BEREA—Most Browns fans knew it was coming.
Many thought it would be over a year ago, while some thought it might never happen.
Johnny Manziel was officially named the starter for the remainder of the season by Mike Pettine on Tuesday. The road to Manziel becoming the Browns starter has been quite rocky. After the Browns traded up to draft Manziel with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, many thought he would be the starter sooner-than-later in his rookie year.
However, when his time came in relief of Brian Hoyer, Manziel fell flat on his face in his first start at FirstEnergy Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns lost 30-0 and Manziel was just 10-of-18 for 80 yards with two interceptions. He started the next week against Carolina and suffered a season-ending injury to his hamstring in the next game. Manuel’s rookie season ended 18-of-35 for 175 yards (51.4 pct.) with no touchdowns and two interceptions and a paltry rating of 42.0.
His rookie season was littered with off the field distractions and spent 10 weeks after the season in a rehab facility for substance abuse. The Browns went out and signed Josh McCown to be the starting quarterback and he played above many peoples expectations. McCown is 165-of-254 for 1,897 yards (65 pct.) with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. His rating is among the tops in the NFL at 95.2.
However, McCown suffered injuries to his ribs that caused him to miss the last two games. With the Browns mired in a 2-8 season, Pettine said it was time to make the move and usher in the Manziel era at quarterback, with the caveat that it might just be for the rest of the season.
“I think the performance against Pittsburgh validated for us the progress that he’s made and shown and he deserves the opportunity,” Manziel said. “Also Josh’s circumstances being what they are and not being entirely healthy, at least in the short term.
“It’s something we realized where our season is and this is a kid that we’ve invested a lot in and this gives us an opportunity to see how far he’s come and what he’s capable of.”
Coming of a 372 yard performance on 33-of-45 attempts, Manziel is excited about his chance to finally be the Browns starter.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Manziel said. “I was a little caught off guard watching film this morning and Coach Pettine came in and grabbed me. I was very excited and it’s a great opportunity of me and looking forward to providing a spark and more than anything we need some wins and that’s what I told him.
“No matter what happens, whether this is for next year or whatever, we need to get some wins.”
Pettine said he and the coaching staff are just looking for progress from Manziel.
“Progress," Pettine said. "I thought he took, it was well documented we talked about it after the game, took a big step forward in a lot of the small details of quarterback play. It’s as simple as that for us, just to continue to get better. He did some good things but there’s some things that can be improved upon. Each week presents a new challenge and he has to be able to react to how a defense is playing him and be able to play within a game plan, the structure of it and stay tight to that. Bottom line, just progress.”
Manziel echoed his coaches sentiments.
“I just think I need to continue to show progress.”
Pettine and coaches in general, always say they’re going to play the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win. Pettine was asked if he felt that was the case and indicated that Manziel has closed the gap significantly on McCown.
“Based on the way he played against Pittsburgh, what he showed, his ability to make plays in the pocket and outside of the pocket that I think the difference in maximizing our chances to win is negligible," he said. "You’re not going to hold me down and I’m going to choose one over the other but that gap is very small.
“I think the performance against Pittsburgh I think validated for us the progress that he’s made, the improvement that he’s shown and that he deserves this opportunity," Pettine said. "Also just Josh’s (McCown) circumstances being what they are, not being entirely healthy at least in the short term. It’s something that we understand where our season is at this point and this is a kid we invested a lot in. This will give us an opportunity to see how far he’s come and what he’s capable of.”
Pettine said the decision to switch to Manziel now wasn’t as tough as he thought it might be.
“I wouldn’t say it was extremely difficult. When you look at all the factors involved and for what I just say, where we are right now from a record standpoint. I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It didn’t take five seconds. We discussed everything like I said, everything was put on the table and it clearly made the most sense.
Pettine tends to wait on announcing decisions, but said he didn’t feel the need to wait any longer as Manziel will play his first game as the official starter on Monday Night Football against the Ravens on Nov. 30.
“We were at that point where we were having lengthy discussions about the entire roster and making some decisions moving forward," Pettine said. "We made it, didn’t feel the need to sit on it.”
Manziel is excited to get the start on Monday Night Football.
“Coach Pettine said I couldn’t ask for a better stage,” Manziel said.
Manziel said he feels he has the support of his teammates.
“I get a good sense that I have their back they have my back,” he said. “They see a different look in my eye this year and I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and football this year. I think I get to go out and have an opportunity to show my progression and where I want to be and what I can do at this level.”
Pettine said he didn't look at it as Manziel is auditioning to be the long-term answer for the Browns at quarterback.
“I don’t want to look that big picture," he said. "I’ve already said it, we want to get a good sense of where he is and I think when the season’s over that you always clear the table and evaluate each position. This will allow us to have a lot more information as we assess the quarterback position moving forward.”
Bitonio "outside chance" of playing: Pettine said that OL Joel Bitonio has a chance to play agaisnt the Ravens.
“Joel’s (Bitonio) still pushing through it, potentially an outside chance for Baltimore," Pettine said. "We’ll know a little bit more as the week goes on."
DB Joe Haden, DB Donte Whitner, WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Andrew Hawkins are still in the concussion protocol.
"They’re improving, there’s no setbacks but still you have to go through the process."
DL Randy Starks injured his knee against the Steelers.
"Starks tweaked the knee," he said. "It was nothing serious but still this close removed from the game we still don’t have a great feel for how that’s going to play out.”