Rick Osentoski/AP
Rick Osentoski/AP

Johnny Preseason

The Manziel circus is in full swing in Cleveland, and the ringleader job might be his to lose. Plus, Michael Sam is not an alien, why the color of Week 1 was yellow and more observations with the first set of preseason games in the books

“It’s your time now.”

 —Cleveland receiver Anthony Armstrong to Johnny Manziel in the huddle Saturday night, before the first play of Manziel’s career.

DETROIT — At his locker in the visitors’ quarters Saturday night, not long before the clock struck midnight at Ford Field, stood safety Donte Whitner, the ebullient Cleveland Brown. Not a lot of people would be thrilled to be a Brown. But Whitner, born in Cleveland and educated at Glenville High on 113th Street in the city and then at Ohio State, had to soak it all in Saturday in the bowels of this stadium. For eight years he’d played professionally in Buffalo and then San Francisco, and tonight he’d finally put on the white jersey with brown numbers of his hometown team. “I stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom for 10 minutes, just staring,” Whitner said. “So strange. Like, I’m a Brown. My heart’s been here, and now I’m here.”

I figured Whitner would be the best man in the room to ask about the quarterback—the phenom, Johnny Manziel, versus the unproven but decidedly more even-keeled vet, Brian Hoyer. Whitner knows what Cleveland the city wants. Whitner has played in a Super Bowl and was the leader of a Niners secondary that held up its end for three straight playoff seasons. Whitner said all the right things about the competition between Hoyer and Manziel, which does appear close in the wake of Saturday’s preseason opener here. Close, with Manziel gaining fast on the turn into home … which no one expected a month ago. This looked clearly to be Hoyer’s gig, at least to start the season. Not anymore. The gap has closed significantly, and Saturday night was Exhibit A why.

“It’s been fierce,” Whitner said. “Two guys fighting for their lives. It’s close. I’d say [the locker room] is split about 50-50. We know they both can play.”

Manziel outplayed Hoyer in the 13-12 loss to Detroit, but the rookie (seven of 11 for 64 yards and no touchdowns or picks, six carries for 27 yards) was a B and the vet a C or C-plus. Not enough to tip the scales, yet. But from the first throw of the two quarters he played—a lasered eight-yard out route to Anthony Armstrong—Manziel was the player he’d been at Texas A&M in terms of confidence and running the game his way. That helped on a couple of throws, and on a 16-yard scramble that parted the Red Sea on the Detroit line. But it hurt him on a fourth-and-short when he rolled right and ran for the sticks, bypassing what would have been a medium- to big-gain throw to fullback Ray Agnew; Manziel barely made the necessary yard for a first down. That was a clear case of Manziel playing the way he did at Texas A&M, taking the offense into his own hands and saying, I’ll get the first down. Everyone stand clear. That’s not a smart way in the NFL because it’s just going to get him hit more. And at his size, the object is to let the other offensive guys get hit, not him.

This looked clearly to be Hoyer’s gig, at least to start the season. Not anymore. The gap has closed significantly, and Saturday night was Exhibit A why.

The fact that Manziel is close heading into one of the last tests Monday night against Washington (Browns coach Mike Pettine ideally would like to name a starter by game three of the preseason) is surprising. When Hoyer and Manziel left Cleveland in mid-June for their pre-camp break, Hoyer had a comfortable lead over the rookie. Manziel wasn’t entirely sure of himself, and he was making a few mental errors and not playing with his usual confidence in practice. The Browns wondered if he’d come back in top mental and physical shape. He did, despite his Vegas dalliances. It’s probably true that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would prefer playing the veteran, at least early. But how much difference is Hoyer’s experience, really? He’s thrown 193 NFL passes and started four games. This isn’t the Arizona Kurt Warner we’re talking about.

One more “but” for Manziel: He can’t be running at Saturday’s rate—six times in six series—and survive. Which he knows. “Obviously,” he said, “that’s not the plan, for me to get that many carries every week. The better I get at progressions, the more I get comfortable with the play calls and the scheme and what we’re trying to do and pre-snap looks, the more and more I continue to get better over time. And less and less running. Hopefully that will weed out.”

