October 23, 2014

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Brian Dulik: Picking Johnny Manziel proves new Browns regime not interested in doing things the same old way

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reacts after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reacts after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In one frantic moment Thursday night, the Browns and Johnny Manziel consummated a match made in football heaven.

The perennially downtrodden — and painfully dull — franchise gave itself a jolt of electricity by picking “Johnny Football” with the 22nd overall selection in the NFL Draft.

It was nothing short of a bold, franchise-altering move by Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam III and general manager Ray Farmer. And regardless of how it turns out long-term, it should be applauded simply for not being business as usual in Berea.

“You can ask yourself, ‘Does it feel right, Johnny Manziel being in Cleveland with the Browns?’” Manziel asked in a conference call with Browns beat writers. “Well, I’ve been a winner everywhere I’ve been.

“God had a plan for me that I knew would always work out. I truly believe that the situation did work out and I’m in the right place. To be here, it feels right. Dawg Pound, here we come.”

The Texas A&M quarterback was the most exciting college football player in years, setting passing record after passing record on the way to becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012.

Despite only playing two seasons for the Aggies, Manziel accounted for 93 touchdowns — the 10th-highest total in Southeastern Conference history — and passed for 7,820 yards in 26 games.

Though there are legitimate concerns about his 5-foot-11 height and gunslinging mentality being effective on the pro level, the Texas native has experience proving his critics wrong. He completed a stunning 69.9 percent of his passes last season while only being picked off 13 times in 429 throws.

“My style of play is, obviously, pretty exciting, but more than anything, I want to win games,” said Manziel, who was 20-6 in college. “I’m not going to say I’m an all-world player or that I’ve got it all figured out. There is room for me to grow.”

On that subject, there is no doubt.

Manziel’s arrogant personality, immaturity and off-the-field missteps are the reasons he dropped to the second half of the first round. As always, ESPN was more than happy to chronicle his freefall after building up his status for months.

While being fired as a counselor at the esteemed Manning Passing Academy doesn’t speak well for his character, Manziel’s arrest occurred largely because he was sticking up for a friend.

The NCAA also couldn’t punish him for inadvertently violating its autograph payment rules, no matter how hard it tried to smear his name, because the same scenario plays out at virtually every big-name college every year.

“I think the Browns did a very good job of asking me their due-diligence questions,” said Manziel, who will turn 22 on Dec. 6. “What they heard was actually the truth. There was never a time where I lied or shied away from a question.

“I was very honest and upfront and let my true character show. I think that alleviated some concerns with them.”

It did, according to Farmer, who said the front office zeroed in on Manziel early during the draft. When Philadelphia agreed to swap its 22nd pick for Cleveland’s 26th and 83rd selections, the time was right.

“We knew we were going to bring him to Cleveland at some point,” Farmer admitted. “When the opportunity presented itself, we took that chance.

“We liked his ability to perform and make plays. And we liked that he plays like a Brown. He’s passionate, relentless, fearless and competitive.”

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel’s production in big games is one of the QB’s top traits. He won MVP honors at the 2012 Cotton Bowl and the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl — totaling 898 passing yards, 302 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

“When we say he plays like a Brown, that’s the biggest compliment we can give him,” Pettine said.

Judging by the overwhelmingly positive reaction of Cleveland football fans, they agree.

According to a team source, the Browns sold nearly 500 season tickets after the charismatic QB was drafted. In their eyes, and in Manziel’s, the sky is truly the limit for the new-look team.

“I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say we’re going to win a championship, but we’re going to be competitive and work as hard as we can to win as many games as we can,” Manziel said.

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.

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