AFC North: Cleveland Browns

Examining the Cleveland Browns' roster:

If an alien landed from outer space, he or she would look at this list and think it’s a guy with three starts, a rookie and a veteran who didn’t play last season. Which is accurate. Thigpen did little to impress in the offseason work, but the Browns have to keep a third behind Hoyer and Manziel.


Tate and West are givens. Dion Lewis was a favorite of the team a year ago, but that was a year ago. This season's staff really is high on Crowell, and he's got a lot of early looks. It might be tough to bring him back to the practice squad if he's released.


By taking a quick look at Chris Pressley in the offseason and then releasing him, the Browns showed they don’t want a road grader at the position. By moving Gray there later, they confirmed that they want their fullback to be more active. Ogbonnaya is the kind of guy teams like and need. Smart, plays anywhere and contributes on special teams.


We’ll assume that Josh Gordon is suspended. If he’s not, add him and remove Armstrong. But don't sleep on Willie Snead, an undrafted free agent who has done some good things; he could force his way into the mix.


Gray moved to fullback during the offseason, so we’ll assume he stays there. The Browns are well fortified with the three tight ends they have.


Jason Pinkston's sudden absence is concerning, especially when Pettine merely said "possibly" when asked if he would be back. Pinkston had issues with blood clots earlier in his career, but it's not known if this is a repeat. The Browns have built an offensive line that is talented, deep and smart. They have a lot of money invested here, but they have some good players as well.


Another deep group with a lot of talent. Coaches should be able to keep fresh linemen on the field, and keep active linemen playing.


Mingo showed a lot on the first day. He'll be given plenty of opportunities to play this season. Sheard is a linebacker who will also play with his hand down.


The most interesting competition remains Skrine and Gilbert to see who starts opposite Haden. Finding a cornerback who can play press-man coverage is vital in this defense, and Skrine showed up in excellent shape and has been very aggressive the first weekend.


No big mysteries here, but Bademosi makes the team based on his value on special teams. Whitner seems to be a very good veteran addition, and Gipson is the most underrated player on the team.


No need to change anything here from last season, as all were strong and dependable contributors.

Browns Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Brian Hoyer will continue to get first-team quarterback reps through Tuesday. That’s the word from coach Mike Pettine, who said Johnny Manziel will continue to work with the backups until the team’s first day off, when the coaching staff evaluates things. If Hoyer keeps performing the way he did on Sunday, Manziel may find it increasingly more difficult to move up. Hoyer was that effective, and confident, and poised, and savvy. He clearly was the first star of the second day. As for Manziel, GM Ray Farmer said: “Johnny shows up fine.” #grabbingholdoftheposition?
  • It’s not fair to say that Josh Gordon has been marginalized, but he clearly is not getting the same amount of team reps with the ones and twos as he did in the offseason. It’s tough not to read into that that the team expects a tough result from Gordon’s meeting next weekend with commissioner Roger Goodell about his failed drug test. “When the league tells us what the clarity is,” Farmer said, “then that’s when we’ll move forward.” The meeting in New York evidently means that Gordon, the NFLPA and the league could not come to some sort of settlement on the issue, which happened last season when Gordon missed two games and played two games for free. That it goes to Goodell also means that rules negotiated and agreed to in the Collective Bargaining Agreement come into play. Some may wonder why Ray Rice only was suspended two games for hitting his then-fiancee while Gordon faces a year ban for testing positive for marijuana. It’s because personal conduct is the commissioner’s decision and substance abuse falls under hard-and-fast CBA agreements. #stormclouds
  • The running back competition could get interesting Monday when the team dons pads and runs the most physical drill of Pettine’s camp: the inside run drill. It involves five linemen, a tight end, fullback and running back against a front seven. Mano a mano. There will not be full tackling, but the blocking will be full speed and physical -- the way the coach wants it. “I want to be able to hear the practice,” Pettine said. “To me, you know when the pads are popping and we’re getting after each other.” Putting on the pads also should bring a new element to the passing game, as the pass rush will be much closer to real and the coverage more physical as well. “Football is played with the pads on so, to me the real evaluation of people really starts (Monday),” running back Ben Tate said. #saddleup
  • Guard Jason Pinkston was absent and the team was cryptic about the reason. Pettine merely said Pinkston was missing, he couldn’t explain why and answered “possibly” when asked if he Pinkston would be back. Pinkston had tweeted on Saturday lamenting his fate, and after Pettine spoke Pinkston tweeted that he was in no legal trouble and retirement had not come up. He referred questions to the team, which isn’t saying more than it has. Pinkston missed a considerable part of the 2012 season with blood clots, but returned last season. It’s now known if anything similar has sidelined him. #concern
  • Sounding like a long-time veteran, Tate also said this: “When this thing gets tough and everybody’s dead tired you’ll see (which) guys are going to dig and fight. That’s when the team is made. Guys don’t make the team in the first two days (or) three days of camp.” … To give Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey a few extra snaps inside, the Browns put Karlos Dansby outside for a few plays. Which sounds like an intriguing notion; Dansby playng outside with his size and range. ... MarQueis Gray joined practice and returned to fullback after passing the conditioning test. He tweeted his issue was cramping. ... Joe Thomas was shown proper respect and given the practice off, while defensive lineman Phil Taylor is dealing with an unspecified injury. ... Receiver Charles Johnson remains the great unknown. Farmer said he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash coming out of college. The legend grows. ... Had the Browns been installing a new set of plays Sunday his blasť performance might have been understandable. Except they weren’t new. They were old plays practiced in the offseason. ... Manziel took the field in neon spikes, but changed them less than 30 minutes into camp. Players must wear team-issued gear. Saturday defensive lineman Calvin Barnett wore Oklahoma State socks. “That lasted a day,” Pettine said. “Even though they were Browns’ orange, that lasted a day.” ... Pettine added: “I’m a black shoe, black sock guy myself.” #dot-dot-dot-com
  • The last word: “Nobody knew Miles Austin until Miles Austin got his opportunity.” -- Farmer, explaining why he’s not worried about the team’s receiving corps without Josh Gordon.
A day-by-day, honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

