Social media blew up yesterday with reports of Johnny Manziel taking first-team reps at the Cleveland Browns’ practices on Monday. On one hand, it was surprising to see Manziel taking the entire slate of first-team reps rather than splitting duties with would-be starting QB Brian Hoyer. On the other — and perhaps “more realistic” — hand, the Browns had to see what “Johnny Football” really offers.
According to a report on NFL.com, Manziel’s first pass with the first-team Browns was a 40-yard bomb that went right over Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden and into the arms of Travis Benjamin. If the story stopped right there, the world would surely be calling for Manziel to be the opening-day starting QB.
But it doesn’t stop there. His next pass was intended for Josh Gordon but tipped by Jim Leonhard and ultimately intercepted by safety Donte Whitner. Those were apparently his only two passes with the first-team reps.
So which headline will you hear? “Manziel completes 50% of first-team passes 35+ yards or more”? Or “Manziel blows first-team chance, has 50% interception rate”? The more-appropriate headline is actually this: “Rookie QB Manziel has rookie-like experience taking first-team reps.”
It’s dangerous to read too much into Johnny Manziel taking first-team reps Monday. He’s a highly touted and highly followed rookie, so the Browns coaching staff had to see him spend extended time with the presumed starters. In fact, it’s been reported that Monday was planned all along.
Pettine says Manziel getting 1st team reps "all part of the plan." @TonyGrossi specifically asks, did he earn them? Pettine: "no."
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 4, 2014
One of the most interesting parts of that quote is that Manziel didn’t “earn” those reps. In other words, the Browns were just kicking the proverbial tires, not anointing Johnny Football king of the dawg pound. Manziel may end up as the Browns’ starting QB, but it’s not likely to happen on the Browns’ opening day, and it may not even happen this season.
The Browns have much more to lose by starting with Manziel and benching him for Hoyer than they do by starting with Hoyer and then sending-in Manziel. From a PR standpoint, a marketing standpoint and a team chemistry standpoint, all signs point to Hoyer as the Day One starting QB.
Manziel himself has said the Browns’ playbook remains his biggest hurdle. That hasn’t kept him from succeeding in scrimmages, as ESPN reports that “Manziel’s numbers were not that impressive in the scrimmage, but the way he played was. He guided the offense on a 16-play drive and threw a touchdown pass to tight end Gary Barnidge that officials incorrectly ruled incomplete.”
Still, a QB is supposed to be the leader of the offense at least, if not the team as a whole. It’s hard to imagine the Browns coaching staff naming Manziel their starter if he hasn’t mastered the playbook yet. So as exciting as Johnny Manziel taking first-team reps may be to some, don’t read too much into it. Trust in the coaches, who’ve said it was all part of the plan, to make the right decision.