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Manziel can't divorce Johnny Football

2/19/2014
Johnny Manziel is saying all the right things about potentially being drafted by the Browns, but is he the right quarterback for Cleveland? Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Johnny Manziel must think Cleveland is easy.

Drop a few platitudes, give a shout out to the Dawg Pound and throw in the words Super and Bowl and the North Coast will fall all over itself in devotion to a guy throwing footballs while standing in the surf on a San Diego beach.

That’s what he did last week when he told two reporters if he were drafted fourth by the Browns: “I'm going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland. I don't care if they've had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I'm going to be the 21st and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl."

Hey Mr. Football, The Big Easy is New Orleans. Cleveland is a rough-and-tumble town, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and winds off Lake Erie that will rattle your eardrums. It’s not gonna fall for preplanned, pre-draft platitudes designed to burnish your image.

Well, it shouldn’t have, at least.

Because the swooning started almost immediately after Manziel’s statement to two fine reporters from the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram was posted. Cleveland basically fell all over itself.

Radio talk show calls were off the ... ummm ... hook. A Manziel flag was raised on the city’s rooftops (not really). Folks were high-fiving, hugging themselves. Because Manziel likes Cleveland, he really likes Cleveland.

Draft him. Sign him. Give him a wing in the Rock Hall for a signing bonus (divide THAT up in the salary cap, Mr. Commissioner). He wants to play in Cleveland -- and LeBron didn’t.

Ahem.

It might be time to take a step back. Because while Manziel can help refine his skills working with George Whitfield Jr. in San Diego (three years in a row), it won’t change who he is -- an extremely talented but small, sometimes fundamentally flawed quarterback who got away with a lot of back-foot, run-around throws in college that he may or may not be able to get away with in the the NFL.

The funnel has winnowed away the talent, and Manziel has to prove that his individual talent can translate to the pros.

It very well might. But standing in the surf throwing in San Diego and talking good things about his possible future homes won’t change who he is.

By trying to -- as he said -- leave Johnny Football behind, Manziel acknowledges that he understands he’s not going to be in College Station anymore, Toto.

In a sense, players now are doing what teams used to do, but in reverse. They train like mad for the combine (which will be this week) and for pro days, they take practice tests for the Wonderlic and they set up workouts to make themselves look good.

Teams used to be the ones to out-think themselves on guys and find flaws that caused them to ignore the tape; now the players are trying to erase the flaws.

Manziel is Johnny Football. His college numbers are astounding.

But he also showed an attitude in college that was above his stature. Manziel was suspended for one half of a game for signing memorabilia for autograph brokers (the NCAA found no evidence that he profited from it), then flaunted it in the second half by making the international sign for money to crowds. He appeared at every major event around the nation known to humankind. He left the Mannings' QB camp early. He's made ill-advised statements on social media.

Now Manziel wants the world to believe that’s all in the past, as if all that past doesn’t matter, as if it really wasn’t him doing those things.

Remember when Tim Tebow was redoing his throwing motion?

Manziel has followed the orders of coaches his whole life, and while his access is appreciated, it seems like he’s just being coached in a different way. Coached to throw in the ocean. Coached to run in the sand. Coached to take a test. Coached to present himself a certain way through the media. Coached, probably, to dress.

Browns general manager Ray Farmer told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he already knows the quarterback he’d take, which is eminently refreshing. He said character can change that, which is also refreshing because if a guy turns out to be a fraud, well ...

But he’s seen the guys play, and he doesn’t seem to be the kind who will be swayed by an interview or a prepackaged set of workouts.

At some point the Browns have to pick the right quarterback, even if by happenstance. Even a blind monkey at a typewriter eventually produces a word.

But if the Browns decide Manziel is the guy, it shouldn’t be because of some verbal platitudes. It should be because he has the guts to stare down Terrell Suggs or Geno Atkins, the gumption to shrug off the Pittsburgh Steelers, the arm strength to laser a ball through wind off Lake Erie and the moxie to be a guy teammates respect and believe in.

If he’s the right guy for the Browns, it should be because he showed the Browns via his play on the field that he’s the guy whose game best translates to what the Browns need.

Talk is cheap. Especially when it comes to the draft.