 THE WORK: Once the Jason Pinkston situation was briefly discussed after practice, the first question asked of coach Mike Pettine was this: “Did Manziel take a step back today?” Point asked, point taken. Because it sure looked like he did. Manziel was indecisive, slow in his reads, quick to leave the pocket and sloppy with his throws. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the play was wonderful. It’s best not to make too much of this, because guys will have bad days; but on this particular day, Manziel did little to quell the critics who would say he spent too much time taking party photos in the offseason and not enough mastering a complicated new system. It’s an easy criticism, but one that will arise anytime he struggles. Manziel’s body language reflected his frustration with the way things went. It simply was not a good day.

GOOD THROW: Typical that it happened when Manziel made something happen out of nothing. Manziel did not handle a low snap but he was able to pick up the ball and run to his right before planting and completing a pass across the middle to Miles Austin. The throw just beat the coverage, and came when Manziel does what he does best: improvise.

BAD THROW: After seeing nothing initially in seven-on-seven, Manziel rolled right and tried to sidearm a throw. It was poorly thrown, underthrown and almost intercepted. Bad decision, bad throw.

THE WORD: From Nate Burleson, on how the receivers view the QB competition: “We don’t ever think about [who’s ahead]. ... I’m not just saying that here and being politically correct about it. My whole career, it doesn’t matter who’s in. Most of the time we don’t think about it. It’s not like we’re jogging to the huddle and we think, 'Johnny's in' or '[Brian Hoyer's] in.'"

START CHART: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 meaning Manziel certainly starts the opener, we'll take a three-times-per-week look at his chances. Based on this one day, and based on Hoyer's good day, it drops from a 3 on the first day to a 1 on the second day.
BEREA, Ohio -- It took Brian Hoyer all of one day to move on from the excitement of the past and to focus on simply playing the position he’s always wanted -- quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesBrian Hoyer made all the plays in Day 2 of training camp.
 The change in Hoyer from Saturday to Sunday was marked, as he was decisive, quick, accurate and confident in the second training camp practice. Johnny Manziel? Not so much ... as his body language steadily deteriorated as the day went on.

Hoyer had some first-day sloppiness, and that could have been for several reasons: getting cleared to practice fully following knee surgery, trying to win the job for his hometown team, the hype about his backup and appearing for the first time in front of fans and media.

“He’d have to a robot not to be affected,” coach Mike Pettine said. “I’m sure there was a lot going on inside his head.”

The Browns are publicly saying the right things about the quarterbacks, with Pettine admitting that both have gotten off to “solid starts” and GM Ray Farmer saying both will have plenty of opportunities.

But if a neutral observer descended above the team’s practice field on Sunday, he would float away with a clear and definite impression that Hoyer is well ahead of Manziel, who has a long way to go.

All the usual caveats apply. It’s only Day 2 of camp. Manziel is a rookie, and he should have a learning curve. The team has not practiced in pads, so Manziel can’t make many of his patented create-something-out-of-nothing throws.

But it’s also true that Hoyer is learning a new offense, he’s coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL and hasn’t played in a game since last October. He also has to learn to drive the ball off the knee that was repaired – and he’s shown no hesitation in doing so.

 The tally sheet of good throws and completions for Hoyer would be lengthy. He started his day in team work with a deep post that hit Anthony Armstrong on the numbers. He followed with a throw outside to Willie Snead just over a linebacker. Later, there was a deep throw to Taylor Gabriel past the corner and in front of the safety, then a deep sideline throw to Nate Burleson. In the final team drill, Hoyer completed all three passes and got the ball out quickly -- showing a strong grasp of the offense.

