BEREA—Is Johnny Manziel starting to make a move?
Manziel might have had his best back-to-back days of practice. Near the end of practice, Manziel threw for three touchdowns and had a near miss on a fourth, as the receiver couldn’t keep his feet inbounds. He also scrambled and was run out of bounds near the goal line.
On a touchdown pass down the middle to Rodney Smith, Pettine called it Manziel’s best play of training camp. Pettine said the biggest progression in Manziel’s game has been the mental aspect.
"Some of its physical but I would say the majority of it is the mental part of it, understanding protections,” Pettine said. “The one play he made where defense was a heavy blitz look he walked up, changed the protection, stepped up in the pocket and threw a touchdown pass.
“That was probably, start to finish, his best play of camp. But it just typified his- it was more preparation than anything else. I just think he has so much more of an intimate knowledge of what we're doing."
Beside the pass to Smith, Manziel also threw a swing pass to Shaun Draughn for a touchdown and Josh Lenz couldn’t get his feet inbounds in the back of the end zone on another play. He also threw a pass that Shane Wynn made a diving catch for a score later on.
Manziel said he feels he’s starting to understand what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.
“It has been good,” Manziel said. “It has been a solid progression of getting better from day 1 to where we are now. I think that is all you can really ask for. I know from the quarterback position the comfort level in the room – we all are getting more comfortable as the day goes on and that is a good thing for all of us."
Manziel thinks he’s had two of his best practice days but there’s still room for improvement.
"Yeah better, but I still feel coming off the field the last couple of days that I am still leaving some things there that I want to do better,” he said. “Like I said it is a night and day difference from last year. It is night and day from the first day even coming out here. I am pleased with the progression of getting better and coming out some of these days and having a high completion percentage and getting the ball where it needs to go. There are little things that are keeping me from taking another step. We have another week until the preseason game. These preseason games will be a good test to really evaluate that in a game setting."
Pettine said he sees the consistency starting to come with Manziel.
"Absolutely,” he said. “When you come in everyday with a great attitude and you work and it's important to you, you can't help but get better. I'm just happy for him that he's getting the results on the field and the guys around him sense that as well"
Pettine said that Josh McCown will get the starter’s reps with the first team in the Orange & Brown scrimmage in Columbus but that Manziel will get some work with the first team, as well.
"The quarterback rotation will- we'll get Josh some reps, but maybe not as many as the others,” Pettine said. “You'll probably see Johnny out there with the ones. I don't know if they've totally etched that into stone but that was the direction that we were heading. All of the coaches submitted their plan for their guys and it's up to coordinators to put that together. I think that's tentatively, now, what the plan is."
Pettine said not to read too much into Manziel running with the first team.
"You want to mix up the reps,” he said. “Josh will not go with the twos. Guys that are competing to be your number two quarterback, unfortunately and it happens every season in the NFL you just have to go out and play with that group. You don't want the first time that he's out there with that group of guys to be in a game.
“I wouldn't read too much into it that he's going with the ones,” he said. “Josh, right now is firmly the one but don't be surprised at some point during camp if you see maybe Thad (Lewis), maybe even Connor (Shaw) with that group as well."
Manziel said if he gets some reps with the first team he will take it in stride.
"We will see,” he said. “I just kind of go with the flow and whatever Coach Pett and Coach Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) say. If that is what he said then we will handle it as needed. It will be good to get in there with those guys. I have been taking some reps in walk-thru's with them and stuff like that. I wouldn't make a huge deal about it, but to get in and get some reps with those guys is always good."
Manziel said he might have put too much emphasis on being the starter in his rookie season.
"I'm definitely not getting caught up or enamored with the whole starter, backup role,” he said. “When it comes down to through the preseason if I can go out and show what I can do and show that I'm improving, I want to do that. I want to show that I can really go out and play and that I'm making improvements and I'm making strides to get better.
“From there on Coach Pett (head coach Mike Pettine), everybody else, they make that call,” he said. “I'm deferring to coach Pett on that and not getting too caught up in it because I think last year that was probably a little bit of my problem as well, getting caught up in the starters and the reps with the ones and the backup and all this. I'd never really been a backup before so, this year I'm definitely just trying to take a different approach and if I take care of my business and show that I'm getting better and go out in the preseason and play well then who knows what will happen."
Manziel said he’s happy with his progress, but knows he has a ways to go. He also likes the atmosphere around him in year two compared to his rookie season.
"100 percent,” he said. “So nice. I think me and Coach (Mike) Pett were joking about it yesterday. It is nice to come out here and wear any kind of shoes I want and that is not the main story the next day. I don't have to have this, this and this. It is funny and we can look back on it now and laugh a little bit.
“Expectations in my corner and the hype and everything is a little bit tempered and down, and that for me is a good thing,” he said. “Now, I can come out and play and do my game and really get to learn. That is what I needed to do. I just needed to learn, be patient with this and the thing I am struggling with now is not to be too hard on myself. There are going to be some aches and bumps here, but when we go in, in the afternoon we are learning a lot from what is happening on the field, which is a great thing."