AFC North: Cleveland Browns

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With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps just a few weeks away, we assess the Cleveland Browns' offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.

Best move: When a team has a glaring need and makes a move to fill it, the team deserves credit. The Browns were the NFL’s worst team at stopping the run last season. That was true even though the Browns believe in their players and believe in their system. To address the situation, the Browns added the nose tackle they’ve lacked: Danny Shelton of Washington. Shelton missed OTAs to finish his academic work at Washington, so he’ll need to jump into things during camp. If he can plug the middle like the Browns hope, a weakness could be erased.

Riskiest move: Signing a 36-year-old quarterback and adding a new coordinator and new receivers brings huge challenges to the offense. The Browns aren’t just starting over, they are starting over with the coach who leads the offense, the guy who calls the signals and the receivers who catch his passes. History has shown the challenges involved in this, and when the quarterback is Josh McCown, a guy who lost 10 of 11 starts in 2014, the challenge seems greater. The Browns built their defense on system and players. Their offense is built on hope.

Receiving (non)move: The Browns ignored the wide receiver spot in the draft last season when they knew Josh Gordon would be suspended. They ignored the receiver spot in the draft until the fourth round this season even though Gordon already had been suspended. The team added starting receivers via free agency in Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline and drafted a big, strong guy in Vince Mayle. But they still lack a big-play, speed guy. The receiving corps last season was a strength for 10 games, then could not sustain the production. Whether that group has improved enough to help a new quarterback will be closely watched.

Training camp outlook: The big question for the Browns as they head to training camp is the same one they’ve had as they’ve headed to training camp every season since 1999: What about the quarterback? The Browns have given the keys to McCown, and they’ve not hesitated to build him up. McCown is a tremendous individual and great to have on a team. He looked sharp in his throws and reads in minicamp. How he plays over the course of a 16-game season remains to be seen. The Browns headed to the offseason with McCown clearly ahead of Johnny Manziel -- and with continued uncertainty about the most important position on the team.

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Most NFL analysts agree the Cleveland Browns need receivers.

Monday the team added Terrelle Pryor, claiming him on waivers from the Bengals. Pryor is a project, a former quarterback just cut by Cincinnati, and a guy who has never played receiver. He declared one month ago that “If I can't play quarterback I can't play football.”

There's no risk in the move. Pryor will be one of 90 working in training camp, and he'll be re-united with John DeFilippo. The Browns offensive coordinator was Pryor's quarterback coach in Oakland when he started nine games at quarterback.

DeFilippo also was instrumental in the Browns adding Josh McCown, who enters training camp as the team's starting quarterback.

Pryor will not work at quarterback. He will compete to make the team at receiver, a move he made when the Bengals released him after he spent one month with the team.

The reason for the release: According to ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey, Pryor had dropped to fourth-team quarterback behind Josh Johnson and far behind backup AJ McCarron. Pryor also angered the Bengals by posting video of the team's minicamp on one of his social media accounts.

The Bengals ban videos and filming during their live work, and Pryor posted from the full team drills to his Twitter account. The videos were soon removed.

Some players have made the switch from quarterback to receiver successfully. Among them are Ronald Curry (of North Carolina and the Raiders) and Antwaan Randle El (of Indiana and the Steelers). Both were successful at receiver -- Randle El even threw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl -- though were far from All-Pros. But both made the switch immediately upon joining their NFL team.

Josh Cribs played quarterback at Kent State and set records returning kicks for the Browns. Eric Mangini put him at receiver, where the results were mixed, at best (41 receptions, 518 yards, four touchdowns in 2011).

Pryor is making the move after spending three years trying to play quarterback in Oakland, and after being traded to Seattle, and then going to Kansas City and Cincinnati.

In the offseason the Browns addressed the receiver position by signing Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline as free agents. They drafted Vince Mayle in the fourth round. Mayle reported with a broken wrist that needed surgery. Now they've claimed Shane Wynn on waivers from Atlanta and Pryor on waivers from the Bengals.