Manziel spent a fair amount of time snapping off his chinstrap and turning in disgust after not-so-good plays. As the day went on, his body language got worse and worse. A sidearm throw on a rollout that was well short of the receiver. An underthrow into double coverage. The same deep throw Hoyer completed to Gabriel was overthrown badly by Manziel. Another overthrow. Another near interception.

Manziel even started the day with neon shoes -- an interesting choice for a rookie -- but he changed them less than 30 minutes into the practice because they weren’t “team issued.” It’s way too early to make any final determination on the position, but the Browns also are at a point where every snap counts, as Pettine and Manziel have admitted. This was not a new group of plays for either quarterback. Pettine said the plays were the same ones run on the second day of offseason work, as the training camp lessons will mirror what happened in the offseason.

The Browns will not be drawn into a Manziel-Hoyer discussion, and Pettine does his best not to give instant feedback on quarterback play after practice. But it’s evident the respect the coaches and front office have for how Hoyer has attacked the opportunity -- and his rehab from last season.

“I think Brian’s been phenomenal,” Farmer said. “He’s handled it like a pro, which is what you would like. He’s a man’s man. He didn’t cry over spilled milk. He attacked his rehab. He was here probably more than anybody. I think I work a lot of hours, and there weren’t many hours that I was in the building that Brian wasn’t somewhere working on his craft. Be it the meeting room, the indoor facility, the weight room, he did everything he could to put himself in the best position possible.”

It was pointed out to Farmer that the obvious comparison to that is a guy who was on the party circuit.

“From Brian’s perspective, he’s been a pro,” Farmer said. “He’s handled himself the right way. I’m only going to compare Brian to Brian.”

Browns Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
BEREA, Ohio – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Linebacker Barkevious Mingo was active and noticeable on several plays. On the first, he covered a tight end down the field and intercepted Connor Shaw. The pick led to a wild celebration from Mingo. The reason? He had dropped a few in offseason work – five in one day – and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil made him do work on the Juggs machine. This one he caught. Mingo later was all over the field in team drills, forcing an interception with the pass rush and on leaping back and knocking down a Brian Hoyer short throw. Mingo received the bulk of the work at right outside linebacker, with Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger at left. This coaching staff is very high on Mingo, who admitted he had challenges as a rookie. “I learned a lot of lessons – stuff that you can’t draw on the board,” he said. “I feel like I’m using that this year to help me be a better player.” Said coach Mike Pettine: “You could tell that hopefully the switch has been flipped.” Good enough to to give him the first day's "first star" (think the way they do it in hockey). #reasonforoptimism
  • Rookie running back Terrance West earns the second star after making two eye-opening catches in passing drills. One was a one-handed snag on a deep throw down the sideline, the other a leaping, over-the-head snag of a high throws. “I had to double-check my roster card to make sure I was looking at the right number,” Pettine said. West practiced with a lot of energy. He spent one day on the non-football injury last week because he didn’t pass his conditioning test, but the next day “crushed” the test, Pettine said. Ben Tate said in the offseason that nobody in the running back room scared him, but he best not sleep on this job, because West has ability. On one run, Tate let Buster Skrine chase him down from behind to poke the ball loose; the crowd cheered the would-have-been turnover. #bearswatching
  • Safety Donte Whitner was back on the field after cramping up during the conditioning test and having to be helped off after. But the story of Whitner simply completing the test is worth hearing. “We had to run 20 sprints, and when we got to 16 my entire lower body started to cramp up,” he said. “I had to fight through those last four. That last one I jumped over (the finish line). I wanted to make the time but I wanted to give everybody something to talk about. I didn’t hurt myself, but I had to get two IVs, though. My lower body was pretty severely cramped, but other than that I was pretty good.” Other than that. “Once the cramps hit, there’s nothing you can do. It has nothing to do with being in shape, not being in shape. It’s maybe just dehyrdration or something. Once they kicked in, I really had to fight through it. … I could have easily laid on the ground at No. 16 and said, ‘Oh, I cramped up.’ But I wanted to fight through it. Even though it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, I still had to do it to show my teammates that I was going to fight for them.” As Jimmy Johnson once said before a practice, let the mind control the body, not the body control the mind. Whitner earns the third star. #mentaltoughness
  • Five Browns started camp on the non-football injury list, which translated means they did not pass the conditioning test, or were injured while trying to pass. They were guard John Greco, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive lineman Billy Winn (hamstring), tight end Gary Barnidge, offensive lineman Nick McDonald and fullback Marqueis Gray. Pettine said it’s the price of not having an easy test. His test consisted of 20 sprints of 40, 50 or 60 yards, depending on position, all of which had to be done in a required time. Mingo and Skrine were two guys who got through the test impressively. Pettine said the others will eventually be back, though it might not warrant passing the same test – which might be tough for a guy like Taylor. #demanding
  • Receiver Charles Johnson was on the field for the first time as a Brown; he was signed off Green Bay’s practice squad a year ago with a torn ACL (the Browns didn’t know at the time). Pettine knew so little about him, he watched college highlights of Johnson at Grand Valley State on YouTube. … Hoyer received a warm welcome from the fans in attendance. “I saw someone that I played youth baseball with over there,” he said. “It’s really cool for me, but like I said, it’s really about focusing on what’s going out on the field each and every play.” … Hoyer will wear a knee brace through the season. … Pettine on whether he’ll monitor Hoyer as he comes off a knee injury: “I don’t think he’s going to let us back him off.” … The coach said one of his daughters tore both her ACLs playing lacrosse. … Chris Faulk practiced at right tackle behind Mitchell Schwartz. … With Greco out, Joel Bitonio lined up at left guard, with Garrett Gilkey at right. Skrine was the starting corner opposite Joe Haden, and Craig Robertson was with the ones at inside linebacker. … Pettine was pleased with the condition of receiver Miles Austin, who was held out of spring as a precaution. … Fans from 10 states, including California, were among the 3,702 in attendance – a high for a first day since at least 2005. #dot-dot-dot-com
  • Jimmy Haslam on Hoyer: “Is there a better story? First of all, he’s a hometown kid. He’s coming off an injury. We all want him to do well. He’s a quality guy and a class act, so we all want Brian to play well. We want Johnny (Manziel) to play well, and we want (Browns QBs) Tyler (Thigpen) and Connor (Shaw) to play well. It’s an important position.” #thefinalword
A day-by-day and honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