Johnny Manziel accounted for 91 yards of total offense on Saturday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Johnny Manziel accounted for 91 yards of total offense on Saturday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I asked Whitner what he thought of Manziel after being around the celeb quarterback for a couple of months now.

“Very quiet,” Whitner said. “Very respectful. He’s earning his keep so far. He’s not asking for any privileges. He’s just a rookie, and he’s acting like one. When we have the rookie show, he’ll sing just like the rest of them. As far as football goes, I’m seeing him put the ball on the money like a veteran. Sometimes the receiver drops it. Sometimes the receiver isn’t even looking for the ball and it bounces off him. He’s got the confidence a quarterback has to have.”

Too much confidence? I saw the right amount on the field, and, for what it’s worth, humility off it. On the field, he was the spitting image of the Texas A&M Manziel, throwing BBs and running when he wanted. I thought he’d be a bit tentative and not as decisive as, say, he was against Alabama in his defining college games. Not at all. He was who the Browns drafted.

When he finished showering and dressing (white button-down Oxford shirt, dress jeans) after the game, he stood at his locker and quietly talked on his phone or talked to a couple of the team PR guys softly. In front of the press, it was all about the team, and about progress. “For me,” he said, “it’s all about getting better. At the end of the day, what I want is what’s best for the Cleveland Browns. Whichever quarterback that is, whichever way I can help this team, that’s what I’m about. I need to soak in this game tonight, learn from the film, and things will work out the way they’re supposed to.”

That’s the press-conference Johnny. That’s fine for the fifth quarter—the post-game message-sending—but for the first four quarters, Whitner and his mates want a different Johnny.

“We need him to be Johnny Football,” Whitner said.

1 2 3 4 5NEXT VIEW AS A SINGLE PAGE
More from The MMQB
255 comments
JRoy_20
JRoy_20

With these practice squad increases across the league, this could be big for bubble players. I'm hoping to see rookie QB Brock Jensen of NDSU picked up somewhere and put on PS. His potential is something many people want to see in this league. The kid is a winner and has proved that. Also very talented and developed. He played in the FCS like Romo, but proved to win big against teams in the Big 12 (youtube NDSU/Kansas St final drive) Would really like to see him get a shot. 

pricklypearcycler
pricklypearcycler

Look at all of the white guys in the Fox broadcast booth for the Chief's/Panthers game.

JoeMoon
JoeMoon

Judge Wilken ruled five thousand dollars 'max", not minimum. 

Far different implications.

wwrightmcdonald
wwrightmcdonald

"When he finished showering and dressing (white button-down Oxford shirt, dress jeans) after the game, he stood at his locker and quietly talked on his phone or talked to a couple of the team PR guys softly."


This is the kind of journalism that wins you the Red Smith Award! But seriously Peter, how big is your pants-tent for Johnny Manziel on this day in mid-August? Inevitably with the Browns, Hoyer will lose the job, Manziel might be lucky to win 6 games while learning the coverages and check-downs and progressions, and the Browns will be slightly better come next off-season. Next story please!

VoodooPeoples
VoodooPeoples

I cant not imagine someone telling you to go bleep yourself 19 times, 18 should have been enough. lol 

Ciscos
Ciscos

I said this the other day about Johnny Football. Marketing will say he needs to be the starter.  Logic says Hoyer. I lean toward Hoyer cause marketing has never won a football game.


Hoyer, limited experience (as some like to point out) or not, he has game experience.  That game experience counts for a lot when the season comes.  Manziel, obviously doesn't.  And once NFL defenses start scheming for him that wild ride at the amusement park is going to come to a screeching halt.


Manziel will have his day and his time.  It's just not right now.  That is unless Hoyer gets hurt or stinks up the place.

tmadz
tmadz

RE: fan disagreeing with Kain Colter about student compensation/union organizing


If you're going to disagree with a Northwestern graduate and hope to have any credibility, don't say "Bro".

JTsportsguy
JTsportsguy

Does anyone seriously NOT think Johnny Football will have any success in the NFL?  We have him ranked right now and are BUMPING up his rankings - his first week was impressive, he ran effectively and threw efficiently.  http://www.fantasyfballchamps.com

BillyBobRoberts
BillyBobRoberts

The Brownies might be clueless, but they know Hoyer is not a franchise QB. He's just ok. Johnny should and will be the starter. This year is wasted anyways because they can only score FGs, especially if Gordon is suspended. So why not start the rookie?

