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Johnny Manziel taking charge in new starting role


There's something a little bit different about Duke Johnson Jr. this week.

That's not to say the 22-year-old wasn't the confident, Heisman Trophy, gunslinger when he first arrived in Cleveland.

But now that the Cleveland Browns have given Manziel the keys to the offense by naming him the starting quarterback, he seems more relaxed; more enthusiastic; more inspired to show Browns fans and the rest of the NFL his exceptional talents can lead to wins.

"It was just an awesome feeling for me," Manziel said with a smile Wednesday in the locker room. "It really made me hungry and motivated to go out and get prepared for this week."

On Monday night, the Browns came to a decision to start Manziel, a choice that was nearly unanimous among leaders in the Browns' building, coach Mike Pettine said. 

On Tuesday, Manziel arrived at the facility – during his off day – and sank his teeth into preparation. For hours in the quarterback's classroom, Manziel examined tape with the coaching staff, both of the Bengals and himself.

Pettine explained it's one thing to be a backup and ready yourself for a game, and another to be the known starter getting the practice repetitions all week. It becomes "human nature" for all players, not just quarterbacks, to handle not starting with less gravity.

On Wednesday, Manziel echoed those sentiments from Pettine, displaying more spark on the field and during his interview session. It's a whole new ballgame now that Manziel knows he's the guy.

"I felt like I was out there with a lot more confidence even going into today," Manziel said. "I felt like last time I stepped on the field I tried to show that a little bit and get these guys to trust me and rally around me a little bit, even though I'm the young guy here on the offense.

"At the same time, these guys, I need each and every one of them this week. It's not a one-man deal. It's not one person is going to miraculously make everything better. We have to work as a team this week to go out, go through our reps in practice and make sure we're constantly trying to get better if we want to have the result we want to have on Sunday."

Just like the rest of us, the Browns will find out what type of quarterback Manziel is Sunday. Pettine said the key for Manziel and the offense will be to find a common ground between the rookie operating the offense, while also choosing certain situations to play Johnny Football's trademark "streetball."

"On every drop-back pass he cannot look to turn it into a punt return," Pettine said half-jokingly. "It's got to be if the read is there throw it, take the yards and move onto the next one."

Pettine surmised the Bengals defense could adjust its game plan for Manziel like how it would against Seattle's Russell Wilson, another shorter, mobile quarterback.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who profusely apologized for his "midget" comment toward Manziel, said Cincinnati has watched all 130 of Manziel's preseason snaps.

"You look at the snaps this regular season from Buffalo, you know that there are certain things in the offense that he seems to feel comfortable with, they seem to feel comfortable with him with," Lewis said.

The last time Manziel started a football game was Dec. 31, 2013. Texas A&M took on Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Manziel led his Aggies to a wild 52-48 shootout victory, completing 30/38 passes for 382 yards and four touchdown passes while also adding 73 yards on the ground and an additional score.

Manziel realizes everything is different now because it's the NFL. But at the end of the day, no matter how much pressure and enormity that comes with being Johnny Manziel, the rookie knows it's just football.

"I don't think you're going to see the Johnny that you saw at Texas A&M because this isn't Texas A&M. It's a different point in my life," Manziel said. "I'm a different person than I was a year and a half ago last time I stepped off the field against Duke.

"I feel like I've gotten a lot better throughout the course of those weeks during the season, and the time that I did sit benefitted me a ton. For me to come out on Sunday, it's just go out, execute the offense and don't get caught up in all the clutter and everything else. Try and go out there with a free mind, and when it comes down to it, just play football."

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