THE WORK: The best thing to be said about Manziel’s first open practice is that he had better throws later in the day than he did early. Overall, this did not seem to be a crisp first day for the rookie -- or for veteran Brian Hoyer for that matter. Manziel struggled early, with indecision and a throw batted down. He finished better, though, finding receivers in team drills. None of it was overly memorable, but at least Manziel can say that as the day progressed he got better. That is something to build on as he points to day two.

GOOD THROW: Midway through practice, Manziel dropped back in team drills and threw left of the hashmark to Miles Austin. Manziel made the throw with authority, as he led Austin perfectly into a 20-something yard reception.

BAD THROW: Manziel’s size will always be an issue as long as his throws are knocked down. Shortly after the throw to Austin, Manziel rolled left and just ran to a stop as no one was open. On the next he threw right and the ball hit a lineman just above the elbow. That low trajectory may be something to address, especially as the Browns head to their first padded practice on Monday.

THE WORD: Comes from coach Mike Pettine, who explains that every snap, every play matters: “I don’t think that you want to ease guys in. When you look at the new rules and restrictions on the amount of time these guys get, I don’t think you have reps that you don’t feel are worth it.”

START METER: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being Manziel certainly starts the opener, we’ll take a three-times-per week look at his chances. Today’s rating: a 3.
BEREA, Ohio -- Johnny Manziel explained Saturday that he has an awesome life and he enjoys every second of it, on and off the field.

He also clarified that the reason there’s such a buzz about him is that he has fun, whether it’s playing football, golfing or clubbing.

So, there’s that. It’s always good, after all, to come to grips with why there’s such a buzz about yourself.

Manziel’s statements came a few minutes after Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said the team expects better from Manziel, and it’s time for the quarterback to make news on the field rather than off -- an oddity of a statement in itself considering Pilot Flying J recently agreed to a $92 million fine in a fraud scam.

That being said, Haslam also pointed out that Pilot, of which he is CEO, had bent over backward to make amends in the investigation (including re-paying bilked customers $56 million, according to the Federal agreement), and to cooperate with federal investigators. He said the investigation showed people had made mistakes in his company “and it cost all of us dearly.”

“So we’re glad to get this chapter behind us and move on,” Haslam said, adding: “Today needs to be about the Browns.”

In a sort of similar way, Manziel is trying to do the same -- put the offseason of Internet photos and sprayed champagne behind him and concentrate on football. It’s why he was drafted in the first round, after all.

Saturday was the first training camp practice open to the fans and media, and though neither Brian Hoyer nor Manziel did a lot to distinguish himself, they both had moments and earned cheers from the crowd, which arrived early with many of them wearing No. 2 jerseys. Yes, some were recycled from the Tim Couch days.

Manziel has admitted repeatedly his biggest challenge is with the system. He believes in his physical abilities, but he has to go from what he called a simpler system at Texas A&M to a complex one in Cleveland.

“It’s not two short little plays anymore,” he said. “You have a lot to a play call. You have a lot to read. You have a lot of different things that weren’t asked of me at [Texas] A&M. You have to deal with protections. You have to deal with certain things.”

On his first throw in team drills, with a simulated rush because the Browns weren’t in pads, Manziel waited too long and threw incomplete. A few more incompletions followed. He later had to bring the team back to the huddle because he didn’t get the play called. He later rolled left and had nobody to throw to so the play stopped, and he followed that with a ball that was tipped at the line.

The longer practice went the more throws he completed, with the highlight a 20-yard cross to Miles Austin on the left sideline. If it’s good to end well, Manziel did, completing throws in the final team drill -- playing mostly with the second team.

