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Manziel latest first-rounder tasked with being Browns’ savior | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Manziel latest first-rounder tasked with being Browns’ savior

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, September 6, 2014 9:50 p.m
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watches the sideline during a preseason game against the Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field.
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws against the Eagles Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to throw against the Bills Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Heinz Field.

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel begins his NFL career Sunday armed with a clipboard and headset when the Browns face the Steelers in the season opener at Heinz Field.

Brian Hoyer won the starting job during the preseason. Yet he barely edged the former Heisman Trophy winner who showed only flashes of brilliance with most everyone analyzing his every move.

Manziel, who earlier this week applied for a patent to trademark Johnny Cleveland, remains the toast of a long-suffering sports town — along with LeBron James — that hasn’t celebrated a championship in a half century. The city’s hopes and dreams hinge on whether he’ll develop into the savior the Browns predicted when they selected him with the 22nd overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Manziel feels the pressure of the lofty expectations. He told the Tribune-Review earlier this week that only now is he beginning to settle into his role and embrace the idea of being the team’s quarterback of the future.

Manziel is hardly the first Cleveland rookie quarterback cast into that role. His predecessors — Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden — all withered amid the heat of perhaps unrealistic expectations.

Yet, in title-starved Cleveland, there is some semblance of hope. There are signs of excitement surrounding the flamboyant Manziel.

“He seems to have come along well,” offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “He seems more confident in the playbook and communicating with us.”

“He’s learning where to go with the football, and he’s getting used to seeing different looks,” safety Donte Whitner said. “It’s part of the maturation process that has to take place.

“I think he’s in a similar situation as (Green Bay quarterback) Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t play his first couple of years behind Brett Favre. Rodgers does a lot of work with his legs, which makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Johnny has a lot of those same characteristics. In time, he’ll get those things down.”

Manziel has tempered his enthusiasm, but he remains optimistic that ultimately the Browns will be his team.

“I would like to say that they brought me here to someday trust that this will be my team,” Manziel said following Wednesday’s practice at the team’s training facility. “But it’s something you have to earn. It isn’t something that’s handed over to you based on a draft spot.

“I feel the best thing to happen for me was for some of the hype to die down. It has quieted down some, and I’ve had a chance to settle in like every other rookie.”

Manziel, though, is unlike any other Browns rookie. The Texas A&M product was under the microscope long before he arrived in Cleveland, in part, because of his fearless persona and unrelenting questions about his slender 6-foot frame.

Manziel has fought to keep critics off his back. They lambasted the absence of snaps under center at Texas A&M even though he dazzled with his daring, improvisational plays. Some liken him to a poor man’s Doug Flutie — a diminutive quarterback with a unique skill set but with a less potent arm.

“I’m settling in and I’ll learn more in time,” Manziel said. “Every day and every week that goes by has benefited me. I’m trying to get better as often as I can.

“I know when (Texas A&M coach (Kevin) Sumlin threw me out there that first day against Florida, he wouldn’t have said I could handle everything. But with time I got there.”

“I don’t think there’s one specific thing in which I have evolved as a player since I’ve been with Cleveland,” he added. “I have gotten caught up with the speed of the game, and I’m still getting familiar with how pro-style offenses are run.”

Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan wants to avoid rushing Manziel into the lineup. However, Hoyer’s spotty preseason play and the possibility of another season-ending injury could accelerate Manziel’s maturation process.

Coach Mike Pettine and Shanahan have left open the option of playing Manziel some against the Steelers, primarily in the pistol. Shanahan defused the idea of using Manziel in the wildcat formation.

“My understanding of what a wildcat is, is a guy who can’t play quarterback who’s playing the quarterback position,” Shanahan said. “Johnny is a quarterback.

“We can do the pistol with Hoyer. You can do it with anybody. I think the wildcat is when a running back is playing the quarterback position or a guy who can’t throw. Both of our quarterbacks can throw.”

The Browns would rather have a ground game to complement a passing game weakened by the absence of All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended for the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

“If you look at some of the most successful teams, they have an established running game or something they can lean on and go to,” Manziel said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady.

“There are very few guys who can put the game on their shoulders and say we’re going to get through a whole season just throwing the ball. So, having a run game will help us tremendously.”

With or without a run game, the weight of Cleveland will soon be on Manziel’s narrow shoulders.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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