Nuadormrac
Nuadormrac

"As far as football goes, I’m seeing him put the ball on the money like a veteran. Sometimes the receiver drops it. Sometimes the receiver isn’t even looking for the ball and it bounces off him. He’s got the confidence a quarterback has to have.” "


This, would be why a QB can be inclined to run the ball, especially if they are able to both scramble AND throw.  Confidence includes not only confidence in one's self, but in one's receivers, which also needs to be demonstrated.  Even top QBs, if they had receivers who have a case of the dropsies can either end up getting a look of frustration (look at Tom Brady's face during many games last season before Gronkowski returned for a time), or can be inclined to pass on a possible receiver if there are a lot of drops.  Case in point, when Jermichael Finley kept dropping the ball, and Aaron Rodgers went to throw to other targets (who were also more likely to catch the thing).  Finley balked, and talked about QB chemistry, while complaining that Rodgers seemed to be ignoring him, but the fact is Rodgers had to make a judgment call, on what would most likely to be a successful play.


These are some of the known top QBs, who can be in this position.  If Brady was likely to pick Wes Welker (when he played for the Pats), or Gronk, if Rodgers were to pass more often to some receivers then others (though Rodgers has arguably passed it around a fair bit), it isn't simply a personal matter.  If someone wants the QBs attention, they also need the QBs confidence, that they're good on making the play.  Passing involves 2 players, not just one.  There's the one throwing it, but also the one catching it.  For the play to be successful, both players have to be on their game.


If he isn't sure who he can count on to catch, when he sees someone who doesn't have his head in the game, and the ball just bounces off the player who isn't even looking for a pass, as QB he has to make a judgment call, on how likely that guy is going to catch the ball when the game counts on it.  If running the ball is more likely to get a successful play, that can weigh in on the decision.  And without sounding like Finley here, chemistry, and developing chemistry as the players play with each other can be a part of it.  But this isn't all on the QB either, unlike what Finley suggested, because the receiver is part of the equation and does need to actually try to catch the ball (which Finley had not).  Receivers not even looking for the ball, and getting hit by the thing as it bounces off them, is none too good, itself...

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

yeah the biggest problem for the browns, is one player they have now gordon, will likely be out the entire season, i mean this is one of the dumbest things of the cba where a player can play in the pre-season, i mean anyone understand the reasoning behind that.


as for sam, he'll likely end-up on the practice squad and pk putting out there that katie couric and anderson cooper weren't granted interviews tells you all you need to know, again if this guy were any other 254th pick in the draft, he would be ignored

eddie767
eddie767

P.K.

     20+ K had nothing to do with Pats/Brady in town, Rich.VA. That's everyday for the 3 wks they are here. What changed was there were Pats jerseys mixed with some CBoys ones. We, the fans, support daily. Now, the question should be do these ppl have jobs. Just joking. Glad you came to town.

SentryVirginia
SentryVirginia

Give him 1.5 years, then its "RGIII time" in the hospital watching football on TV.

KBowen7097
KBowen7097

7 of 11. One incompletion was caught barely out of bounds. One was dropped. One would have been completed if a more veteran receiver had slid of gone to ground. That could easily have been 10 for 11.

Knute
Knute

Johnny Football is Lightening in a bottle, do not stopper him up, the other guy, well just the other guy!

Aggie81
Aggie81

I guess the fact that all of the Cleveland players standing on the side line watching (instead of sitting on the bench), and a few making the "Manziel money" gesture after he completed the scramble up the middle of of the field for a first down eluded this reporter.  Or how the stands emptied after Johnny was done playing for the evening....


Johnny "Cash", "Football", "Heisman", Manziel  teased everyone just enough to tune in next Monday Night for a little more of what's to come...


magicvilas
magicvilas

Dan-O stunk, but Kellen Moore looked great.

I know it was against scrubs, but it was WITH scrubs too...

He put every pass on target.

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

I try not to dislike a player due to media hype (Its not Jadeveon Clowney's fault that ESPN showed his play vs Michigan 900 times a day) but they getting to me with Manziel. I want to see him do well but I am tired of hearing about him.

