BEREA — Johnny Manziel has one thing figured out after his first week of NFL training camp: He isn’t in College Station anymore.
Manziel met with reporters Thursday after the fifth full-squad practice and acknowledged his practice struggles, admitted his issues picking up the intricate offense and surprised some by saying he isn’t in a rush to get on the field.
“Some ups and downs. I don’t think I have it figured out by any means,” Manziel said. “But it’s training camp, some of this stuff we’re going over for the first time.”
If he had growing pains at Texas A&M, they went away quickly. He won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman and followed with a superb sophomore season before turning pro.
“It’s a complete 180 from everything that I’ve been used to and it’s going to take time,” Manziel said of Cleveland coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system. “It’s a process coming from a spread, air-raid system in college to a pro-style system that’s very unfamiliar with me as far as terminology and routes and being under center a lot more. But it’s not something that I can’t handle and it’s something that I’m going to continue to strive and work for and try to get better at.”
Despite Manziel’s early struggles, Shanahan said he has Manziel and incumbent Brian Hoyer even on his scorecard.
“I don’t think one’s any further in front than the other,” Shanahan said. “I think they’ve both done a good job. As far as these five practices, usually one day one guy is ahead of the other and the next day the other guy does the better job.”
Manziel wasn’t emboldened by Shanahan’s update, which contradicted coach Mike Pettine’s pre-camp assessment that it would be a “tall task” for Manziel to surpass Hoyer and start Week 1 in Pittsburgh. Manziel was humble and businesslike during his 10-minute interview session.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily encouraging, but I’m not worried about one or the other being ahead,” he said. “I’m worried about me making sure I know what I need to know to get out here and execute and run the offense and not have any mistakes. Once I go through a couple of days with no mental errors or getting where I need to be every single time, then I’ll feel a lot better.
“One ahead of the other, who’s here, who’s there, that’s not really on my mind at all. Right now, it’s me vs. the playbook and there’s nothing else. You can know it, but until you really get comfortable with all the stuff, it’s still a struggle.”
Hoyer has taken all the snaps with the starting offense, but Pettine and Shanahan said they expect Manziel to work in with the first team “sooner than later.” Hoyer said Shanahan hasn’t talked about how the competition is even, and he remains determined to keep his grip on the job as he focuses on mastering the system.
“Until things are said to me, I approach it the same way,” Hoyer said. “I’m coming out here trying to get better every day and trying to be the best quarterback I can for this team.
“Those decisions will be made upstairs. The only thing I can control is the way I come out here and play, and obviously in the scrimmage and preseason games.”
Manziel’s best practice was probably opening day Saturday. Hoyer was especially sharp Sunday and followed with another good day Monday. But overall, the play of the quarterbacks and offense has been ragged.
“I think it’s been back and forth,” Shanahan said of the competition. “It’s something I don’t try to evaluate every day. It usually plays out.
“I hope one of them will make the decision easy on us. One of them will just take off and start playing really well. But it’s been going well, and I think as it gets going more and more, the competition will get tighter.”
Shanahan wants separation to happen as quickly as possible, so he has clarity and the offense can concentrate on building chemistry. But he thinks it will take time before the winner reveals himself.
“I wish it could be made tomorrow, but you’ve got a rookie quarterback and you’ve got another quarterback who’s really only played in three full NFL games and they’re both learning new offenses,” he said. “It’s early for both of them. So as small as patience as coaches tend to have, I’m fighting with myself to have more because I know it’s going to take time. You don’t want to just jump to a conclusion real quick. You’ve got to give them both a chance to get comfortable and to develop. I really hope we can get it done sooner than later, but it’s really going to be up to them.”
Manziel, who wasn’t asked about his partying for a change, may feel like a fish out of water in Shanahan’s verbose, complicated system, but Pettine has been pleased.
“He’s done a nice job with it,” Pettine said. “I would even say that he’s slightly ahead of where we thought he would be mentally.”
In a sea of unanswered questions about Manziel, one stands out for Shanahan.
“I think anytime you have a quarterback who has made a lot of plays with his feet and has won a Heisman Trophy with his feet, running around and doing the type of plays that we all enjoy watching …,” Shanahan said. “The test when you get to the NFL is a lot of times those defenses won’t allow you to do that. They’re going to keep you in the pocket.
“You’ve got to be able to do both. That can be your biggest strength, but it can also be your biggest weakness. You never want to take that away from him, but you’ve got to continue to develop as a quarterback. You’ve got to be able to do both, and if you can do both, you can be a great one.”
That’s a long way away. For now, Manziel’s taking baby steps.
“I’m not even really concerned with that,” he said of winning the job. “I want to be a team player and a guy that can help this team get better, whether it’s not playing this year, playing this year or whatever the situation may be.
“I’ll play whenever these coaches decide that I’m ready. I don’t think that there’s any rush.”