It's the classic flyer. Take a 6-5 guy and see what he can do. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But the addition of Pryor will do little to change the opinion of folks who believe the position is the team's biggest weakness.

NFL Nation reporter Pat McManamon assesses which rookies on the Cleveland Browns could earn a starting berth this season.

[+] EnlargeCleveland Browns, Danny Shelton, Cameron Erving
AP Photo/Phil LongThe Browns are optimistic that rookies Danny Shelton, left, and Cam Erving can crack the starting lineup.

Why Danny Shelton could start: It would be disappointing if Shelton does not start at nose tackle. He was drafted 12th overall. He’s expected to start. The Browns need him to start. He is expected to be the anchor in the middle of the line and the guy who provides the foundation for a turnaround in run defense. The Browns ranked 32nd in the league last season. They have not had a big, strong guy in the middle -- a Haloti Ngata or Casey Hampton type -- for many years. Shelton was drafted to fill a role. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver said Shelton has the potential to be included with those players. If Shelton doesn’t start it will be a major disappointment.

Why Cam Erving could start: Talent would win him a job. Erving played left tackle and center last season at Florida State. He has versatility and ability. The Browns would be fine if Erving is the versatile backup. The team likes its group of Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack, John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz. But they’d be happier if he wins the job at, say, right guard or tackle. That means he’s earned it by beating out a player they like, and the Browns' offensive line would have improved. As line coach Andy Moeller said, it's up to Erving to find a spot, and it's up to the veterans to keep him from that spot.

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo met the media on Thursday and offered his assessment of the quarterbacks.

His main point? Josh McCown has every chance to be the team’s opening day starter against the Jets, and enters training camp as No. 1.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Johnny Manziel
AP Photo/David RichardCoordinator John DeFilippo on Johnny Manziel: "You see him reset his feet and getting back to second and third progressions, which is something I didn't see much of him last season ..."

"I’m going to echo coach (Mike) Pettine’s words because he and I are on the exact same page about this," DeFilippo said. "I don’t see a change for right now going into training camp. I just don’t. I think Josh (McCown) is playing at a high level right now. I think Josh is doing the things we want him to do."

Johnny Manziel has not had the visible results -- witness the time with the media present when he dropped three shotgun snaps -- but DeFilippo specified a couple specific areas he’s seen Manziel grow.

Those were pocket awareness and something the offensive coordinator called "huddle management."

"I saw (Manziel) the other day for the first time get to his third progression, which was fantastic," DeFilippo said of pocket awareness.

He described a play where Manziel had to read right to left, with a post and a corner route on the right side and a deep in coming from the left. Manziel threw it to the third option, the receiver dragging across.

"That’s hard to do for a young quarterback, to work from the right side of the field all the way back coming into his vision," DeFilippo said. "You see him reset his feet and getting back to second and third progressions, which is something I didn’t see much of him last season or when he was in college."

DeFilippo offered these specifics about huddle management.

"He’s getting the play out with confidence," he said. "We do have some long play calls. That’s just the nature of NFL play calls. You are going to have some long play calls.

"He’s gone in there and he’s been like a veteran spitting it out. We’ve had very, very few issues pre-snap with him in terms of delay of games, forgetting motions, not sending a shift we wanted, motion landmarks."

What’s been lacking is what is visible, and what’s been reported: Manziel needs to improve his accuracy.

"Has he made every throw as strike-point accurate as we want?" DeFilippo said. "No, and he knows that. He needs to be a little bit more strike-point accurate than he has been.

"That will come. You want to work outside in with these guys. You want to work the big picture and then you can really hone in on what they need to do from the other parts of playing quarterback."

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas echoed the praise of McCown, saying he has been accurate and is well ahead of where past quarterbacks have been at this point of the offseason, a time when Thomas said the defense has huge advantages.

McCown did have a strong three days. He seemed to throw the ball well, to read the defense well and to take charge of changing alignments and plays at the line.

"He’s been that way the entire offseason," Thomas said.

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns' offense has heard its fair share of criticism this offseason, even though it is just the offseason.