LucilleBluth
LucilleBluth

What a stupid blurbed that Martez Wilson bit is. If you like a player enough you sign him and send someone home, simple as that. The NFL has proven time after time to be a heartless business(watch Hard Knocks in the coming weeks) yet is to soft to send a guy home because they were overseas?? Really!?!?


I don't think there should be a team in London but not because of that ridiculous anecdote. 

metalhead65
metalhead65

hey Peter you should also check out Johnny Cueto and his stats playing for a offensively challenged reds ball club. kershaw's numbers are impressive but so are Cueto's.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

Why doesn't that logic apply to Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, or John Elway - to name a few?

Nuadormrac
Nuadormrac

@KBowen7097 

The receiver is just as important a part to the passing game, as is the QB...  Just look at Tom Brady's facial expression in the games from last season (himself a proven veteran QB), after he was down Welker (went to a different team), down Hernandez (went and killed someone and got himself in jail), and down Gronkowski (due to injury)...  Did it effect the game?  Quite arguably, looking at the earlier games last season, but that it wasn't him simply losing it, when Gronk was back, you could see how the games went for the Pats both before and after Gronk's return.


One shouldn't underestimate the importance the receiver plays, even though people typically focus in on the QB.  The QB does depend on his receivers, to have a successful passing game.  This isn't just a Manziel thing either; it applies to just about any QB.  To successfully throw, one also needs the receiver, if that's out, what remains?  The running game, or?


Needless to say, and just to demonstrate also how being able to scramble or run isn't really a bad thing, look at what happens when the Packers (very effective passing attack), goes up against the 49ers.  They've arguably gotten better at addressing more physical teams like the 9ers, but we do see the same thing again and again.


But to have an effective passing attack, there has to also be receivers, that well, do catch the ball.  When the coaches are saying that the receivers aren't always looking for it, and it sometimes bounces off the receiver, when the pass was (the coaches words) "on the money"; does suggest an issue at the receiving end, itself.

Wombat
Wombat

@KBowen7097 I know but almost just doesn't count. He didn't do badly he just hasn't shown anyone enough to get the job or deserve the hype... yet. Give him time. I'm pretty sure he'll be the starter sometime this year and probably sooner than later... but the game this weekend wasn't enough.

Corey9
Corey9

@Knute so much talk about a team that will be lucky to win 5 games

Corey9
Corey9

@Aggie81 maybe against a first team defense too instead of a bunch of guys destined for the practice squad!

Wombat
Wombat

@Aggie81 Really? Even the local sportscasters in Ohio are saying he didn't do much. He may go on to be great but this weekend's game didn't show anything. It's much too early to tell.

Mike D2
Mike D2

@BushidoBrownsRevenge It's only just begun...the kid hasn't even played a snap in a regular season game yet. Blame the media for their obsession with him. He's doing and saying the right things, being a good teammate, and a humble rookie. If you are already tired of hearing of him part of that falls on you for continually exposing yourself to the media, reading this article on SI.com, watching an ESPN segment on the depth chart at Browns camp, etc. Not saying you can totally avoid Manziel talk if you watch ESPN, NFL network, or SI...but it seems like a lot of people rooting against him are all over the media coverage but then use that coverage as the reason they hate him.

Wombat
Wombat

@metalhead65 Very true. If Cueto played for a team that could actually hit he'd be in the running for a Cy Young award... as it is he won't get much attention.

Mike26
Mike26

@BillRobinson Those QB's you mention were all more prepared physically and mentally to take over and learn at faster rates.  John Manziel, if he continues upon his current path, will be so beaten up over the next two years may not make it to three years in the league.  He just doesn't have the history of being the film guy that he'll need to be to improve from playing; the others learned from the field and the film.  Just my opinion...

SandersonKramer
SandersonKramer

@Wombat @KBowen7097 And Hoyer's 6 for 14 has and his 4 starts in the pros has, his one good performance in 2013 has, his being undrafted and released by 2 teams, has?

Mike26
Mike26

@Wombat @Aggie81 You'll have to excuse the Manzealots...those Aggies lose much of their reasoning and rationale when it comes to John Manziel.

Newsletter