CLEVELAND – Someone has been pulling a fast one on the sporting public.
That’s the only way to describe what’s taking shape as Johnny Manziel begins his journey as a Browns rookie quarterback. The person we’ve seen in two press conferences since being drafted in the first round seems far removed from the “Johnny Football” persona of being self-centered and egotistical.
That might come as a disappointment to national media types that are hoping to see the immature side of Manziel emerge. Many are having child-like fits after their application for media credentials for this weekend’s rookie camp were turned down by the Browns public relations department.
The person that stood in front of the local media after a rookie-camp practice Saturday came across as media savvy and humble. Without knowing his background, you might be inclined to think that Manziel is mature beyond his 21 years.
To some of Manziel’s new rookie teammates, he’s simply one of the guys, although offensive lineman Joel Bitonio admitted to being a bit wide-eyed when he saw that his locker is next to Manziel’s.
“He seems like a regular guy to me,” Bitonio said. “That’s what he treats me like, and I treat him like that. He’s fun to be around. He cracks some jokes. He works hard. He’s just a good teammate. I don’t think we’re worried about him being a crazy guy or anything like that.”
Manziel’s reputation may have played a part in a text message that has grown out of proportion. Quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said that Manziel texted him during the first round of the draft to express a desire to be selected by the Browns. Loggains, during an interview with an Arkansas radio station this week, said that Manziel’s text read: “Let’s wreck this league.”
Manziel confirmed that he sent the message, but he doesn’t exactly recall using the word “wreck.”
“I don’t know if that’s exactly word for word or if that’s quotable,” Manziel said. “It was something along those lines.”
Loggains relayed the text to coach Mike Pettine, general manager Ray Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam, who didn’t need to be convinced to select Manziel. The text was further confirmation that Manziel was the right choice to the three men.
“In the draft room when I got it, I questioned Dowell as to whether he made the text up himself in order to get us to turn the card in,” Pettine said. “There was some excitement in the room building that we felt we were close to getting him. When Dowell sent me the text that he wanted to come to Cleveland, I think it added to the excitement in the room, and we were fired up to turn the card in.”
Manziel was careful not to build off the text with boastful words after Saturday’s practice.
“Coach Loggains was one of the only people that texted me when the draft was going on,” Manziel said. “He let me know that there had been some opportunities to get me at an earlier spot. This is a place that I felt comfortable with and (I) like coach (offensive coordinator Kyle) Shanahan and the situation here.
“I wanted to come here. If they wanted to take me, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I don’t know what kind of influence that (text) had. Whenever I get a chance to come in and play, I don’t want to be mediocre. That was more of what I was talking about than to come in and dominate as a rookie. It’s to come in and try to win some games if I get the opportunity to play.”
Manziel has been informed that he won’t be handed the starting job. Haslam said at a speaking engagement in Canton last Monday that Manziel has been told to “start acting like a backup.”
It was the message Manziel expected to hear. He knows he’ll have to prove he deserves to start ahead of Brian Hoyer.
“I took it in stride,” Manziel said. “I’m a rookie. I need to earn my place. Nothing to me needs to be handed to me. I don’t need to be treated based off what I’ve done in the past because it doesn’t mean a thing at this level.
“I was completely OK with hearing that from everybody. I don’t want to come in and have anything handed to me that I don’t deserve.”
Asked if he felt a need to be humbled, Manziel looked matter-of-factly at the source of the question and replied, “I got passed up 21 times. That says something. It’s even humbling being the second quarterback off the board.”
Manziel might not have used “wreck” in his text, but that might have been his intention.