Browns playbook is Manziel's first

May, 20, 2014
May 20
3:10
PM ET
A tiny item caught my eye amid the hoopla about media access and Johnny Manziel's first practice weekend with the Cleveland Browns.

It came from Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who pointed out that the playbook (on a tablet) that Manziel received from the Browns was the first one he had been given in his football career. At Texas A&M, King wrote, Manziel ran a group of plays given to him from week to week.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
David Maxwell/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel must adjust to the first playbook of his football career, but his biggest challenge involves mental preparation.
This flashed me back immediately to Tim Couch, who played in the NFL after not having a playbook in college. Everyone knows what happened to Couch, but the story became a big deal when folks learned Couch did not have a playbook at Kentucky. With Manziel, it was barely a blip on the radar.

Clearly the different approach will require an adjustment for the Browns' rookie quarterback. To go from no playbook to one on a tablet is a significant change.

It's all part of Manziel's transition as he goes from celebrated college star to ... ahem ... NFL backup. And several current and former NFL coaches believe the changes will be significant but that doesn't necessarily mean it won't work out.

The challenges are twofold. One is adjusting to running an offense based on two or three reads after running primarily a one-read, spread formation system in college. The other is adjusting to the increased emphasis in the NFL on line calls, coverages and reads as opposed to the college emphasis on the pace with which plays are run.

This is all added to the normal adjustment of moving up one level; it's a mental transition added to the physical ones, where the players chasing Manziel are all bigger, faster and stronger.

Nobody doubts Manziel's ability, or his potential for excitement. But the insights provide a little more football reality to the transition.

The point: The college playbook is small and the focus is on speed and getting the play run. It's not on things like pre-snap read, determining where the defense will pressure and adjusting the playcall to that read. College programs want plays run at a near frenetic pace. It's the focus in practice and games.

Yes, Chip Kelly's system translated to the Philadelphia Eagles, but that's because he brought many of the elements of the system he used in Oregon. Manziel will be going from a fast-paced college system to a variation of the West Coast run by Kyle Shanahan.

The sheer depth of knowledge Manziel will need should not be underestimated. It extends not just to the offense, but to understanding the defenses -- the disguised coverages and rush fronts and blitzes (think Troy Polamalu the past several years).

The NFL is a league in which protections are called at the line and pass routes are run based on blitzes and coverages. The right call at the line is crucial, the right read before the snap vital -- to the point it can be the difference between a first down or a strip-sack or interception.

Understanding the defense is as important as understanding the offense.

None of this means Manziel won't succeed. Far from it. He may succeed right away.

What it does is show the benefit to some quarterbacks of sitting and learning, and what it also shows is how tough the transition can be as colleges go further away from pro-style offenses.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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