Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel defended his choice to party in Las Vegas this past weekend and insisted the trip doesn’t have any affect whatsoever on his commitment to an NFL career.
“I don’t live my life according to you guys [in the media] or according to what other people think of me,” Manziel said this afternoon following the Browns’ fifth practice of organized team activities. “I’m going to live my life to the fullest and continue to be committed to this game and committed to what I need to be doing here and trying to earn my place in this locker room with these coaches, with this organization. If I want to go out and have some fun and it doesn’t hinder what my main goals in life are, then I don’t really care what anybody has to say.”
The 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Manziel is competing with incumbent Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job. Manziel took second-team reps today behind Hoyer and first-team reps while Hoyer sat out 11-on-11 drills for precautionary reasons as he continues his comeback attempt from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last season. Last week, Manziel toiled with the third-team offense behind Hoyer and backup Tyler Thigpen.
Manziel’s critics believe his Vegas vacation proves that he cares more about being a celebrity than a starting quarterback in the NFL. They argue he should have been focused on studying his playbook instead of partying, but Manziel is convinced unwinding in his free time doesn’t mean he lacks dedication.
“I’m very surprised actually that it’s actually a story,” Manziel said. “For me, I’ve accomplished dreams of mine that I never really thought I would get a chance to be in this position. I’ve been here every day working extremely hard, coming in here every day trying to earn my place and do what I need to do. For me to get a free weekend to spend some time with friends and family of mine and just have fun and relax and get away from the grind a little bit and then come back when I’m supposed to and get back to work this week and do what I’m supposed to do, I don’t really feel that that’s a story. It was a little bit of a break for us, and I just got to go enjoy it and relax.”
The 21-year-old Manziel attended a UFC fight and mingled poolside with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, DJ Pauly D of MTV’s Jersey Shore and bikini-clad women over the weekend. Photographs of Manziel drinking alcohol went viral, and he was even caught on camera spraying champagne into a sea of dancers at a nightclub.
But Browns coach Mike Pettine defended Manziel and insisted he has no qualms about Manziel’s getaway.
“We have a saying in the NFL – as long as it doesn’t affect your job – and he’s a guy that was very proactive. He let us know that he was going [to Vegas], and my advice to him was have fun,” Pettine said today after practice. “He’s a young guy. He’s done everything that we’ve asked. The playbook has not been an issue for him. I know a big deal was made of it, but internally we have an expectation for all of our players outside of the building to act a certain way, and it’s really a non-issue. Just like anybody else, he’s a man, and we’re going to treat our guys like that until they prove that they need to be treated otherwise.”
Asked if he was bothered by the image Manziel portrayed when he sprayed champagne into a crowd, Pettine said, “I’m not going to micromanage our players outside of the building. … He didn’t do anything illegal, so to me, it’s a non-issue.”
Pettine also said he has no issue with Manziel’s commitment.
“He’s in good standing here as far as his work in the playbook, and the time that he’s been in the building, he’s been outstanding,” Pettine said. “I know a lot of our guys got out of town. That’s kind of the price tag you pay for having the reputation that he has, but it’s a non-issue for us.”
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and Pro Bowl strong safety Donte Whitner also insisted they don’t have any problem with Manziel letting loose in Vegas.
Thomas said there were probably many other NFL players in Vegas this past weekend, but they aren't under a microscope like Johnny Football.
"Not a big deal," Thomas said. "If you were doing that the night before a game then it would be a different issue, but it is the offseason. You need a chance to decompress and get your mind off of football because it’s a long haul and the season is going to be a long grind, so you need to kind of let loose a little bit when you get the chance."
Whitner said if he were Manziel's age, he would've likely joined the party.
“I’m not really bothered because I was once a guy that was 21 years old,” Whitner said. “I came into the National Football League at 20 years old, and I can guarantee you if me and Johnny came in together, I probably would’ve been in Vegas with him.
“He didn’t get into any trouble. He didn’t harm anybody. He’s here. He’s working hard. He’s in his playbook. He’s not out there making mental errors. He’s out there doing what asked of him, and that’s all that matters. I’m sure he’s going to take this as a little more fuel to the fire. He’s still in a quarterback battle right now, and it’s not a big deal.”
Click here for an expanded version of this story.