Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel had waited for this moment his entire life.
On the fourth play of the third quarter, Manziel jogged onto the field for his first professional snap. The read-option handoff to Isaiah Crowell went for 3 yards, and Manziel trotted back towards the sidelines.
On the next series, Manziel found himself back on the field, drawing an animated reaction for the crowd. This time the first-down handoff to Crowell went for a loss of 3 years. Manziel started heading for the sideline until another play call was radioed in to his helmet: a pass play. Manziel spun out of the pocket, located Ray Agnew and fired a pass to the rookie fullback, which was eventually broken up for an incompletion.
It might've not been exactly what Manziel had envisioned when he was a little boy in Texas and an anticlimactic beginning for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. But Manziel and the Browns firmly believe easing their big-armed, fast-legged rookie into the fold is absolutely the right thing for the player and the franchise.
"Part of him wants to be out there, and then the other part says, 'OK, this is a good learning experience for me,'" said coach Mike Pettine. "He went through it at Texas A&M when he red shirted and was behind [Dolphins QB Ryan] Tannehill."
"It was good to get the nerves off, shake a little rust off and get out there and run around for a second," said Manziel. "I've said this from the beginning: week-by-week, in every instance, practice, game, scenario…every scenario I keep getting out there, I get more and more comfortable with."
Manziel and the Browns coaching staff truly have no idea when the "Johnny Package" will be called upon – they didn't last week or moving forward. It could be no plays, three or something as large as two series'.
Manziel said because the Browns have created set plays for him, it naturally does make him feel more involved in the game, and not necessarily like the typical backup quarterback around the league.
"I need to be ready at any given moment," said Manziel. "[The package plays] give you more of a mental focus and a mental edge than just going in and making yourself just kind of practice [plays]."
Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Thursday it was interesting to see how the Saints' defense did react to Manziel coming in the game. Cleveland's offensive coordinator said New Orleans did switch up their defensive fronts and coverages for Manziel, which communicated to Shanahan and the rest of the coaching staff other teams are treating Manziel as a legitimate weapon.
"I thought it was good just to get Johnny in there, also," said Shanahan. "Guys are amped up, and you never know how they're going to do when they get their first reps. I thought it was good for Johnny to get in there and be a part of the win."
So did Manziel.
"It was a great job by Brian [Hoyer] keeping his poise when it looked really dark," said Manziel. "It was an emotional win for us to beat a New Orleans team that's had a lot of success in the years past, and for us to really capitalize there on the end was great."
News and notes
- The Browns are anticipating rain on Sunday and began preparing for that today. During Friday's practice, Hoyer, Manziel and Connor Shaw were throwing football's dunked in water to each other. While the quarterback's threw each other the ball, one slipped off of Hoyer's fingertips.
- "I just saw Hoyer almost get his nose broken," said Pettine to a throb of laughs. "I think both are tough. I think it's something that you have to work on. It's important for the quarterback; they have to adjust their grip a little bit. It's something that I'm sure over time here we're going to have to deal with."
- Because the bye week is looming, some in the media have speculated the Browns won't play tight end Jordan Cameron or linebacker Barkevious Mingo – both recovering from shoulder injuries. In a short 16-game season, Pettine doesn't think that strategy is an effective one.
- "No, if they're healthy, they'll play," he said. "There's no, 'Listen, they're a little more at risk, but they get an extra week to recover from it.' We don't think that way. If they're ready to go, they'll go."
- Those who weren't too familiar with defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil were introduced to him late in last Sunday's game against the Saints. Once Billy Cundiff booted the game-winning field goal, O'Neil basically tackled Pettine. The joyful celebration kind of revealed the energetic side to O'Neil that many players know.
- "He's energetic, he brings a lot of passion to coaching and he always adds a lot of fire," said cornerback Buster Skrine. "We all try and feed off of coach O'Neil."