Manziel admits that things will come fast now that training camp has started, and that he’s noticed a different intensity from the offseason. At the team meeting, a countdown already had started of days remaining until the opener (it’s 42 days).

“It’s getting real now,” Manziel said.

Ditto for Brian Hoyer, who also had some less-than-stellar moments. He started in position drills throwing high and wide to uncovered receivers, but rebounded to find Jordan Cameron past a linebacker. In team drills, there was another completion down the field to Cameron -- though safety Tashaun Gipson pulled off -- but another that was into coverage, tipped and intercepted by Gipson. A short dumpoff to the fullback couldn’t even get past the long arm of Barkevious Mingo. Hoyer also collided with Cameron as he dropped back to pass, resulting in a fumble.

"I thought they both did some real good things that highlighted what they do well and they both made some mistakes," coach Mike Pettine said. "Some of it’s not necessarily their fault—a receiver going the wrong way. I thought it was a solid start for both of them.”

It’s possible both quarterbacks were over-anxious for the first public practice, and no judgments should be drawn on one practice regardless. Hoyer is coming off a knee injury, Manziel is a rookie and both are learning a new system. They will need time.

But Pettine also made clear that at this point every snap, every rep and every throw matters.

“Why wouldn’t it?” he said.

At that point the team headed inside for lunch and an afternoon of meetings, study and learning from watching the tape. At this point, the floating swans and investigations are mere sideshow when it comes to the team, because now it’s about what happens on the field.

Day 1 was a start for the Browns and Manziel. As far as starts go, the best thing about it is there’s a Day 2.

BEREA, Ohio -- The definite impression that came out of Friday's news conferences with the Cleveland Browns wasn't complicated: Message delivered, message heard.

Or seemingly heard.

Johnny Manziel carried himself with the aura of a guy who had been dressed down after arriving for training camp. The team that had publicly supported him through so much evidently hit its limit when Manziel continued to post and pose for party photos throughout the offseason.

The Browns went from a team deciding on how to handle reps on Monday to a team that announced on Friday that Brian Hoyer would get the first-team reps for the first two days of camp. They did that with coach Mike Pettine saying he was impressed with the work Manziel had done with the playbook and with his conditioning while he was gone.

While Hoyer carried himself as a starter ready to compete, Manziel came across as a bit humbled.

Pettine would not get into details of any particular conversation, but it seemed that he and general manager Ray Farmer had a get together with Manziel. (Pettine isn't known as "Blunt Force Trauma" for nothing.) Manziel admitted to rookie mistakes and said he had to do better when it came to acting like a professional.

He'll still get a chance to earn the starting job; if he's the better player it would hurt the team not to play him. But the Browns sure seemed to convey the message that they truly believe in Hoyer, and they did grow weary of constant questions about floating swans and spraying Champagne bottles.

While Manziel sounded like he had been castigated, he also defended his right to go out and enjoy himself. Which raises the interesting question of whether he regrets going out, or regrets being photographed when he went out.

He has the right to enjoy himself, of course, but he also has to know that whatever he does reflects on the team and his teammates. He also has to know, as several Hall of Famers have made clear, that he is the team's quarterback 24 hours per day.

Manziel partied at Texas A&M, and he played well. He may be able to do the same with the Browns.

But it appears that even the Browns had their fill of antics.

As Pettine said, "It's time for football."
Johnny Manziel on Wednesday reported for his first professional training camp with the Cleveland Browns' rookies, quarterbacks and other players recovering from injury, which means for Manziel and the Manziel-watchers in the world, things get really real immediately.

Manziel will compete with Brian Hoyer to be the team’s starter, but Hoyer is the starter heading into camp.

How does Manziel win the job?

