is that coach Mike Pettine brought up the dreaded two-quarterback reference, saying he believes the team has two quarterbacks who can win. An adage in the NFL is that when a team has two quarterbacks, it has none. Pettine said he will decide on a starter Tuesday, one day after Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel face the Washington Redskins in the Browns' second preseason game.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCoach Mike Pettine said the Browns would like to settle on a starting quarterback by Tuesday.
The other reality is the crippling effect that the looming suspension of Josh Gordon will have (the NFL has yet to determine its length). The team's receivers have done little to distinguish themselves when Gordon is not in the lineup, and at the rate things are going Travis Benjamin might be the other starting wideout alongside Miles Austin. With Nate Burleson out with a hamstring, the team’s young receivers have struggled.

The Browns may be bringing in receivers with a front-end loader after the upcoming rounds of roster cuts -- especially if, as expected, Gordon is suspended for the season.

As for the quarterbacks, Friday clearly belonged to Hoyer. Perhaps knowing he'll start Monday vs. the Skins helped him relax, but he had one of his best days in some time. Manziel made some good and some not-so-good throws.

The competition that has droned on all camp will continue through Monday and come to a conclusion Tuesday, according to Pettine. As the coach said, at that point it would be nice if one of the two quarterbacks has stepped forward and seized the job.

If not, “a decision still has to be made,” Pettine said.

He said he’ll do it with input from quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and GM Ray Farmer. But Pettine said there’s a balance between naming the starter and expecting the starter to produce.

“I don’t want whoever the starter is to feel like, ‘If I make one mistake, I’m out,'" Pettine said. "But I also don't want him to feel like, 'I've achieved something, this is my team for the rest of the year.'"

Earlier this week, Loggains spent a lot of time gushing about Manziel and not talking much about Hoyer. Pettine still went with Hoyer as the starter in preseason Game 2, which indicates the head coach may take a more active role in the decision than he said he would.

At least he won't be flipping a coin.
Brian Hoyer won’t be able to say he wasn’t given a fair chance to win the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback job.

Hoyer
Coach Mike Pettine will give Hoyer the start for the second preseason game in a row when the Browns travel to Washington on Monday night.

The most disappointed folks will be those who wanted to see Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel take the field immediately. They will get their wish soon enough, though, as Pettine has promised Hoyer and Manziel will share reps and both will be with the starters.

This decision by the Browns seems to be a clear signal that Hoyer still has to seize the job to win it. To date, that hasn’t happened. Hoyer has not lost the job by any means -- Pettine has pointed that out as well -- but neither he nor Manziel has taken it.

As long as that happens, there will be debate, second-guessing and questioning because the Browns won’t be able to point at one player and say he won the job. With that comes controversy, additional scrutiny and increased pressure -- elements to a quarterback debate that no one with the team wants.

It’s a cycle Browns fans have seen before with no clear-cut starting quarterback victor.

But it’s the way things have gone in the preseason. At this point, it’s almost a matter of default who starts, though who the job defaults to also is a matter of debate.

Is it the rookie because he’s the future investment? Or is it the veteran because of his experience?

A week ago, it seemed like Manziel had momentum going into the preseason opener against Detroit. He was practicing well, completing more than 60 percent of his passes the final three days before the game.

But he has leveled off since, completing 50 percent in this week’s practices (all unofficial numbers, of course).

The Browns are left in a quandary of sorts, having to pick one guy even though one guy has not emerged.

Hoyer getting the second start almost makes it seem as if the team hopes he seizes the job. Pettine has said over and over that in his ideal world a rookie does not start right away.

Hoyer can win the job -- but he has to earn it.

If he doesn’t, he may see it taken from him.
For the first time in several days, there were very few questions about the Cleveland Browns' quarterback situation at Mike Pettine’s media get-together.

Pettine will decide who starts the second preseason game in Washington on the team’s off-day on Thursday, though he was clear that Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer would get the same amount of time with the starters. As the competition continues, with each quarterback getting time with the starters on alternating days in practice, other questions linger. Let’s take a stab at some of them:

What does the signing of Rex Grossman mean?

