CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After huddling with team spokespersons, Johnny Manziel approached the podium for a news conference that barely lasted four minutes.
Nearly half the segment was Manziel stumping for the right to quarterback the Browns’ future, sounding like a guy who whose season just ended after 35 throws because of a hamstring injury. Manziel was making a case. He took direct questions – did you feel more comfortable this week – and, 90-plus seconds later, had covered why this year made him “more hungry” to work in the offseason and sustaining success and building on a talented roster.
“I want to be the guy,” Manziel said. “That’s what I want to do and that’s what I want to be for this organization, so for me, if anything, this has motivated me more to head into this offseason.”
Manziel probably said more in the news conference about his future than he did on the field. If the hamstring injury persists and Brian Hoyer starts in the finale against Baltimore, Manziel’s seven full quarters of rookie quarterback play didn’t resolve much of anything.
Starting from the Buffalo game, Manziel’s body of work is brief, mostly uninspired football that’s far too small a sample to define him as anything – a bust, an elite quarterback, a money sign.
This is what you got:
34 throws (35 if you count his one attempt early in the season in the Johnny Package)
15 full drives
10 three-play drives (nine three-and-outs, one resulting in an interception)
Two scoring drives
12 first downs (three by penalty)
One touchdown run
One field goal
And 175 passing yards
That’s 0.66 points and 0.8 first downs per drive. The Heisman Trophy-winning Manziel was hard to defend, but these numbers are just that.
The most important facts, however, are the first two listed above – drives and throws. There’s not enough information to make any sort of long-term determination. If going by the eye test, which many will do, Manziel needed to clean up his footwork and decision-making last week against Cincinnati and seemed to be doing some of that in Carolina, playing better despite missing on a few throws.
The Browns need to see whether Manziel can catch fire as a passer, and what he does when defenses douse that flame. They need to see how he handles a full offseason as the incumbent. They’ll need to see how he leads. They’ll need to see…everything.
What you can argue is this: Was he ready? That’s a fair question. After training camp and 14 NFL weeks, was he ready to be a starter or did he need the proverbial redshirt year?
Manziel’s four-week stretch complicates that answer. Either he wasn’t ready or he didn’t get enough reps to show he was.
“We’ve seen Johnny every day, all year; we know what Johnny’s capable of,” said wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who caught Manziel’s best pass of the day, a 28-yarder over the middle that Manziel delivered from the pocket. “He’s a great talent and can be a great quarterback in this league.”
The Buffalo game was the only glimpse into what Hawkins is saying. That’s why Manziel should stump for something else – the right to start against Baltimore. Rehab that hamstring and get back. There’s risk involved if Manziel struggles again, but ending with a good performance might quell some concerns within a reactionary fan base.
The stand-alone numbers won’t do that. The "Johnny Football" mystique is gone, and the only way to get it back is to answer the question those numbers present.
Is this who you are?