While players and coaches cry for patience and say offseason practice is about learning from mistakes, the media (myself included) has not had much good to report based on the practices that have been open.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
AP Photo/David RichardJosh McCown threw the ball down the field successfully Tuesday, giving the Browns offense a rare glimmer of hope this offseason.

That changed on Tuesday for Josh McCown, who had what seemed to be a very good day of work. McCown was accurate and threw the ball down the field, something that hadn't been seen a lot since practices have been open.

In one set of 11-on-11 plays, he hit Andrew Hawkins on a nice throw some 30 yards downfield, then followed with a deep fade to Dwayne Bowe on the left. McCown found Brian Hartline at the sideline, and also had good throws to Taylor Gabriel and the tight ends.

McCown said it was the "most consistent we've been for a whole practice."

"I think, offensively, we came out with just a little bit more of a concerted effort to push the ball down the field," coach Mike Pettine said. "Defensively, had kind of gotten into a rhythm of sitting on a lot of routes.

"I think the offensive guys just coming out of last week's tape study felt they were probably ripe for some double moves or for some throws down the field. It was nice to see, especially on a windy day like this, that those guys executed."

This was by far the best the offense had looked in the practices open to the media.

Johnny Manziel had his issues, though. He had a nice mid-range throw to Rodney Smith, but that set of plays mainly concentrated on swing passes and underneath routes after that.

In a later set of 11-on-11 plays, Manziel took six snaps in the shotgun, dropping three of them. Every play ended when he put the ball on the ground.

The Browns' first two centers were not practicing -- the Browns continue to take care of Alex Mack and Cameron Erving was out with an undisclosed injury -- but Manziel still had bad hands on the snaps.

Pettine said the snaps might have been low, and he would have to watch the tape.

He also addressed Manziel's psyche heading to the end of offseason work.

"It's early," he said, "but as I've said before, it's so far, so good. Time will tell. Training camp is going to be real important for him, but I think he's in a good place and headed that way."

Cleveland Browns defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has a simple answer for any criticism he hears about first-round pick Danny Shelton: “Turn on the tape.”

“He plays the game with a type of energy that you can’t fake,” Weaver said last week on a day the Browns made their position coaches available to the media. “He’s full speed. You see his size. You saw his 40 numbers at the combine. But he doesn’t play to that. He’s a guy who plays every snap like it’s his last play, and guys that play like that aren't easy to come by.”

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDespite his lack of speed, Danny Shelton routinely made plays outside the hashmarks at Washington.

Shelton was the 12th overall pick in this year's NFL draft. The Browns chose him to be the Haloti Ngata/Casey Hampton type they have lacked for years. Shelton has not been with the Browns since rookie minicamp because he was finishing his academic work and earning his degree at Washington, but he is expected to be on the field for all three days of minicamp.

Pre- and post-draft criticism of Shelton centered on stamina at 340 pounds and his 5.66 40-yard dash time, the second slowest by a lineman at the combine since 2003. NFL Network did a side-by-side of Shelton and 346-pound Dontari Poe of Kansas City, and the comparison wasn’t pretty. Shelton looked like he was moving in slow motion.

ESPN’s Bill Polian said no lineman has ever succeeded in the NFL with a 40 time near 5.6 seconds and that it basically made Shelton a two-down player.

Weaver said he doesn’t pay attention to 40 times. He doesn’t even time prospects, and if he was in charge of the combine he would do away with the 40-yard dash.

“Again, what I’d tell you is put on the tape,” Weaver said. “I’m not coaching track stars. I’m coaching football players. There’s a lot of guys who run a 4.8, but when you put the tape on they don’t play to that 4.8.

“He plays a lot faster than that 40 time.”

Weaver also said there’s video evidence to refute the stamina question.

“If you watch the Stanford game from college, it’s probably a 94-play game," Weaver said. "I would say he missed five of those plays, and he played the 94th play like it was the first.

“Stamina isn’t a concern with me at all.”

One of the many positives about Shelton is that he’s an interior tackle who made plays outside the hashmarks.

“It takes will in order to make those plays ..." Weaver said. “It takes a want-to. That comes from your heart. That’s something that’s immeasurable.”