[+] EnlargeDowell Loggains
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will be part of the group that decides between Brian Hoyer (6) and Johnny Manziel (2).
Grossman stepped into the offense, directed players on where to go, made signals to motion receivers and dropped passes into receivers’ arms. He clearly has the advertised knowledge of the system. But Grossman’s signing had the bees buzzing locally and national that it’s not good for Brian Hoyer, that Grossman isn’t needed if Hoyer starts but he is needed if Manziel starts. Hoyer might not be the best mentor if he doesn’t start, and Grossman would be, so the thinking goes. This led to wild speculation that the Browns might trade Hoyer to Houston, where Bill O’Brien is a Belichick guy leading the ship. Radio chatter was prevalent, and some stories even appeared. “Stories is a good word for them,” coach Mike Pettine said, before adding: “I addressed that yesterday.” That is when he said “absolutely not,” when asked about Hoyer being expendable with Grossman on the team. One other factor: Grossman was the third quarterback in Washington the last two seasons; he’s at the point where he’s happy to be on a roster. Maybe Grossman is simply an upgrade over Tyler Thigpen.

What if nobody wins the job?

The two quarterbacks presently are in the muck. That means they are mucking around together, with neither seizing the job. Kyle Shanahan said early in camp that he fully expected someone to make the decision easy, but that hasn’t happened. They’ve both had good moments and bad moments. If this continues through Monday’s game, the Browns have to decide: Does neither winning the job mean that Hoyer gets it by default, or does it favor Manziel because he’s the hot-shot, first-round draft pick?

What if it’s a tie?

In baseball, a tie goes to the runner. In basketball a tie (up) is a jump ball. In football, a tie goes to overtime. But there is no overtime possible in this competition if Pettine sticks to his plan to name the starter before the third preseason game. If both Hoyer and Manziel play well Monday and they’re both relatively equal the way they were the first game – Hoyer had 92 total yards, Manziel 90 – then does the tie go to the veteran because he’s better able to read defenses like Pittsburgh’s, or does it go to the rookie because he’s the hot-shot, first-round pick.

Does the early schedule matter?

The Browns open at Pittsburgh and at home against New Orleans and Baltimore. It would be tough to find a tougher opening series of games, and Pettine admitted it had to be kept in mind. Would the Browns be reluctant to throw a rookie into that buzzsaw of games?

What about Josh Gordon’s situation?

Take the biggest playmaker out of a lineup and the entire offense suffers. When the biggest playmaker is a receiver, the quarterback suffers. When the remaining receivers play the way the Browns remaining receivers have played the past week or two, the ripple effect is very bad. Defenses can stack the box to stop the run and pressure the quarterback because they don’t fear a playmaker on the outside. Some would say this favors Hoyer because a veteran would be needed to stabilize what’s left of the offense. Other would say Gordon’s absence favors Manziel because the Browns will need someone to create plays, which is his skill.

What matters most? Pettine has said it over and over again: Who gives the Browns the best chance to win?The definition of “best chance to win” will be made by quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pettine.

Tweets capture LeBron's visit with Browns

August, 7, 2014
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LeBron James' appearance at Cleveland Browns camp drew plenty of attention on Thursday.









 
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BEREA, Ohio -- Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Nothing at all. Just keep moving.

That may as well have been the theme following the Cleveland Browns' training camp practice Monday, as coach Mike Pettine said it was simply “part of the plan” to give Johnny Manziel all of the first-team reps the first practice after the team’s scrimmage.

“We wanted to work them both in,” Pettine said of Manziel and Brian Hoyer, “and it’s part of our process.”

That may be 100 percent true. But as the Browns head to the first preseason game, Pettine would only say that there’s a “more than reasonable chance” Hoyer starts in Detroit rather than virtually guaranteeing it -- which he did earlier.

In the day-to-day drama that is life with Manziel and the Browns -- wow, he rolled out nicely after that handoff! -- the practice move with Manziel means something to all but the head coach. If, for instance, a starting wide receiver or linebacker suddenly found himself taking second-team snaps through an entire practice, it would be noteworthy. That it’s the second-team quarterback taking snaps with the starters makes it more noteworthy, and that it’s Manziel takes it close to Tim Tebow frenzy.

