By TOM REED
The Plain Dealer
COLLEGE STATION, Texas
Don’t tell Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien it’s all right to skip a quarterback’s pro day because a workout is too scripted.
The rookie head coach, whose team owns the first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, had to choose between a family commitment and Johnny Manziel’s workout Thursday. Johnny Football won out.
“If it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t be here,” the coach said. “My youngest son read at Mass today at his Catholic school in Houston, and I’m missing that to come here.”
The Browns were one of just two teams — the Chicago Bears being the other — not to send any scouts, coaches or management to the Texas A&M Pro Day, televised live on the NFL Network and attended by former President George H.W. Bush.
Eight head coaches and eight general managers were among the 75 personnel representing 30 teams. The absence of Browns general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine was no surprise. Both said they had planned to miss the event, but would conduct private workouts with Manziel and other top quarterback prospects.
Farmer takes a dim view of pro days for quarterbacks.
“A pro day of orchestrated throws, I don’t know what that tells you,” Farmer said earlier in the week. “It’s a piece of it that people blow up into this great thing. I went to a lot of games and practices this fall. I’ve seen them throw the ball ... We will have our opportunities to have private workouts. Being in charge of that workout is different than being at a pro day where it’s orchestrated and scripted.”
NFL personnel are divided on the relevance of pro days for QBs. Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly told the Northeast Ohio Media Group they are “a waste.” Others see the value.
The Browns are likely to select a quarterback in the opening rounds of the draft and might use the No. 4 pick on Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles or Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. Farmer was the only general manager among the franchises with the top four picks (Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland) not present.
Manziel, who completed 61 of his 64 attempts, said he was not disappointed to learn the Browns’ top decision makers opted to take a pass.
“If they wanted to be here they had the opportunity to,” Manziel said. “I’m not going to think anything of it. I didn’t even know that was the case. I’m sure they have their own standard or whatever it may be. I don’t hold it against them. It is what it is.”
While O’Brien enjoyed watching the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner throw, he said it’s the chance to interact with top prospects that really makes the trip valuable.
Former Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who now holds the same title with the Minnesota Vikings, agreed with O’Brien’s assessment.
“I think coaches and scouts want to see a quarterback physically throw the ball,” Turner said. “You get to watch game tape and see how he plays. This guy is an amazing player, and then you see his physical skills. It just helps to see a guy in person ...
“Here’s the deal: You only get so many opportunities to evaluate a player, and to not use every single one of them makes no sense to me. We’re going to exhaust every opportunity to evaluate a player. You get an opportunity to meet with a guy, and who knows what will come out of that? It might be something good ... If you’re allowed to do these things, it makes sense to do them.”
Manziel’s private coach George Whitfield Jr., who conducted the workout, said he knows the Browns plan to meet with his pupil and have scouted him extensively.
“They have a game plan,” Whitfield said. “They are going to work him out. They have done their due diligence. I remember being at the (Texas A&M-Alabama) game, and there must have been six or seven Browns officials here. Unless you have a team in India, you have a full (report) on No. 2. They are well aware of him.”