The most meaningful measurable is something Weaver sees on game tape.

“What’s most important is after he’s gone through the line of scrimmage, what kind of effort is he giving to the football,” Weaver said. “There’s a lot of 4.8, 4.7 guys that don’t give anywhere near the effort that Danny Shelton does.”

In an era of measurable and analytics, it’s almost refreshing to hear Weaver’s thinking -- and it will be more refreshing if he turns out to be right. He sees the measurables and knows the analytics but relies on what he sees from a player when he plays the game.

“Just put on the film,” Weaver said. “The film tells the story.”

videoBEREA, Ohio -- Kevin O’Connell studied Johnny Manziel's tape from the Cleveland Browns' quarterback’s first start last season against Cincinnati.

He did not look on it as a horror movie.

"Much like a lot of rookie quarterbacks when they’re playing against a good defense, there’s going to be some plays that you execute and you have some success, and there’s gonna be some plays where they win," the Browns new quarterbacks coach said on Thursday at the team’s final organized team activity workout.

Credit O’Connell for understatement.

Manziel’s day against the Bengals set off beacons of concern for the Browns, as he completed 10-of-18 for a total of 80 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks. He had balls batted down -- one near the armpit of Rey Maualauga -- and generally was ridiculed by the Bengals.

Since that time, Manziel has gone through 10 weeks in a treatment facility and worked hard at the opportunities he’s been given.

O'Connell appreciates the effort and ignores the external noise.

"How they’re portrayed really doesn’t matter to me," he said. "It’s a matter of I come in the building and try to help that group get better on a daily basis."

In his first interview since joining Mike Pettine’s staff, O’Connell was careful to stress the Browns' four quarterbacks -- Josh McCown, Manziel, Thad Lewis and Connor Shaw -- as opposed to one. Of Manziel, he also said something that indicates where the Browns are with the 22nd overalll pick in the 2014 draft.

"He understands that he’s earning the right to not only compete, but to play this position that’s very difficult," O’Connell said. "And it takes a commitment on a daily basis."

Note the words. Compete. Difficult. Commitment. Not just competing, but "earning the right" to compete. That is what the Browns expect of Manziel at this juncture.

One other element O’Connell stressed: The team just finished Day 9 of OTAs. It was a reminder given by other players, and mirrored some sensitive feelings from the team that the Browns' offense has been judged harshly given where the team is in terms of practice and the season.

That being said, Manziel also showed some frustration on Thursday, pulling the ball back when the defense gave him something he didn’t expect, missing a sideline throw that would have been a touchdown, and rolling right and throwing on the run and across his body to the back of the end zone. The play wound up a touchdown and caused Pettine to quip that he was happy with any play that led to an extra point, but it was the exact same kind of throw Manziel made against Cincinnati that was intercepted, the exact kind of throw that leads to quarterbacks being ushered out of the league.

Manziel might be working hard and progressing, and the Browns might still be in OTAs, but there are not many outward signs of improvement. Manziel basically looks like the same quarterback he was last season.

That being said, O’Connell said Manziel will be given a chance to earn the starting job in camp.

O’Connell is in an interesting spot. Before being hired by the Browns -- he’s six years younger than McCown -- he worked for San Diego-based quarterback guru George Whitfield. In that role, he worked with Manziel prior to the draft.

"My thoughts on Johnny have not changed," O’Connell said. "I thought very highly of him before the draft when I got a chance to work with him. We spent a lot of time in the classroom, obviously talking about the NFL game from a defensive perspective as well getting ready to play the hardest position there is really, and how he would transition to that.

"We are still talking about a guy that’s in his second year now. Having been through it, obviously, getting some starts last year will help him.

"But I can tell you from the first time I met Johnny until now, I still see the same competitive guy that comes into work every day to get better, and that’s all we can really ask of him right now."

Manziel’s next step: A three-day minicamp, which could give a little better barometer on where he is. Pettine said those practices will change.

