It was Dec. 23, five days before the Browns' final game of the season, and Johnny Manziel was talking about 2015 and beyond.
This sort of scene wasn't what Manziel, coach Mike Pettine or the rest of the Cleveland roster envisioned when the rookie was named the team's starting quarterback earlier in the month, but it's the hand they've been dealt. Manziel was placed on the injured reserve Wednesday because of a hamstring injury he suffered in Sunday's loss to Carolina, leaving the offense in the hands of Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw or Tyler Thigpen for the Browns' trip to Baltimore.
In what was likely his final group interview of the 2014 season, Manziel was able to reflect and look ahead while most others in the locker room directed their focus toward the Ravens.
"It's disappointing to end my season like that and only get six and a half, seven quarters on the year, but at the same time, looking back at it I think I learned a lot," Manziel said. "I grew up a lot through the time that I was on the field and the reps that I did get, so a lot more positive for me going into the offseason with even those seven quarters under my belt."
The sample size to evaluate Manziel, as Pettine said Monday, is "tough," both from a quantity and production standpoint. He logged just 54 snaps in his starts against Cincinnati and Carolina before he went down with less than 2 minutes to play in last week's first half. In relief of Hoyer against Buffalo, Manziel logged two series comprising 12 snaps.
For comparison's sake, Carolina ran 11 more plays (77) on Sunday than Manziel did in his three games during the second half of the season. Manziel and Pettine have both been adamant on this point.
As Pettine said early last week, there would have been question marks against Manziel even if he "hit it out of the park" in the final two games of the regular season.
"I don't think it would be fair to give up on somebody after seven quarters of football," Manziel said. "If that's what they were in the business for and what they intended on me coming in here doing - just giving him seven quarters, giving him a couple of games and then looking somewhere else - I don't think that's a lot of commitment and sticking with somebody. This league is a process and it takes a lot of time.
"Nobody comes in this league right away, and I mean nobody, comes in this league right away and just absolutely kills it. That's just not the way it works. You can show signs. You can show flashes, but at the same time, you need reps. You need years of it."
The flashes were minimal, but there was noticeable improvement between Manziel's first and second starts that went beyond the three points Cleveland scored with him at quarterback one week after it was blanked by the Bengals. His 28-yard strike to Andrew Hawkins on third-and-long against the Panthers was reminiscent of the 24-yard pass that sent tight end Jim Dray tumbling forward at Buffalo.
Ultimately, though, there were too many three-and-outs and too many missed opportunities while operating an offense that had been struggling long before he took the reins. That's what frustrates Manziel and that's what's driving him into an offseason that will look a lot different than last year's.
"I want to be the guy here," Manziel said. "I think it's my job, and I want to take it that way and take it seriously every single day and come in here throughout however long this timetable is going to be for me and get healthy first and foremost. Then from there, don't lose a step and make sure I'm sharp throughout the entirety of the offseason.
"The main thing is I'm not the guy that I've always been. I'm not the Johnny Manziel that came in here a year ago and was talking to you guys when I first got here ... It's been a year of growing up for me. This is a job for me now. I have to take this a lot more seriously than maybe I did at first still going home and doing whatever I was doing in the offseason."
Manziel said he'll return to his native Texas and also spend time with personal coaches and trainers in California but he emphasized Cleveland was "home" for him now and he'd be around for more than just OTAs. Among the items on his to-do list: focusing on his dropbacks and footwork, improving his pre-snap reads, maintaining his mechanics, taking care of his body and "taking your game to the next level as far as knowledge."
The timing for Manziel to lay out these details wasn't perfect. How he uses the time beyond Tuesday will determine how prepared he is for his second season with the Browns.
"Most rookies typically are shocked by the speed of the game, by the challenge that it brings, that you're going from being a college student and football's essentially a part-time thing to where this is your 9-5-plus," Pettine said. "You might as well carry a brief case. It's your job."