BEREA — Johnny Manziel, a master at evading would-be tacklers, absorbed quite a few hits in the last several days.
Coach Mike Pettine said it would be a “tall task” for him to wrestle the starting quarterback job from Brian Hoyer. Owner Jimmy Haslam expressed disappointment with his off-the-field behavior. Manziel struggled to move the offense Sunday — and was even forced to change cleats.
General manager Ray Farmer came to his defense Sunday, throwing a block for his prized rookie after the second day of training camp.
“I’ve seen a young man that came back, that appears to be prepared for competition and I think that’s what we want — guys that took the time to come back and demonstrate that they’re ready to compete to be starters in this league,” Farmer said Sunday in his first news conference since the draft. “He’s putting forth the work to try to be the starter.”
In Farmer’s first draft as a GM, he became the story of the league by trading up four spots to take Manziel at No. 22. Manziel’s electric playing style at Texas A&M made him an instant fan favorite — and the focus of the national media — but as the pictures and videos of him partying piled up during the offseason, he suffered a backlash inside and outside of Browns headquarters.
Farmer met with Manziel — whose neon-yellow cleats weren’t issued by the team — to discuss the off-the-field issues of the offseason but wouldn’t reveal the specifics. Farmer was well aware before the draft that Manziel liked to have a good time.
“Yes, I did know his off-the-field prowess, if you will, that everybody’s kind of alluding to,” Farmer said. “And like Johnny said, like Jimmy Haslam said, like Pett has said, he’s made his mistakes and that’s that. Our focus now is what happens on the field. He’s focused, he’s committed on football, he’s doing his thing here in the building and we’re excited about kinda where he’s at at the moment.
“I will tell you that before the draft there were numerous conversations with people in the building, people outside the building, people including Johnny himself. But all those conversations culminated in obviously we had a comfort level when we drafted him. If we thought that was an excessive nature of what it was going to be, then we would’ve never picked him.”
Farmer isn’t ignoring or disrespecting Hoyer. During the offseason, Farmer said the veteran was better than the rookie by a “substantial margin.”
“Brian’s been phenomenal,” he said, referring to Hoyer’s rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. “I think 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 wasn’t very many hours that I was in the building that Brian wasn’t somewhere working on his craft, be it the meeting room, be it the indoor facility, be it the weight room. He did everything he could to put himself in the best position possible. Now he’s got to go out and
Farmer wouldn’t comment on a possible contract extension for Hoyer and avoided the question when asked if he’d be surprised if Hoyer didn’t start Week 1 in Pittsburgh.
“I would say everybody’s going to get their opportunities,” Farmer said. “Brian right now is working with the ones and as he goes, that’s what’ll happen. We definitely have meetings every single day about who’s doing what, how well they’re performing and who needs to get more reps in what situations.
“As we move through with that, Coach will make those decisions. We’ll all have input, and we’ll see what happens when the movie ends.”
Hoyer recovered from an average day Saturday with an effective session Sunday.
“The guy’s a pro. If you watch how he attacked all of it, his rehab, his mental state, all of it, he has been professional,” Farmer said. “You can see it. One bad day doesn’t make or break it. It’s consistency that makes you win in the National Football League.
“Guys have great games and you never hear from them again. It’s the guy that can routinely go out and perform time and time again that we want, and Brian’s starting to show that that’s what he’s going to do.”
Part of the Manziel magic is his ability to escape trouble and improvise. Those skills aren’t necessarily highlighted in the managed setting of training camp.
“I would say that Johnny shows up fine,” Farmer said. “You watch him in practice, you watch him do what he does, the interesting part of it is that most people fall in love with the highlights because that’s what gets portrayed. Nobody really pays attention to the routine throw but he’s made routine throws. He made routine throws at Texas A&M, he’s made routine throws out here.
“So from our perspective we really like the idea that he can grow into all of the things we’re going to expect him to do.”
Farmer touched on a number of other topics:
The suspect receiving corps that is expected to be without All-Pro Josh Gordon, who faces a suspension.
“I like our receiving corps,” Farmer said. “You want to drive the competition. We want guys in here that we think can play and be competitive and contribute to be starters.
“We are always looking to add, always looking to incrementally get better.”
Is he comfortable if this is the group to open the regular season?
“Assuming they perform and they demonstrate that they’re worth being on this football team, absolutely,” Farmer said. “I think that’s what it comes down to. They’re all going to have to go out and perform when it comes time to play in games and preseason games and consistently perform in practice.”
Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 pick in the draft.
“I think Justin Gilbert’s been good,” Farmer said. “He came in, he crushed the run test. I think he’s looked good while he’s been out here. He made a break the first day and he’s like all the young players, he’s learning to get better day by day. He’s taken to coaching, he’s engaged in the meetings and so we’re excited about where he can go.”
The improvement of the roster since he took over in February.
“My job and my role here is to try to improve the talent on this football team,” he said. “I think we did that. To what degree, I’ll let you guys judge. I think I’m always looking to get better. The movie’s never over.”
Life as a GM.
“I’m good. It’s been good,” he said. “Pett and I meet routinely. We’re enjoying the journey together, I think that’s what it’s about. Our organization is moving in a direction where we’re excited about what the future could hold. But again we realize that it is a process. We’re just going to work, have fun in the moment and enjoy it.”