"No new installation," Pettine said. "It’ll be more of a review, like a best hits type of deal, kind of circle back on, 'OK, this is what we think based on what we’ve done so far.'"

Which means Manziel should be given plays the team feels he can run successfully.

In theory, that should lead to showing some improvement.

BETWEEN CLEVELAND AND PITTSBURGH -- The need for a franchise quarterback in the NFL is obvious, but never is the reminder so glaring than when watching two teams practice in the same offseason.

One with the franchise, one without.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns practice nearly 140 miles apart, forever intertwined by industrious football values and 10-degree AFC North battles.

To the East, there's a quarterback that could have changed the Browns' outlook in the 2004 draft, before the Browns selected Kellen Winslow No. 6 overall. He runs offensive drills like a player/coach, constantly instructing young receivers on where to be and why. The ball rarely touches the ground. Five-wide sets, goal-line package, deep shots -- everything is crisp most of the time. The defense is usually behind as a result.

Ben Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback right now. That's evident within a few minutes of watching a Steelers practice.

To the West, there are two quarterbacks trying to halt the now-infamous streak of 22 Browns starters since 1999. One is a long-time backup with 49 NFL starts in 12 seasons. He's reliable, a calming locker room presence, a classic bridge quarterback. He knows how to run a practice, where to put the ball. He's not going to torch a good defense like Cleveland's very often. The backup quarterback is getting his life right on the field but must answer questions on it. He's been hard on himself as a result. He shows glimpses of playmaking but the mistakes are still there, too.

Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel are not franchise quarterbacks right now. That's evident within a few minutes of watching a Browns practice.

Doesn't mean either of them can't perform well in 2015. After all, Browns quarterbacks are breaking in a new offense this month and must throwing against a high-level secondary every day. But there are 10 to 15 franchise guys on earth. The list doesn't fluctuate very much.

The Browns are doing a lot of the right things. They are building a stout defense and offensive line. They seem committed, eager to redirect the convenient dysfunction storyline.

A quarterback can bring it all together, as you've probably heard 1,286 times in this space. Make no mistake, the Browns can win some games with Josh McCown. The Texans won nine games with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum. It can be done.

But a guy that dominates a practice and elevates the play around him makes everything easier. The Steelers were 6-10 when drafting Roethlisberger. They haven't won fewer than eight games in a season since.

Seeing this in motion highlights the contrast in the best quarterbacks versus the others. Everything looks fluid, organic, smooth. Roethlisberger is far from perfect, but it's safe to say he looks worthy of his $100-plus-million contract.

The Browns would spend that much if they had a player to spend it on.

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Even Joe Haden understands the negatives of the training camp quarterback competition.

In speaking on ESPN's First Take on Wednesday, Haden indirectly explained why competitions, as Marvin Lewis has said, do nobody any good.

Haden made this clear as he explained how the dynamic between Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown is different at this point of the offseason than it was one year ago with Brian Hoyer and Manziel.

"I really love Hoyer," Haden said,"but at the same time it was more of a competition. It was more of, ‘I'm not going to bring you under my wing. We're competing.'"

Some players can compete and help other players. Others focus on the competition. It's an unusual situation, helping someone trying to take your job, but it happens in the NFL. And sometimes to make it happen, it takes a unique personality.

Nobody disputes that McCown has that personality to simultaneously compete and help. The Cleveland Browns signed McCown to play, and barring a surge from Manziel in training camp McCown will open the season as the starter.

But McCown does not do things like a lot of other players.

"With Josh McCown," Haden said, "it's more like a big brother type. Like, ‘I'm going to be more of a mentor, try to get you right.'"

The Browns didn't name McCown the training camp starter because of this factor. Manziel has yet to prove he can play in the NFL, though he will get more chances in training camp.

But clearly the competition between Hoyer and Manziel led to a situation that will not exist this season.

The competition element is not present, and McCown is not wired that way.

Ultimately how each player fares is up to each player. But what Haden says illustrates what the Browns liked about McCown and why they signed him even though he lost 10-of-11 starts last season.

He will get the first chance to play, but his personality lends itself to helping younger players.