Manziel did not have an especially great practice. His best completion was a deep post to Travis Benjamin that Joe Haden inexplicably did not break up, though he was there for the underthrown ball. Manziel later threw an interception and had an unwise decision to throw across the field and across his body in a two-minute drill. Three passes were dropped, but he also didn’t sniff the end zone on the two-minute drill and unofficially finished 6-for-17 in all his team work. Hoyer, meanwhile, finished strong, with a touchdown up the hashmark to rookie Willie Snead and an effective final two-minute drill that had him throwing into the end zone prior to a field goal.

The growth process continues, with Manziel at times stumbling through practice when he can’t really run around to make a ton of plays.

The most encouraging thing that came out about Manziel happened when Pettine said that he has made his biggest improvement with the playbook, calling the plays, getting out of the huddle and making his reads. That was one of Manziel’s biggest challenges as he transitions from college to the pros, and if he’s grasping that and not making mental mistakes over and over, it’s a good sign.

But a few years back, Brady Quinn was the celebrated Browns draft pick taken 22nd overall. He created quite a buzz with a strong first preseason game. A few days later, one of the then-assistant coaches rolled his eyes at the buzz and pointed out Quinn had been given a total of six plays to run, which hardly made him regular-season worthy.

What does that mean for Manziel, who continues to stress he’s not thinking in terms of any kind of gap with Hoyer? Sticking with the facts, it means he made some plays with his feet in the scrimmage when he threw a touchdown pass that was ruled incomplete and two days later was spending his entire practice with the starters.

Move along, please.
After waffling back and forth for the better part of a day about the performance of Johnny Manziel in Saturday’s Cleveland Browns scrimmage, it’s time to get off the fence.

What Manziel did mattered.

Manziel
And it changes the conversation about the starting quarterback job. It doesn’t change the entire dynamic, but Manziel took advantage of his first real chance to alter the discussion a bit.

The usual caveat applies: Nobody but the coaches and players know where the throws were supposed to go, or how the play was supposed to be run. So in a sense, everyone is going on guesswork.

But results are results, and what Manziel did has to mean something. Why have a scrimmage if it doesn’t?

A few years back, when Steve Spurrier arrived at Florida, he had an incumbent quarterback by the name of Kyle Morris and a young one in Shane Matthews. Through all of spring practice, Spurrier said Morris was ahead. But in the spring game -- i.e. scrimmage -- Morris was OK and Matthews was good. Spurrier immediately elevated Matthews, who had an excellent career at Florida.

The reason one afternoon wiped out a month of work?

“That’s when the silks are on,” Spurrier said.

That’s when it matters.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel showed some glimpses of potential in Saturday's scrimmage, perhaps setting him up for some first-team work.
Browns coach Mike Pettine made no secret prior to the scrimmage that it would mean more than practice, and the games would mean more than the scrimmage.

Manziel had a productive scrimmage -- not so much in terms of numbers, but in terms of the way he played and what he got done. He ran around, he moved, he threw what should have been a touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge and shortly after threw another that should have been a touchdown to Charles Johnson. Barnidge was incorrectly ruled out of bounds, and Johnson could not handle the throw as he was hit.

Manziel squeezed in two throws to receivers on the sidelines as he ran out of bounds, and he ran the read-option plays he was given well. He ran for first downs, threw for a first down on a fourth down, and made a lovely throw to Barnidge for what should have been a score.

Perspective matters here -- both positive and negative.

Manziel started slow, turned the wrong way on a handoff, and admitted he's adjusting even to hearing plays called from the sidelines. Pettine admits Manziel can't run every time and has to choose his spots, so he has much growth to do in terms of standing in the pocket, making a read, and completing a throw. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive coordinator who wants discipline, and he's already warned that teams will hem in Manziel, and his strength could easily become a weakness.

But Manziel also is a rookie running an offense far more complex than he was used to in college. "Cleveland Browns Daily," the team’s radio show, said one play might have as many as 16 words. That’s a tough adjustment for a guy used to a quick call and quick read and quick throw.

Now he’s doing pre-snap reads, calling protections and going through progressions.

So when he can make something of nothing while he learns, it’s meaningful.

What we don’t know is whether Manziel ran around with a purpose, or whether he ran around a la Colt McCoy, who seemed to scamper to his right frequently when his first read wasn’t there. If Manziel is running without a purpose, he has some growing to do. If he’s running with a purpose because that’s his game, well then have at it.

