Berea, Ohio, is a small town outside of Cleveland that houses the Browns staff.
On Friday afternoon, it was the center of the universe for football fans. And with a pair of power rookies, the Cleveland Browns are here to stay in the NFL solar system.
Wearing big grins, Browns draftees Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel posed for pictures and fielded questions about what lies ahead in the coming months.
“The bigger the stage, the more energized [and] the more passionate I am,” Manziel said about his arrival into the NFL. “It’s great to have those bright lights, the big stage, the big game, the big moment. It’s what you live for being a quarterback.”
“They were looking for a guy who could play press-man and run with receivers down field and make plays on the ball,” said Gilbert. “I think I am a perfect fit here.”
Turn on CNN today, or log on to Twitter, or even listen to regular news programming on the radio; everyone in the country has something to say about Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Manziel’s buddy Drake, the Grammy award winning rapper, wrote a song in 2009 called fittingly entitled Congratulations, and this lyric stands out.
I'm what all the fuss about; And if they talking, I bet I'm what they’re discussion ‘bout.
The good thing for Browns fans is that Manziel knows he’s what the fuss is about, but he doesn’t rub it in anyone’s face. He is used to the fame. He embraces his worldwide Johnny Football reputation, which motivates him to work even harder.
“For me, the spotlight, the expectations, everything that comes along with that, I was used to that at Texas A&M,” said Manziel. “I think I’m Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football is what I am in the media, and I accept it, very accepting of it. At the same time, I know who I am. I’m Johnny Manziel from Kerrville, Tx,” said the Browns rookie quarterback.
Manziel knows nothing will be handed to him, and that he will have to beat out incumbent quarterback
“I’m the low guy on the totem pole,” said Manziel about his status on the Browns roster. “I know my place. More than anything I need to show these guys with actions, other than words or anything I can say, to earn their respect.”
Time will only tell, but Manziel will do everything in his power to turn the Browns into winners. Manziel knows his doubters will be loud and aplenty. They’ll knock his height, his playing style, his larger than like persona. Manziel rattled off aspects of the game he needs to improve on. Standing tall in the pocket, playing within an offensive system and his footwork topped the list.
And that’s what wows you about Manziel. He knows himself better than anyone.
There are those rare athletes who obsess over winning, and while he’s just one day into his pro career, you get the sense Manziel is that type of player. And you feel that confidence when he speaks. Manziel’s breath of fresh air will perhaps spark the Browns and give the football team the identity they’ve been searching for.
“I know I need to put in an immense amount of time to be as good as I want to be,” Manziel said about becoming great. “I play with a lot of heart and a lot of passion. This game means everything to me. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, I want what’s best for this team.”
“I want to win,” continued Manziel. “I think that’s the main thing for me. I want to continue to try and be a winner. I just don’t handle losing very well.”
We can agree that Manziel may be getting more hype off the field. To Justin Gilbert, that’s a positive thing.
“I told him walking in ‘That’s a good thing that he is with me now, because that takes all the pressure off of me,’” joked Gilbert.
When Gilbert heard the news of the Manziel selection, he rolled down the window of the car he was in and started screaming, “Cleveland Browns, we here!”
But don’t be fooled by the lighthearted Gilbert: the rookie will be just as important on the field as Manziel, especially early in the 2014 season.
Depth at cornerback has been a lingering issue for several seasons in Cleveland. Gilbert’s arrival and ensuing tutelage under Joe Haden and even the savvy Donte Whitner could put the Oklahoma State alum in a position to see the field as early as week one.
“Joe Haden is an awesome Pro Bowl cornerback,” said Gilbert. “He’s a guy I can learn a lot from. I’m just going to come in and not try and do too much and study film... what I need to do to help the team be a better defense.”
Mike Pettine’s New York Jets defenses were at their best when cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie were able to play man coverage on islands. In fact, when the Browns drafted Gilbert, Pettine grabbed the phone to talk to his new cornerback.
“You ready to play press man [coverage]?” Pettine asked Gilbert.
“Oh, yes. Very,” said Gilbert over the phone.
Pettine went on to tell Gilbert he told his staff he would be doing a flip off the table if the Browns were able to scoop him up.
“I might be calling the trainer in a minute,” Pettine joked.
We will hear much more from Gilbert and Manziel next weekend at rookie minicamp in Berea.