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Teammates optimistic Johnny Manziel is spark Browns need


The Browns' on-field preparation for Cincinnati was only a few hours old Wednesday by the time Johnny Manziel flashed one of the aspects of his game that makes him relatively unique in a league mostly filled with pocket passers.

Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, who watched from the sidelines for this particular practice, recounted a theme that emerged and reminded him of what Manziel did all too often at Texas A&M.

"Something breaks down, he runs around and makes a play," Thomas said of the 2012 Heisman trophy winner. "That can be a huge spark for any team when you have a quarterback who can extend plays the way he does."

Thomas' opinion and assessment carries clout in a young Browns locker room. The veteran was one of the players coach Mike Pettine tapped for insight when he was mulling his options at quarterback last week, and he's a voice offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said every player and coach opens their ears to no matter the circumstance.

That's why Thomas' take on the Browns' switch from veteran Brian Hoyer to Manziel matters, and it's why the veteran's insight should offer encouragement to anyone who still believes the Browns are focusing on anything but Sunday's game against the Bengals.

"When you look at what Johnny can do and what we've seen in this short amount of time, he's done a great job," Thomas said. "We still have three games to go. As far as I know, if we do well in those three games, we've got a great shot to make the playoffs. I'm excited to see what he can do. Hopefully he can lead us to where we want to go because I think our goal is still out there."

Throughout his Wednesday press conference, Pettine repeatedly said the Browns' offensive struggles go far beyond the quarterback. After four games of sluggishness, a change was made under center, but change needs to occur elsewhere if Cleveland wants to be more than just a spoiler in its final two games.

A few questions and answers with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel showed It's clear Pettine has expressed that message beyond his encounters with reporters.

"It's an offensive thing and a team thing," Gabriel said. "We're going to get back in the playbook and get back in the meeting room and do the same thing we've been doing all (season)."

Still, Manziel's mobility brings another wrinkle to this particular quarterback switch. Pettine said the Browns aren't trying to install a new playbook in a week's time but expressed the obvious: Manziel will run some different plays and do some things differently than Hoyer, a prototypical pocket passer.

That aspect of Manziel's game excited rookie running back Isaiah Crowell. The Browns' running game has labored in three of the past four games, and it wasn't getting any easier as the passing game progressively got worse.

"I feel like it will open a lot of things up," Crowell said. "Open the pass game up a lot and just open the run game up also because of his ability to run. The safeties got to take that extra second and wait to see what's going on."

The intangible X-factor that helped Manziel earn the nickname "Johnny Football" wasn't lost on his teammates, either.

"Just the energy he's going to bring. We obviously need a spark," right guard John Greco said. "What we've been doing hasn't been working. That's the decision they made and we're rallying behind him and trying to make the best of it."

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