Johnny Manziel, the ever-popular rookie quarterback and likely the cornerstone for the Cleveland Browns’ future, is going to have to crawl before he walks.
The wunderkind is taking third-team repetitions at quarterback for the Browns at OTAs behind former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer and Tyler Thigpen.
Hoyer, who went 3-0 for the Browns last year before suffering a season-ending ACL tear, took the first-team reps, followed by Thigpen, the eighth-year journeyman.
New Browns coach Mike Pettine has been unwilling to name Manziel a starter, something that’s understandable given the complexity of NFL offenses versus those in college, particularly for rookie quarterbacks. And no one can blame Pettine for making Manziel sit and learn a bit with Hoyer on board, especially after the way he played last season under Rob Chudzinski. But in an interesting twist, he’s given the second-team reps to Thigpen, a nod to the 30-year-old’s experience—or more likely, Manziel’s inexperience.
Pettine, a defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills last season, is entrusting the development of his prized new quarterback to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, formerly with Washington. Shanahan played a pivotal role in the development of Robert Griffin III. This is a slow walk for all involved, especially because of the enormous popularity Manziel enjoys. The former Heisman winner will have to prove that Hoyer (57 of 96 passing, 615 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions in 2013) can easily be disposed. Thigpen, who has experience in the Pistol offense according to NFL.com’s Marc Sessler, may be getting the veteran bump here.
But let’s not kid ourselves. With the No. 22 pick overall, and with jersey sales through the roof, the Browns are likely guarding against Manziel’s ego more than his talent. With a new coaching staff for everyone involved, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to win the starting job in 2014. The Browns just don’t want Manziel to think he doesn’t have to work for it, something Pettine and Shanahan have every right to guard against.