Manziel changes Browns' QB conversation

August, 3, 2014
8/03/14
1:00
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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.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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