  1. [+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
    Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesKnowing the playbook and protecting the ball will be crucial for Johnny Manziel in training camp.
    Be a gamer:
    NFL football is quite the interesting phenomenon. Players spend hours in meetings, they lift weights, they work out, they practice for hours and then they watch every single play of practice. And whether they make the team or don’t comes down to a handful of plays in the third quarter of a practice game with the stands half full. Practice makes perfect, but how Manziel performs in a game will determine whether he starts. That means executing the offense with precision, and showing the knowledge required to read, understand and attack an NFL defense -- vanilla as it will be in preseason. Practices will matter, but the most important days of Manziel’s first training camp will be in Detroit and Washington in the practice games.
  2. Be ready: Know the playbook and the plays and the calls and the reads. There is not time for learning on the fly anymore. Jobs are at stake at every position on the field, and the team can’t live with an uncertain quarterback botching the plays. This work had to be done in the offseason, and if Manziel didn’t do it there will be issues.
  3. Don’t throw away a single rep: It would be interesting if every profession operated the way NFL teams do. Imagine the cashier filmed for every transaction, the placement of hands while giving change, the way he or she scans items. Imagine if the lawyer were videoed during every argument, an accountant during a tax audit. NFL players have every play, every snap scrutinized. If they mess up on the field, they hear about it after -- and they watch it. Manziel can’t afford half-hearted plays or silly mistakes. He needs to be aware, smart and careful. It’s not easy while trying to learn a new offense and teammates, but that is what is expected. There are no throwaway plays in training camp.
  4. Protect the ball: Mike Pettine is a studier of the game, and he no doubt knows that a team that does not turn the ball over has a better chance to win. Since 1999, the year of the Browns' return, teams that had a turnover margin of plus-two in a game won 88 percent of the time (per Teams that had one more turnover than the opposition won 79 percent of the time. The fastest way for a quarterback to be shown the bench -- especially a rookie -- is to turn the ball over frequently in camp and in preseason games (vanilla defenses come to mind).
  5. Ditch the parties; act like a professional: It might not be necessary to state this, because Manziel might have this planned regardless. But what has become clear about Manziel since he joined the Browns is that he knows how to have a good time. From town to town and beverage to beverage, he was a regular presence on the Internet. Manziel is not innocent in this either; he willingly posed or posted some of the photos. He can still enjoy himself, but nobody who puts the fun ahead of his profession succeeds in the long run. At this point, it’s up to Manziel to show his teammates and his team that the parties were simply an offseason pursuit.
The party's over for Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns would do well to give Johnny Manziel time to develop instead of thrusting him in as a starter.
The offseason of Vegas-Austin-Mexico-Los Angeles clubs and beverages/bottles has concluded. The social media photos with rolled bills are complete. Manziel reported for his first NFL training camp on Wednesday in Cleveland to try to become the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback. On Thursday, workouts begin. It's not exactly a brave new world for the Browns' first-round draft pick -- he did manage himself quite well in college during the season while having a good time in the offseason, thank you very much -- but it is a more challenging situation than anything he has dealt with in his life. The young wunderkind who was simply always better than those around him finds himself at a whole new level, having to earn his place in the world of professionals.

But while attention will be focused on his every move, his coach has made no secret he'd prefer Manziel not be the team's immediate starter. Coach Mike Pettine told that in his "ideal world," Manziel would not start on opening day.

Go figure.

The Browns, a team in need of a new image, excite the area and the football world by drafting the most exciting player eligible, and they want him to wait.

But there's sound logic and strong precedent behind Pettine's thinking.

He talks about success stories for people who wait to start -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer -- and compares them to guys he has seen rushed into the starting lineup too soon -- Kyle Boller -- for a team not good enough to support them.

That's a scenario Cleveland fans know all too well, as they have seen quarterback after quarterback forced into the lineup, only to struggle with a bad team and fail: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brandon Weeden among them.

The other cycle that has been repeated in Cleveland is that a quarterback ballyhooed as a savior watches as the team drafts another. The public and media -- and eventually the team -- grow weary of the first "savior" struggling because the team is not equipped to help him. This starts the clamor for the next guy. He then is rushed in and struggles for the same reasons the first guy did.

Savior after savior has flamed out, quickly. Heck, a year ago in Cleveland, Jason Campbell was briefly considered a savior. He finished 1-7 as a starter.

"It's a bad cycle," Pettine said, "until you get the team around him."

Pettine has to balance a lot, starting with hype and expectation (multiplied exponentially because it's Manziel) that comes with any quarterback drafted in the first round. But he also has to balance what he has seen -- that a quarterback will struggle if the team around him struggles.

"There's no doubt [the quarterback is] the most important guy on the field," Pettine said. "But he's so much the product of his supporting cast."

In many past years, the Browns built the team from the inside out. Start with the quarterback and hope to add pieces. It can work, but the danger in that process showed constantly as a lack of a supporting cast left each young quarterback battered, shell-shocked and fragile.

Pettine wants to build from the outside in while still working with the best quarterback he can find.

That's why in the offseason the Browns rebuilt the running game with personnel and system. It is why they bolstered the offensive line, and why they've implemented a defensive scheme that has been successful everywhere it has been used. It's also why they brought in prominent defensive veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, guys used to winning who might change the vibe in a locker room accustomed to losing.

The final piece was a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer. In Manziel, the Browns got a guy who threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns at Texas A&M, a guy who for whatever reason has become a social media phenomenon.

"I don't think even he can get a handle on the why," Pettine said

At this point in his NFL career, Manziel has done nothing but be successful in college. As any Browns fan can attest, college success and/or a college resume does not automatically translate to wins in the NFL.

Pettine said Manziel was a great teammate in the previous time he was in Cleveland, calling him "very humble." The typical litany of positives followed: good in the weight room, attentive in meetings, smart.

Pettine then added this tidbit: "I think he's ahead of the learning curve."

In the world of hype, parsing and interpreting what has formed around Manziel, that comment would translate on the conversion chart to: "Holy smokes this guy is good."

