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For now, third-string is the right place for Johnny Manziel to start development

Posted May 21, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says that the Browns’ decision-makers are taking a sensible and rational approach with Johnny Manziel.

Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer

When Johnny Manziel arrived in Cleveland, he was, at least in the eyes of a vast majority of the outside world, all that was relevant about the Browns.

This was perceived as Johnny Football’s team. Media outlets everywhere declared as much. And a highly energized fan base promptly bought into that notion.

Then, the actual football part of the nickname came into play. Coach Mike Pettine and the rest of the Browns’ decision-makers got a chance to watch Manziel practice as a pro for the first time at last weekend’s rookie minicamp and during the first two organized team activity workouts held Tuesday and Wednesday.

What they saw was what the rest of us saw: a rookie quarterback with plenty to learn about how to operate a new offense, how to decipher a defense that’s far more exotic schematically and contains far better athletes than he faced at Texas A&M, and how to adapt to the nuances and many other variables of unfamiliar receivers.

What they saw was someone who belonged in the third spot on his positional depth chart, behind incumbent Brian Hoyer, recently signed veteran Tyler Thigpen, and ahead of fellow rookie Connor Shaw.

No, this isn’t about an orchestrated effort on the part of the Browns to put Johnny Manziel in his place or to dump a truckload of ice onto everyone who has come down with a serious case of “Johnny Fever.”

It’s about the only thing that it should be about, which is football. 

It’s an approach that is sensible and rational, two words that often don’t find their way into a discussion about Manziel.

Right now, Hoyer merits first-team reps because he has the best grasp of not only the offense but of the overall chore of playing quarterback in the NFL. He sees most everything, from the coverages to the way the receivers run their routes, better than Manziel or Shaw or any rookie. He has had the graduate-school level education that comes from being in the league for five seasons, especially the three he spent in New England behind one of the greatest and smartest quarterbacks the game has ever seen, Tom Brady.

Hoyer is more accurate with his throws, which is the quality that Pettine likes best in him because on a team that plans to win primarily with defense and a strong running game, mistakes need to be kept to a minimum. It’s also noteworthy that he is operating without a sniff of pressure from the defense, as the Browns are taking extra caution with the fact he’s recovering from the torn ACL he suffered last season and is practicing with a knee brace.

For now, Manziel, as with any rookie, is prone to making mistakes, the majority of which are resulting from decisions on where to go with the ball.

He throws the ball well, although his mechanics have some rough edges. He shows flashes of his extraordinary speed and athleticism, although defenders aren’t bearing down on any quarterbacks in practice the way they would in a game.

Is he performing better than Thigpen? For the most part, yes. But Pettine clearly wants Manziel to build his way up while working with others in the same boat.

Neither Pettine nor anyone else in the Browns’ hierarchy is saying that Manziel will spend his entire rookie year watching, which is what the Jacksonville Jaguars’ brass is saying about Blake Bortles, the quarterback selected 19 spots higher than Manziel.

The Browns’ narrative on Manziel is that he has some work to do, which should hardly come as a shock.

“Like any other rookie, he’s inconsistent,” Pettine said. “A lot of it is the mental part of it. He’s more worried about getting the formation right, making sure the motions are correct. He’s got the cadence, and he’s got to worry about where guys are.

“Being good, mechanically, takes a back seat to learning the system first.”

And Manziel will learn it. He has tremendous intelligence to go along with the willingness to study and accept coaching. He isn’t shy about asking questions on the field and in the meeting room.

Will he have it all down by the start of training camp? Doubtful. By the start of the regular season? Unlikely.

Only so much of what Manziel needs to know can be learned through offseason workouts and training-camp practices. Most of it will come from playing games and from studying. The best quarterbacks went through this process before they became the best.

That doesn’t mean Manziel can’t or won’t emerge as the starter as a rookie, perhaps as soon as the season-opener. It just means that he legitimately needs to work his way back to the place he was before arriving in the NFL.

And that will take some time.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.