NFL: Johnny Manziel and Browns both agree he's not ready to start
Berea, Ohio • On one knee and far from the action, quarterback Johnny Manziel leaned on his orange helmet and watched.
This is his new position.
As Browns starter Brian Hoyer worked with Cleveland's first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills Thursday, Manziel, for now relegated to the second string, observed from the side. He took mental notes as he waited for his turn.
This rookie has been no sensation. He's not ready to start.
Meet Johnny Backup.
Failing to make any magic happen in his first two NFL preseason games and unable to close the gap enough to beat out Hoyer, Manziel will begin the season as Cleveland's No. 2 quarterback, matching his uniform number. It's not a major surprise given he's had to learn a complex offense and he entered training camp behind Hoyer.
But Manziel's inability to leap-frog Hoyer, a journeyman who has made four career starts and is coming off knee surgery, shows the jump from college to pros is gargantuan even for Johnny Football.
"Obviously I didn't want this to be the outcome," Manziel said. "But at the same time, I didn't necessarily feel I was ready, I felt like there were steps that I needed to take, and I need to take, to get better."
Manziel has shown flashes, just not enough.
Still, the Browns have seen promise in him, and Manziel's immense fan base now has members inside Cleveland's locker room.
"We got arguably the best No. 2 in the NFL," said wide receiver Nate Burleson. "I'm a Johnny Football fan. Not only was I a fan before he got here, but now he's family because we play for the same team. I'll always be in his corner."
Manziel has improved in recent weeks. He's got a much better grasp on offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's playbook and its tongue-twisting verbiage; some plays contain 17 words. He's made better decisions with the ball, and he's won over some skeptical teammates with a solid work ethic and humble attitude.
Trouble is, Manziel may have damaged his chances to win the starting job before camp with his well-documented partying. The photos of Manziel chugging champagne while floating on an inflatable swan, talking into a phone made of money, and rolling a dollar bill in a bathroom brought him unwanted attention.
The Browns were privately concerned about Manziel's behavior and warned him about it. He obliged, but had two recent missteps: being late for a team meeting and flipping his middle finger at the Redskins' sideline Monday night on national TV.
The gesture, relatively harmless compared to other things than go on during a game, may have reinforced the belief of coach Mike Pettine and his staff that Manziel wasn't prepared mentally or physically to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 7.
Sitting and waiting is nothing new for Manziel. He was so far behind when he got to Texas A&M that the Aggies redshirted him as a freshman. It wasn't long, though, before he was the big man on campus and quickly the biggest name in college football, a one-man scrambling highlights machine.
Manziel, who has completed 14 of 27 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, said nothing has surprised him so far.
"It's exactly what I thought it would be," he said. "I knew it would be a big step, a big learning process. If people would have seen me my first year at A&M they would've said no way this kid could get to where I'm at today. People don't understand that my first year-and-a-half at A&M I was terrible.
"I just continued to try and get better, learn the playbook, got more comfortable around everybody, around the coaches with the system, and then good things happened for me."
Pettine said there won't be a "leash" on Hoyer, who will get an opportunity to take the job and run with it. But the Browns' difficult early schedule they'll host New Orleans and Baltimore after facing the Steelers could make things interesting if they're 0-3 or 1-2 at the bye week.
Manziel isn't the first prominent rookie to take a back seat in Year 1. He'll find his path, and knowing Manziel, it won't be a straight one.
"You don't have to come in from your first day of your rookie season and play right away," he said. "There's no exact guideline to how this process works with young quarterbacks. For me, I need to continue to do what I need to do to get better as a football player, get smarter and learn more, control what I can control and everything will work out fine for me."