He just does it naturally.

It's a safe bet that one person who definitely noticed that the Cleveland Browns were willing to add another $1.5 million to their budget for a punter was free safety Tashaun Gipson.

It was a tender offer to Gipson that saved the Browns just short of $1 million that has him working on his own while his teammates go through offseason workouts.

[+] EnlargeTashaun Gipson
AP Photo/Tony DejakTashaun Gipson and the Browns are at odds about a new contract, as Cleveland offered the Pro Bowl safety a second-round tender.

How this washes out remains to be seen, but adding an extra $1.5 million for Andy Lee, a punter, is the type of thing that make Pro Bowl safeties and their representatives dig in.

These are the types of situations that lead to players talking about being treated with respect, and they have the potential to be problematic depending on how they’re handled.

The Browns had a very good and dependable punter in Spencer Lanning, but chose to make the first trade for a punter in the NFL in 10 years -- and add Lee -- a very, very good punter -- to the payroll

The background on Gipson is well known. He was an undrafted free agent who worked his way to the starting lineup and then the Pro Bowl last season -- even though his season ended after 11 games with a knee injury that did not require surgery.

Gipson became a restricted free agent when the season ended. The Browns had the right to tender an offer to Gipson that would allow them to match any contract he signed or receive compensation if he left. The compensation depended on the tender offer.

The Browns could have offered a first-round tender on Gipson, but they chose a second-round tender -- which saved them just less than $1 million and had Gipson expressing disappointment on Twitter immediately after.

Talks to negotiate a long-term deal have not been fruitful, and Gipson remains unsigned. Because he has not signed, he does not have to report for any Browns duties and cannot be fined for missing them.

The Browns and Gipson have less than two months to work out a long-term deal to bring Gipson into training camp. Gipson can also sign the tender, play for a season and become a free agent. The Browns have the right to drastically cut Gipson's salary, but that would be a foolish decision.

Fans get turned off by contract talks, and if the Browns and Gipson work out a long-term deal this will all be forgotten. It could happen any day.

But it’s still hard not to think this situation could easily have been avoided.

The Browns had plenty of cap space when they made the tender offer to Gipson, but chose the lower-round tender. It’s not unlike the situation they are staring at with center Alex Mack. Instead of franchising Mack, Ray Farmer gave Mack the transition tag. The Browns quickly matched Jacksonville’s offer to Mack, but in doing so had to swallow the fact Mack can opt out after this season and become a free agent.

By transitioning Mack, the Browns ceded some control to another team regarding their player.

By tendering Gipson the second-round offer, they empowered his anger.

At the time, it seemed inevitable the team would work out a long-term deal because who wouldn’t work out a deal with a Pro Bowl safety who epitomized the team’s goal principles and attitude.

That hasn’t happened. And it's at least a concern at this point.

Complicating the situation is that every move the team makes has to be noticed by Gipson and his camp. When players talk about loyalty not being a two-way street, it refers to situations like this where the Browns:

  • Saved $998,000 by offering Gipson a second-round tender.
  • Guaranteed 36-year-old quarterback Josh McCown $6.45 million.
  • Guaranteed 30-year-old receiver Dwayne Bowe $10 million.
  • Guaranteed defensive tackle John Hughes $3.56 million.
  • Guaranteed 32-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams $10 million.
  • Heck, the Browns gave tight end Rob Housler a $750,000 signing bonus.

Nothing against those guys, and Gipson no doubt does not begrudge them getting paid.

But to think he doesn’t notice ... well, that’s naive.

Duke JohnsonAP Photo/David RichardDuke Johnson brings a playmaking ability that the Browns offense sorely needs.


BEREA, Ohio -- The list of talented running backs produced by the University of Miami seems endless.

It goes all the way back to Chuck Foreman and Ottis Anderson in the 1970s. It continued with Melvin Bratton and Alonzo Highsmith in the 80s. After that came Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Stephen McGuire, James Jackson, Lamar Miller and Frank Gore. It’s a list so long that one year ago NFL.com determined the University of Miami had earned the title “Running Back U.”

