BEREA: When the Browns hired Mike Pettine as their coach this past January, he probably didn’t think he would reference an inflatable swimming pool raft in a news conference following the first practice of mandatory minicamp.
But rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel set up that unpredictable scenario this past weekend by continuing to, as he puts it, live his life to the fullest.
The 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Manziel fled to Austin, Texas, on Friday to embark on a series of adventures. A photograph of him drinking from a big bottle of alcohol atop an inflatable swan at a lounge and sports bar called Rio Austin went viral. Manziel also was captured on a TMZ.com video frolicking in Rio’s rooftop pool with a woman and the now-famous swan Sunday before attending Game 2 of the NBA Finals, where he rooted for friend and business partner LeBron James while wearing a Cavaliers hat.
It was the third consecutive weekend in which Manziel, who was also drafted Saturday in the 28th round of the MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, has enjoyed the nightlife in another city. He created a stir by partying in Las Vegas during Memorial Day weekend. The next week, he was in Los Angeles for the NFL Players Association Rookie Premiere and was caught on camera entering a nightclub to rendezvous with friend and famous rapper Drake.
Pettine wasn’t concerned about Manziel’s Vegas vacation, and he insisted Tuesday that he’s not worried about Johnny Football’s persistent partying, either.
“I’m not concerned,” Pettine said. “I would become concerned if it was something criminal, and I would be concerned if it affected his job. I think there’s a lot of our guys if when they leave here, if they were followed around you’d get some very similar pictures. I don’t know about an inflatable swan, but you’d still get some pictures.
“He doesn’t want his lifestyle or how he lives it to be affected by social media. [He’s not going to say], ‘I’m not leaving my house.’ I don’t think he wants to be that way, and it just goes back to one, we’re not going to micromanage him until we feel that it is an issue. And if it’s not affecting him on the field, then I don’t think that it’s anything we need to address at this point.”
Manziel, 21, is competing with incumbent Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job. Because Hoyer is still limited to a toned-down version of 11-on-11 drills as he continues to rehabilitate from the torn right anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last season, Manziel took reps with the starters Tuesday in team drills. Hoyer worked with the first unit in 7-on-7 drills. They each had a highlight throw in team drills — Manziel completed a pass of about 50 yards to Anthony Armstrong and Hoyer connected with undrafted rookie Chandler Jones for about 55 yards.
Manziel, though, didn’t have a chance to defend his commitment and dedication to football after his latest excursion because the Browns shut down media access to their top two quarterbacks. A team spokesman said neither Manziel nor Hoyer would be available for interviews until the full squad reports to training camp July 25. It’s virtually unheard of for a quarterback or first-round draft pick to be shielded from reporters during mandatory minicamp.
Pettine defended the curious decision to restrict media access, citing his belief that it’s for the good of the team.
Muzzling Manziel, however, didn’t prevent his off-field behavior from dominating the post-practice conversation.
“He’s a human like everyone else,” slot receiver Andrew Hawkins said. “He’s come in here. He works his butt off Monday through Friday. Whatever’s asked of him, he does. He’s in his playbook.
“Football is intense. You’re going to have to let loose a little bit. … He’s not doing anything crazy. He’s in a pool.”
Strong safety Donte Whitner took a different tone, revealing how he pulled Manziel aside when the rookie first arrived, showed him the defensive playbook and explained that great quarterbacks know the intricacies of coverages and the tendencies of their opponents. The message was clear: Too much partying can interfere with acquiring that superb level of knowledge.
“To learn these things, you have to spend more time here than any other guy, you have to get here before everybody else, you have to leave later than everybody else and you have to ask the questions that everybody is afraid to ask, and that’s what the great quarterbacks do,” said Whitner, who played in the past three NFC Championship games as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. “And once they get advanced in years, advanced in knowledge, you’ll see guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers see one guy move and check the defense, and it’s a 60-yard play because he’s been able to sit in that meeting room when everybody else is out having fun and doing whatever they want to do.
“I think [Manziel] appreciates that. But it’s going to be up to him to do it, to get with the defensive coaches, to understand the ins and out, the weaknesses of coverages, and I believe he can do it.”
Whitner would tell Manziel to slow down if he thought his partying reached a dangerous level.
“Yeah, but I don’t think he’s out of hand with it,” Whitner said. “If he’s not out every weekend, he’s just a young guy.”
According to an ESPN.com feature published last summer, Manziel’s parents and former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin mandated he visit an alcohol counselor.
However, Manziel’s streak of partying three weekends in a row doesn’t seem to startle Pettine.
“I told him that I didn’t feel like he had to come to me every time he was going to leave town,” Pettine said. … “I was involved in an event this [past] weekend, and if there were some cameras at certain times it probably wouldn’t have been the most flattering. It was a group of coaches out and we had a good time, but we were responsible.
“When it becomes irresponsible or it becomes part of breaking the law or it’s something we feel is a potential problem, we’ll step in. … We’re going to bring in speakers, not just for the rookies, but the whole team to talk about all the issues off the field, everything from the financial issues to drugs to alcohol, to try do our best to educate those guys so they make great choices when they’re out of the building.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.