BEREA, Ohio – When Johnny Manziel said two weeks ago that his most pressing August battle was not against Brian Hoyer but against the playbook, people were listening.
People are always listening to Manziel. And watching him. Closely.
As the Cleveland Browns quarterback competition draws closer to a conclusion and fans across the country prepare to watch Monday’s preseason game at Washington and Manziel’s first game action with the No. 1 offense, Manziel has said he’s still getting comfortable with his new offense and new surroundings.
One big hurdle has been the terminology. We learned last week that some of Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s play calls are 17 words long.
"It’s not easy," Manziel said. "It’s a process. I’ve had to get used to the directions of going left and right and a keeper into another guy coming across. It’s like learning Spanish really for the first few weeks. But now, getting into it, I’m able to paint a picture of the play in my head as it’s said and I’m really processing it better."
"Really what Kyle (Shanahan) and (quarterbacks coach Dowell) Loggains have said from the very beginning is that the more and more you do it, the more and more you get comfortable with it," Manziel said. "Keep saying it, keep saying it, keep telling it to yourself, and eventually, if you do it enough times, it will stick."
In a conversation with former NFL head coach Jon Gruden taped last Friday at the Browns training facility, Manziel explained the playbook transition this way: "It’s way different ends of the spectrum, going from really never huddling at Texas A&M, going ‘turbo’ almost 24/7, to come in and run a huddle. You have a different cadence, you have protections, you have a way, way thicker playbook. It’s just different.
"The things we’re doing here, I like the concepts we have. I like the offensive scheme we have. I think Kyle has done a good job of easing me in and helping me get comfortable as this process has gone on."
Asked for an example of a play call by Gruden, Manziel gave it some thought.
"I want to try and get a good one," Manziel said, pausing for at least two seconds. "Like, ‘Pistol trips, left off, fake 19 1 to…’"
He stopped again to remember the rest.
"Fake 19, 1 to sit, keep right, Y corner, Z slide."
Gruden responded by spitting out a play call from their prior pre-draft encounter, when Gruden had Texas A&M’s playbook.
"What about 72 dusty, X individual?" Gruden asked. "What are they calling that here?"
Manziel didn’t hesitate.
"We’re calling that probably, ‘Double right, Y left, 2 Jack, Y rub."
So, they aren’t all 17-word play calls. Last week, FOX national college football writer posted on Twitter a picture from Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s office of the play sheet from the win that really put Manziel on the map, at Alabama Manziel’s freshman year when Kingsbury was his quarterbacks coach.
Many cool items in KliffKingsbury's office. Among them: a SuperBowl ring & the framed call sheet from A&M win at Bama pic.twitter.com/NlucexZfoW
The glare on the picture makes it difficult to read all of those calls, but none appear to be longer than six words. Some are two.
"Here, they are much longer," Loggains said last week. "There are 17-word play calls, and that’s probably the area of Johnny’s game that he’s improved the most from (the spring) to now. I think (Mike) Pettine said Johnny has to master the playbook and compete against himself to do that stuff. He’s done a great job working at it. He understands he does have to work to master that stuff."
It’s not just a whole new level. In some ways, it’s a whole new world.
"I think that there’s a lot more structure on the reads than what I was used to (in college)," Manziel said. "A lot of times in college, it was pick a side, (side) one (or side) two. Now, we can work from across the field. Different looks can get us into different reads so it’s more complex, more detailed.
"But I like it."
And he’s learning to love it. Even if it did start out a little like learning Spanish.