The guy who gained more yards than any of them is running around in Berea, practicing with the Cleveland Browns after being the team’s third-round draft pick. Duke Johnson's 3,519 rushing yards are the most in Hurricanes history.

That’s just one of many impressive numbers Johnson put up in his time at Miami.

As a freshman, he had 947 yards rushing, 221 receiving and he threw a touchdown pass and returned two kicks for touchdowns. He played just eight games his second season due to a broken ankle, but he still gained 920 yards rushing. In his final season, he ran for 1,652 yards and had 10 touchdowns.

Numbers have been his thing. He ran for 1,540 yards as a sophomore at Miami Norland high school. His senior year he had 1,957 yards rushing, with three kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdowns.

Oh, he also ran track.

But when it comes to ranking himself among the all-time UM backs, Johnson shrugs and admits that if there were a question on Trivial Pursuit asking who leads UM in all-time rushing, “I probably wouldn’t guess me either.”

“Just because of what those guys were able to do with wins,” he said.

Many of the Hurricanes' great backs played in an era of Miami greatness. After Howard Schnellengerger and Bernie Kosar won the national title after the 1983 season, Miami went on a streak of success that’s hard to grasp. From 1985-94, Miami never lost more than two games in a season. In six of those seasons, the Hurricanes finished first, second or third in the national rankings. The Hurricanes won five national titles between 1984-2001.

But in Johnson’s three seasons, Miami lost 16 games -- or as many as it lost in all of the seasons from 1985 through 1995.

When it was pointed out the record book showed Johnson at the top of the Miami running back list, Johnson asked what book that was. He nodded and credited the entire team for his yards, but added: “Just for the record, in my book I’m not at the top.”

Who would be?

“Now that one’s tough,” he said. “It’s a list, but I won’t be at the top. I’ll probably be fifth, sixth. I’ll probably be toward the middle bottom. I won’t be one.”

The reason?

“I still haven’t done anything close to what those guys were able to do, as far as winning,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s talent is evident in the numbers he’s produced as well as the fact that he brings elements that the Browns' offense lacks. Specifically speed, quickness, the ability to break a big play and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

“I’m that kind of change-of-pace back that can line up anywhere and do things that most running backs can’t,” he said.

Johnson has his share of Hurricanes swagger. No Miami player lacks it. But he carries his with a healthy dose of reality. He accepts where he is in the UM hierarchy, and understands he's not higher because his teams lacked in the most important number.

That being said, he has looked good running and catching the ball for the Browns in OTAs. He’s worked on the kickoff return unit. And he said he’s also working on catching punts, and is willing to do it if asked.

“Whatever it takes,” Johnson said. “I’m all-in.”

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BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine bristled at criticism of quarterback Johnny Manziel on Tuesday, and was very pointed in his responses to questions about the "water bottle" throw last weekend in Texas.

Pettine called whatever happened with Manziel at the Bryon Nelson Golf Classic on Saturday a non-story and said it's not a distraction. He said Manziel had been pushed to the point of frustration, and he reacted the way many would have in the same situation.

Here's the direct questions and answers between Pettine and the media on Tuesday:

Question: What are your thoughts on the incident that Johnny was involved in over the weekend with the heckling fan and the bottle-throwing?

Pettine: I have no thoughts. It's a non-story.

Q. Does it worry you in any way that …

A. It's a non-story.

Q. These non-stories keep happening.

A. Is that a question?

Q. Are you concerned that these non-stories keep happening?

A. No. I'm not.

Q. Why does it become a story? If Donte Whitner threw a water bottle at somebody … would Donte Whitner throw a water bottle at somebody?

A. That's a hypothetical. You could insert any name, I think under the right set of circumstances everybody standing here could get to the point where they would do something along those lines. Again, I don't see it as a story.

Q. Given the world we live in now, did you talk to Johnny? You don't want to deprive him of the ability to be in public or whatever, but did you talk to him about taking a lower profile, specifically now because of what he's going through and he's a little bit more of a target than he's ever been?