Brian Hoyer has been steady and solid in practice. He made a very large leap from Day 1 to Day 2 of training camp and has been consistent since. The one thing he’s not done, though, is improve tremendously since that day. He’s been right at or around the same level.

Criticizing the guy would be absurd given his attitude, professionalism and approach. He’s what every team needs in its players.

And when a Joe Thomas compares his competitiveness to Tom Brady, it’s worth listening and giving him time to progress.

It would still make sense for Hoyer to start the opener. Manziel remains a rookie, and the Browns do open at Pittsburgh.

But Manziel no doubt will start to get reps with the starters this week (it hasn’t happened yet), which will increase the attention and scrutiny. And when Pettine kind of off-handedly says that they started training camp with Hoyer as the starter “because we had to have someone out there with the 1s,” it raises eyebrows.

In theory, Manziel should get better as he learns the offense.

In theory, his plays with his feet should help an offense that will need help.

In reality, he’s a highly ballyhooed first-round pick who did some noteworthy things in a scrimmage.

He took advantage of his chance in the scrimmage, and he’s changed the conversation a bit.

If Manziel does the same things in Detroit, the conversation might just become a full-fledged discussion.
Upon further review, Johnny Manziel should have been given credit for a touchdown pass in the Cleveland Browns scrimmage on Saturday.

The significance?

It would have been the Browns only offensive touchdown of the scrimmage, and it also would have been the result of an excellent play by Manziel and tight end Gary Barnidge. Manziel made the throw to the corner of the end zone over defenders. Barnidge broke from the line toward the corner and got to the spot even though safety Johnson Bademosi grabbed his jersey at the goal-line. The ball dropped into the perfect spot, and Barnidge, as this Twitter post from an on-the-spot fan shows, got his feet down.



Officials hesitated on the call, then ruled it out of bounds. In the regular season this clearly would have been reviewed and overturned. There is blue between Barnidge's toes and the out of bounds line.

"That was a good play call and a great catch," Manziel said. "Great job ... we’ll see on film if he got his feet in, but for Barnidge to get his feet in and catch that ... great route, great coverage by the defender but it was a really, really good catch."

And every bit as much a really, really good throw.

Manziel had another touchdown dropped when Charles Johnson could not handle a slant at the goal-line, but in a perfect world he would not have thrown that pass. He already would have been credited for the Barnidge TD pass.

This was the epitome of a good football play: The quarterback put the ball at the spot, and the receiver won and was there to make the catch.
 

AKRON, Ohio -- The quarterback play at the Cleveland Browns' intrasquad scrimmage might not determine much, but it sure highlighted the difference in the way the team's two signal-callers play.

Want a dropback, stand-in-the-pocket-and-make-a-throw guy? Here’s Brian Hoyer.

Want a scatback at quarterback who can make throws, run and run around, and make throws? Here’s Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Aaron JosefczykJohnny Manziel was unable to lead the Browns' offense to a touchdown during Saturday's scrimmage.
Want someone who will light up the field with big plays and a high completion percentage? Well, the wait continues.

Hoyer had more opportunities and more throws and more yards and more completions, but the chatter after play ended was more about Manziel. That could be the nature of things when a much-discussed guy becomes a first-round draft pick, but Manziel looked better in the scrimmage than he has at any time in practice. That’s not a high bar, but it’s still true.

At the same time, the things he did well are the things that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan expressed concerns about during the week when he said Manziel’s greatest strength also could be his greatest weakness. That’s moving around, because for every big play a runner can make, there’s another with a defender waiting to -- as Ron Jaworski said -- “break his facemask.”

The bigger picture may be that the Browns' defense scored two touchdowns to none for the offense, and that some goal-line plays looked like a Keystone Kops skit. Too, once Jordan Cameron went out as a precaution to protect a shoulder he got banged up, the offense was without Josh Gordon (in New York to continue his appeal) and Cameron. On the one hand, it’s early in camp, but on another, the way things went is reflective of new players learning yet another new system while the other competitive teams in the AFC refine theirs.

