Is Johnny Manziel ready to be the man in Cleveland?
By Shaun Ranft
After Week 2, there is no obvious answer. After Sunday, though, the starting job needs to be unequivocally his going forward.
When the Cleveland Browns named career backup Josh McCown as their opening day starter this year, it didn’t feel like the smart decision. Then, McCown got injured, and it was time for Johnny Manziel 2.0 to step in.
His first taste of the 2015 NFL season wasn’t great, but it was serviceable. He went a mediocre 13-for-24 with 182 yards, plus a touchdown and interception apiece. The running game—28 carries for 104 yards between five players—was rather ineffective against the New York Jets.
Most alarmingly, he was the team’s leading rusher that afternoon (five carries, 35 yards). And the gentleman right behind him? Oh, just the other quarterback (McCown), who racked up 23 yards on three carries before leaving the game.
This past Sunday was an entirely different story, however. Manziel was composed, efficient, and managed very well. He went 8-for-15 with 172 yards and two touchdowns—both to Travis Benjamin—who finished with three catches for 115 yards on the afternoon. That equates to a passer rating of 133.9.
So, why is it that Cleveland and Manziel were able to have so much success against Tennessee—who decimated Tampa Bay—this past weekend?
A commitment to balance. Not to mention, Manziel’s enhanced maturity.
When the Browns selected Manziel in the first round in 2014, insanity followed. He was expected to be the savior for a suffering franchise. Simply put, he wasn’t. Limited to only 35 pass attempts last year, the former Texas A&M QB completed just 51.7 percent of them, chucking two interceptions and registering zero touchdowns in the process.
Injuries hindered his development, as Brian Hoyer—who left Cleveland only to already be replaced in Houston this year—was named the starter for a very little while.
Over the offseason, Manziel entered rehab. Expectations continued to mount, but something was different upon his return. The money sign was gone, his smug nature was gone. Was this the new Johnny Football? In a way, yes.
As opposed to last week against the Jets, he was getting first team reps, and a balanced rushing attack is just what the doctor ordered. Twenty-two-year-old running back Isaiah Crowell fared much better than he did the previous week. Turns out, he’d have some help in the form of 21-year-old Duke Johnson Jr. Together, they carried the ball 27 times for 115 yards—which amounts to roughly 4.3 yards per carry.
Of course, their continued use will go a long way in making Manziel comfortable under center. Not many quarterbacks should be throwing 25-35 times per game; Johnny Football is no exception.
Instead? Roll him out, get him into space, and allow him to showcase that arm of his by working enough play-action calls into the game plan.
The wins might not come in bunches right away, but this is a very important season for Manziel. The best part? He’s approaching it perfectly:
“I definitely feel I’m in a lot better place now, so I guess if I thought I was prepared then, I think I’m even more prepared now. I definitely feel a lot better.”
And when he had his moment in the sun over the weekend against Marcus Mariota and Texas, he shot down all of the hype immediately:
“There’s no reason to really be too high about it, too low about it. I think there was some things I could have done better.”
So, is Manziel ready to be “the man” in Cleveland? Not quite, but it’s imperative he plays for the remainder of the season. What’s more important, though, is that he wants to be the man, and understands the process he needs to follow in order to get there.
Being focused like he has been this week is the first step. Step two, of course, is building on this win over Tennessee.
And step three? Patience. It isn’t going to be all sunshine and roses for Manziel this season; he’s going to have some rough outings. But the Cleveland fanbase needs to stick with the former Heisman winner.
If not, they’ll return to the revolving door of quarterbacks that has plagued them for decades.
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