With all eyes — well, at least the ones allowed to watch him — on quarterback Johnny Manziel, the most hyped college player to enter the NFL in years took his first steps with the Browns, who haven’t promised Johnny Football anything other than a chance to win a starting job.
And that’s cool with him.
“I’m a rookie,” Manziel said. “I need to earn my place. I need to earn my keep. Nothing here needs to be handed to me. I don’t need to be treated based off what I did in the past, because that doesn’t mean a thing at this level.”
The former Texas A&M quarterback, who oozes swagger every moment he’s on the field, is participating in Cleveland’s rookie minicamp this weekend along with its other draft picks and unsigned free agents. Browns first-year coach Mike Pettine restricted access to Saturday’s workout, which was held inside because of rainy weather, to local media members. Today’s practice is closed.
Pettine was on the Jets’ coaching staff when popular quarterback Tim Tebow joined the team and wants to control “Manzielmania” as best he can.
“We’re well aware of the persona. We’re well aware of what it brings,” Pettine said. “We’re excited about it. It’s something that we’re very willing to have come here, knowing that he has a chance to make us a better football team and a better franchise.”
Pettine added that he knows the decision to limit access will “ruffle some feathers.”
“I’ll apologize in advance for that, but what we’re tasked as a staff to do is do what’s best for the football team,” he said.
Wearing a red No. 2 jersey, Manziel stretched with his teammates as Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” boomed through the speakers in the field house. With Browns owner Jimmy Haslam on the sideline, Manziel made a few handoffs and threw three short passes before the session was closed after 15 minutes.
Manziel later answered questions for 10 minutes before the interview was stopped by a member of the team’s media relations staff.
Manziel tried to clear up one story about how he wound up with the Browns, whose long-suffering fans hope his arrival can turn around their woeful franchise. Cleveland passed on him earlier in the draft before trading up to take him at No. 22.
On Thursday, quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains revealed during a radio interview that Manziel sent him a text message during last week’s draft, urging the team to pick him. Loggains claimed the text read: “Hurry up and draft me because I want to wreck this league together.”
Manziel confirmed he exchanged texts with Loggains, but said the one in which he claimed he would “wreck this league” may have been exaggerated.
“I don’t know if that’s exactly word for word,” he said. “It was something along those lines.”
He explained he didn’t mean he was going to dominate as a rookie, just that he wanted to help the Browns win games.
“Whenever it is I get a chance to play, I don’t want to come in and be mediocre,” he said.
As for his desire to join the Browns, Manziel said that was true.
“This was a place I felt comfortable with,” he said. “I liked the situation here and I wanted to come here, and if they wanted to take me and were trying to get me earlier, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I don’t know what kind of influence that had or what exactly that did.”
Pettine told Manziel that if he wants to start he’s going to have to beat out Brian Hoyer, who made three starts last year before a knee injury ended his season.
Manziel said he understands he’s nothing special — not yet.
“I was completely OK with hearing that from everybody,” he said. “I don’t want to come in and have anything handed to me that I don’t deserve.”
Manziel was humbled long before the Browns took him.
“I got passed up 21 times, so that says something,” he said.
As for meshing with his new teammates, Manziel is fitting right in.
Offensive lineman Joe Bitonio, a second-round pick, said there was a moment of awe when he walked into the locker room and realized his locker was next to Manziel’s.
“At first I was like, ‘Man, that’s Johnny Manziel,”’ Bitonio said. “And then once you get to know him, he’s a normal guy.”
On the field, Manziel has already made an impression.
“Amazing,” running back Terrance West said. “He’s Manziel, right? Everybody knows Johnny Manziel. He makes plays. He makes big plays. He’s a great player.”
But right now, he’s only Johnny Rookie.