But there are many factors at play, not the least of which are the beliefs and principles of the head coach. In organized team activities and minicamps, Manziel had his moments but never consistently looked like a no-brainer to be the starter. He never played like a guy who immediately had to be put in the lineup. Manziel himself admitted the Browns' offense is a lot more complex than the one he ran in college, where he didn't even have a playbook. There's the reality that the Browns open in Pittsburgh and then play at home against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Those are three very tough, physical and aggressive defenses that might make a team hesitate to start a rookie.

Two things are steadfastly true, though. First is that if Manziel doesn't turn out the lights, his on-field party will be over. Because he won't be able to succeed on the field if he's living the extreme high life off it. Pettine said he expects the off-field to be a "non-story" soon.

The second is that Pettine is determined to not give Manziel the job simply because of who he is.

"It's very simple for us," Pettine said. "Who gives us the best chance to win?"
Brian Hoyer took a grand total of five days off this offseason.

He probably would have done the exact same thing had the Cleveland Browns not taken Johnny Manziel in the first round of the NFL draft.

"He's a gym rat," coach Mike Pettine said.

The phrase is timeworn, but accurate. Because it sums up the work ethic and dedication of the Cleveland-area kid trying to hold off the challenge of the first-round pick to live his dream of starting for his hometown team.

In the team's first minicamp before the draft, Hoyer was a confident guy, talking about the Browns being his team until he was told otherwise. The night of the draft, he was part of the Manziel maelstrom, and affected by it much more personally than anyone. By the team's organized team activities, he was saying that the best thing he could do as a teammate would be to be the best quarterback he could be. By the end of OTAs, he was eager and anxious to have limitations removed as he recovers from a torn knee ligament that ended a promising 2013 season too soon. In the time between minicamp and training camp, he took a brief respite from rehab and work. But only a brief one.

He enters training camp as the Browns' starter, but he's as aware as anyone what it means to not only be competing with a first-round draft pick, but a first-round pick with significant cachet, resume and achievements.

Pettine, though, has seen no sign that any of the public chatter over Manziel has affected Hoyer.

"I think he's confident," Pettine said, "and I think he's getting his confidence through his preparation."

Which is where it all begins and ends with Hoyer, who learned from the best as Tom Brady's backup. Last season when he had three starts, he talked about being as prepared as he could be. This offseason, with or without Manziel, he's taken the same approach.

The Browns believe Manziel's presence will help Hoyer, will make him better by forging his competitive juices and focusing his already-strong drive.

"The alternative would be that we didn't draft Manziel and we took somebody in the fifth round," Pettine said. "Would Brian Hoyer be as good then as he would be after taking Manziel and having to deal with the circumstances that we're in?"

It's one of his core foundations -- competition makes people better. He has that at running back with Terrance West and Ben Tate, at cornerback with Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine, at guard with four guys fighting for two spots. And at quarterback.

"There's no substitute for it, and there's no better motivator than competition," Pettine said. "If you're not willing to compete, then you shouldn't be here."

Hoyer seems to relish it. On a recent radio interview on ESPN's "Mike & Mike," he called the drafting of Manziel "a relief" because he then understood what he was facing. Manziel has talked about wanting to start, but while Hoyer has been spending time with his family and children, Manziel has been on the party circuit. Whether that matters remains to be seen.

Pettine does not hide from the reality of what it means to take a quarterback in the first round, especially one like Manziel. But he also understands why he was hired.

"We can't lose sight as a staff that it's very simple for us: Who gives us the best chance to win this coming Sunday?" he said.

He points out that nobody from the Browns on draft night said they had drafted their starting quarterback.

"There's so much credibility when he earns it on the field," Pettine said. "Sure, [Manziel] comes in here with an incredible background of being a playmaker and having success. But there's the question of getting it to translate to the NFL level.

"We're confident that will happen. That's the reason we took him. But at the same time we feel we have a quarterback here in Brian who can win games for us."

Pettine values mental toughness. And Hoyer has shown no sign of being rattled or shaken by the hoopla over the rookie. In fact, it might have honed his desire.

"To me," Pettine said, "you have to be the strongest guy on the field mentally if you're the quarterback. To me, if he had issues with that mentally then you would question, ‘Does he have the wherewithal to be an NFL quarterback?' If he's going to let that bother him, you would question it.

"I'm not worried about it. I think that cream rises to the top."
Johnny Manziel's stock continues to soar.

The NFL announced Monday that Manziel jerseys outsold all others for sales from April 1 through July 17.

Imagine when the Cleveland Browns rookie completes a pass.

Meanwhile, another former NFL great weighed in with thoughts on Manziel.

This time it was Brett Favre's turn to answer a question, as the former Packers, Jets and Vikings great told ESPN 1000 in Chicago that Manziel is “a superb talent” who is “fun to watch” but also must understand it’s now about the team.

"It’s not about him,” Favre said, stressing he does not know Manziel. “It has been about him, and rightfully so. He’s been fun to watch and won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. My goodness, the spotlight is on you.

“But you have to try to deflect that as much as possible and just be team player. I’m not saying he isn’t; again I don’t know him.