A. We've had a conversation. I'll keep those details private.

Q. This is what he brings, a lot of attention. Anything that happens becomes a quote, unquote story, whether it's a non-story or not. How do you deal with that in terms of the team and keeping it from being a distraction?

A. I don't see it as a distraction.

Q. We don't know if he actually threw the bottle at the fan or whatever, but does that concern you that if he can be provoked like that socially that maybe he has a ways to go on the football field where people will be heckling him and harassing him and those kind of things?

A. I have the details of what happened, and in my mind it's a non-story.

Josh McCownAP Photo/David RichardJosh McCown will get first-team reps and enter camp as the starter, according to Mike Pettine.


BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns held a quarterback competition one year ago that did nobody any good.

Brian Hoyer refused to take a day off coming off knee surgery and pressed, and Johnny Manziel’s lowlight was an inappropriate gesture to the Washington Redskins bench during a preseason game.

Hoyer was given the job, but that's because neither really won it. Hoyer got it nearly by default.

This season, as the Browns practice for the second time with the media watching, coach Mike Pettine has tried to soften any notion of a competition.

He said 36-year-old Josh McCown will take first-team reps in the offseason and would enter training camp as the starter. He even added it would be fair to say that McCown would be the starter in the season opener in New York against the Jets as well.

Manziel will get his reps and chances but, unlike a year ago, there is no open competition or doubt about the starter.

What does that mean to McCown?

"More than anything, for me, I just believe it takes away from any kind of distraction that you can have and the team can just move in one direction, regardless of who that guy is,” McCown said.

McCown said he agrees with that approach.

“It’s helpful to just say, 'This is our guy until something happens and he's not our guy,’” McCown said.

Since 1999, the Browns have had several quarterback competitions. None have worked. Included:

  • 2014: Hoyer and Manziel
  • 2012: Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy. This was hardly a competition. The Browns basically gave the job to Weeden when he was drafted and waited until a point in camp when they felt confident he could handle the job.
  • 2009: Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Quinn “won” the job, but lasted 10 quarters before he was yanked for Anderson.
  • 2003: Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch. Holcomb won the job based on Butch Davis’ "gut feeling." Each got eight starts and the Browns finished 5-11.

The old statement is that a team that holds a quarterback competition lacks a true starter. Pettine tried to disprove that notion last season, stating often he did not agree.

But quarterback competitions rarely help a team. Players split reps, with the emphasis on winning the job instead of developing in the job. The team can become divided about which player should start. The media focuses on it.

The Browns were the living example last season of why a quarterback competition usually helps nobody.

As Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said this offseason: "The quarterback competition: Where has it worked? It doesn't get you wins."

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The discussion about Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel's weekend at the Byron Nelson Golf Classic was occasionally intense in Cleveland on Monday.

Though much of the city's sports community is focused on the NBA Finals, there was some time for Manziel discussion.

Two viewpoints seemed to emerge. The one that Manziel lives in a bubble unlike any we've seen in a long time, with his every move watched and scrutinized. There also is the viewpoint Manziel helped create that bubble and then cries foul when the bubble works against him.

Saturday's incident -- in which Manziel responded to a badgering fan by throwing a water bottle -- re-energized the discussion of Manziel's future with the Browns.

It's hard to remember the last time a backup quarterback brought such polar opposite feelings and reactions. People love him intensely, or want him gone.

I opined immediately after the 2014 season that the Browns should let him go, that he wasn't worth the trouble he was giving them.

That, thogh, was before Manziel spent 10 weeks in rehab. When a guy volunteers to go to rehab, he deserves a fair chance.

Many seemed to feel the same way, until Saturday.

On Twitter, I asked for some reactions. In just more than an hour I got 46. While this is hardly a scientific poll, it does reflect some of the thinking.

In support: 47.8 percent
Against: 30.4 percent
Neutral, or folks who said what happened was meaningless: 21.7 percent.

Based on the numbers I received, three in 10 think it's time to let Manziel go. Turn that around and just short of 70 percent stand by Manziel, or feel what happened in Texas was not worth the coverage it received.

Here's a sampling of answers:

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