One of Hoyer’s best throws came early, as he found Miles Austin for 19 yards on third-and-14 on the first drive, which fizzled soon after. Later during a red zone drill, Hoyer had Austin wide open on a short crossing pattern, but the ball was batted at the line by Jacobbi McDaniel and intercepted by Barkevious Mingo, who rambled on a fullback-like run for a good return.

“I would have tackled him,” Hoyer said.

“I would have lowered my shoulder,” Mingo said.

Both laughed, though Hoyer wasn’t laughing about the throw.

“You can’t throw it through them,” he said.

Manziel’s best completion came when coach Mike Pettine gave him a chance on fourth-and-5 and he found Willie Snead for 14 yards. His best throw was a corner-of-the-end-zone toss to Gary Barnidge, who made the catch but was ruled out of bounds.

Manziel spoke insightfully when it was over, and he probably was the talk of more people who watched than Hoyer. Manziel did take a step forward, and he's headed toward getting reps with the starters, but he still has to show that he can run around successfully and consistently in a full-speed game. And he has to show he can handle a dropback passing attack that asks a lot of him pre-snap without simply taking off every time his first read is not there.

Manziel said he’s learning.

Hoyer said he has to get better.

Both were right on the money.
BEREA, Ohio -- Johnny Manziel was pretty hard on himself when he addressed the media on Thursday.

He used words and phrases such as mental mistakes, 180 degrees different from college and complicated. In a sense, it was refreshing to hear a guy so touted be so critical of himself.

Brian Hoyer, though, just keeps on keeping on, and trying, as he often says, to be the best quarterback he can be for the Cleveland Browns.

They'll get their first and best chance to make their strongest impression Saturday at the University of Akron, as each will get a chance to lead the starting offense against the Browns' starters on defense.

Coach Mike Pettine said he had not decided how the reps would break down, but it would seem each would get a chance at some point against the starting defense. Pettine wants to see one main thing: “Who can step up and make plays in a live situation?”

To date, Hoyer has performed better than Manziel. He’s more decisive and quicker in his reads. He shows an obvious and better understanding of the offense. Hoyer worked all offseason; Manziel had six weeks after the draft and one week of training camp. Hoyer has been in the NFL, Manziel has not.

But Manziel has the “it” element; he’s usually been better in games than he is in practice. That may be true, but Manziel will have the disadvantage that the Browns will limit his improvisation to protect his health and well-being. That might mean Manziel will be able to scramble, but not a lot.

“It still won’t be live,” Pettine said. “Some of the things he was maybe able to escape from in college will be whistled dead in the scrimmage. We always want to protect our guys when we’re going against each other.”

Hoyer’s job is clear: Continue progressing, both in terms of understanding the offense and rehabbing his knee. For Manziel, the task is clearer: Show that he is a gamer, because his practices have been underwhelming. The scrimmage and the games, though, matter more, so if Manziel can get something done in Akron, it might be the first time he’s changed the conversation about the starting quarterback spot.
A day-by-day and honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

THE WORK: Wednesday was not a particularly good day for either quarterback, as the defense responded to prodding from head coach Mike Pettine to produce a much more lively, active and chippy practice. That being said, Manziel has not shown the spark in practice that produced the glittering numbers in college. Any neutral observer who has watched practice has left with the impression that Brian Hoyer is far ahead in the quarterback competition. Manziel has taken steps, but none strong enough to firmly take the job. He looks like a rookie learning an offense and struggling as he goes -- while usually facing the second-team defense.

GOOD THROW: This was a defensive day, with the defense playing aggressive and with energy. The offense did not match that energy, Manziel among them. To say he did not have a good throw probably isn’t fair; coach’s film could probably find one. But there was not one single throw that jumped out live. He did complete a lot of passes in five-on-five (mainly short), when the team drills took place he struggled.

BAD THROW: It might have been a sack live because Manziel stepped up to avoid a rush. But when he stepped up, he had a chance to complete a throw. Instead, he sailed it well over the receiver’s head and into the hands of Jordan Poyer, who would have had a clear path to the end had the pick been in a game.

THE WORD: “I don’t react to that because I want to know the why.” – coach Mike Pettine on how he reacts to interceptions thrown in practice.

START CHART: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being Manziel certainly starts the opener -- Manziel started with a 3, dropped to a 1, went back to a 3 and Tuesday moves to a 2.

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