“But there’s a lot of excitement around Cleveland right now, and what he is capable of doing. I would just say do all you can to make that team better, and again, it’s all about the team.”

In a nutshell, these statements and the jersey sales illustrate what Mike Pettine will deal with in his first training camp with the Browns.

A guy drafted in the first round who has had it be all about him in college now must make it about the team -- while his jersey is the most popular one in the NFL.
Examining the Cleveland Browns' roster:

If an alien landed from outer space, he or she would look at this list and think it’s a guy with three starts, a rookie and a veteran who didn’t play last season. Which is accurate. Thigpen did little to impress in the offseason work, but the Browns have to keep a third behind Hoyer and Manziel.


Tate and West are givens. Lewis was a favorite of the team a year ago, but that was a year ago. He could be a third back (at the expense of a cornerback or fullback) if he has the kind of training camp he had in 2013. Isaiah Crowell appears to be a strong candidate for the practice squad.


By taking a quick look at Chris Pressley in the offseason and then releasing him, the Browns showed they don’t want a road grader at the position. By moving Gray there later, they confirmed that they want their fullback to be more active. Ogbonnaya is the kind of guy teams like and need. Smart, plays anywhere and contributes on special teams.


For these purposes, we’ll assume that Josh Gordon is suspended. If he’s not, add him and remove Armstrong. A casual glance at the list from the same alien who looked at the quarterbacks would indicate why many believe things are dire for the offense if/when Gordon is suspended. Look for one or two of the young receivers to be on the practice squad.


Gray moved to fullback during the offseason, so we’ll assume he stays there. The Browns are well fortified with the three tight ends they have.


If there is a 10th, Reid Fragel joins the group. The Browns have built an offensive line that is talented, deep and smart. They have a lot of money invested here, but they have some good players as well.


Another deep group with a lot of talent. Coaches should be able to keep fresh linemen on the field, and keep active linemen playing.


The coaching staff has high hopes for Mingo, who figures to get a lot of time if Sheard moves to a down end position as frequently as Sheard said he would. Dansby missed a fair amount of the offeason, and the Browns have to hope for more from Kruger than they got a year ago after he signed his big contract.

Leon McFadden's brief Browns career could end after one season. The most interesting competition will be between Skrine and Gilbert to see who starts opposite Haden. Finding a cornerback who can play press-man coverage is vital in this defense.


No big mysteries here, but Bademosi makes the team based on his value on special teams. Whitner seems to be a very good veteran addition.


No need to change anything here from last season, as all were strong and dependable contributors.

Camp preview: Cleveland Browns

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Pat McManamon examines the three biggest issues facing the Cleveland Browns heading into training camp.

Manziel or Hoyer: Another training camp, another quarterback competition. Except this one includes not just any quarterback, but the player whose nickname -- Johnny Football -- is the sport itself. It's Brian Hoyer's job to lose. He's the starter based on the smallest sample size of games in recent memory. He started three games and won two, but left the third after six minutes after suffering a torn knee ligament. But Hoyer was so decisive and quick in his reads that he earned the chance to begin camp as the starter. His life seemed nearly ideal on May 1. He was the unchallenged guy for the Browns, and of the quarterbacks eligible in the draft, few were considered immediate starters. The Browns drafted the one who is. Now fans and the media will be wondering about Johnny Manziel every day. Hoyer's success could depend on how well he deals with an environment that has crushed the spirit of others, an environment in which it will seem like the entire world is waiting for him to fail.

New coaches, again: Change brings new approaches, new playbooks, new thinking. It takes time for the players to learn and assimilate. If there's anything Browns fans are accustomed to, it's the quotes about how well the offseason went with a new coaching staff: "The guys are working hard"; "We should be able to pick it up"; "It's just a matter of terminology." And there's the old favorite: "He's a player's coach." Mike Pettine has done a lot to like. He's straightforward and thoughtful. He's football-smart and precise. He has a system he believes in and wants to implement. But asking players to run three different systems in three different seasons is a lot. There are reasons to like the new staff and systems. But there were just as many reasons to like the new staff and systems a year ago. What happens on the field starting in September -- not August -- will reveal how quickly the team has learned and taken in the new approaches.

Running on: Maybe it's because the running game was so blatantly ignored last year, but it's encouraging to see the Browns build a running game with a successful system and with capable backs. Amid all the hoopla about Manziel, the key to the Browns winning this season may come down to how well the Browns play defense and run the ball. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's run-game approach is borrowed from his father, Mike Shanahan, who has had success with it throughout his career. The Shanahans have turned low-round backs into Pro Bowlers, using a zone-read system based on athletic linemen and a running back being able to find and hit the hole aggressively and quickly. In Ben Tate and Terrance West, the Browns seem to have a pair of backs who can offset each other. In Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joel Bitonio, John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz, the Browns seem to have a smart group of offensive linemen who can move and play well in this system. It will take time, but the running game could provide early encouragement.