BEREA: Before rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel steps onto the field for his first NFL practice this weekend, coach Mike Pettine said the Browns will discuss how to handle him.
Hopefully the Browns realize handling him and coaching him are entirely different things.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones best captured the crush of attention and media madness in store as he discussed the conclusion they had too much invested in Tony Romo to select Manziel 16th overall on Thursday. The Browns grabbed him at No. 22, with Pettine saying Manziel will compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting job in training camp.
“It’s not the usual development guy behind an accomplished quarterback,” Jones told the Cowboys media. “He’s a celebrity. He’s Elvis Presley.”
The Browns have had players who needed handling before. The task of putting out fires created by tight end Kellen Winslow wore out the assistant public relations director assigned to him. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards needed similar attention, right down to help picking out his cologne and straightening his tie on Sunday nights in the locker room as he prepared to hit the town. I still remember the scene when Edwards realized he’d brought one brown and one black sock for his post-game ensemble.
But Winslow and Edwards weren’t Elvis. They weren’t keeping TMZ.com’s sports division in business. Their pictures weren’t splashed all over Twitter and Instagram. Edwards may have loved the nightlife more than Manziel, but Edwards only longed for Manziel’s rock star status.
The Browns will have to monitor social media and stay on top of what’s floating in the Internet universe about Manziel so Pettine isn’t blindsided. That’s a job in itself.
But that’s just the beginning. An onslaught is in store that the Browns’ public relations department is not equipped to handle.
What used to be a meaningless rookie minicamp will draw huge media interest on Saturday and Sunday. So, too, will training camp and preseason games. Manziel’s first training camp practice in late July will be Goodyear blimp-worthy. National NFL writers who have skipped Berea, Ohio, on recent summer tours will no longer. Even Manziel’s friends LeBron James and rapper Drake might show up.
The press box at the home opener Sept. 14 against the New Orleans Saints may feel like the Super Bowl. Writers and television networks will want private, sit-down interviews with Manziel.
The Browns need one public relations staffer to handle interview requests to avoid scheduling overlaps and miscommunication. But one won’t be enough.
The Browns also need a veteran public relations executive to be Manziel’s liaison. He or she needs to rule with a firm hand, telling Manziel how it works in the NFL and what’s expected of him. He or she needs to be someone Manziel will respect. That will be even more important with a player like Manziel, already criticized for his sense of entitlement.
It will be a thankless job, if the New England Patriots scouting report on Manziel leaked to BroBible.com is legitimate. It said the support staff members at Texas A&M were “sick of [Manziel] and ready for him to go.”
But the Browns must find someone, and fast. They can’t make the same mistake with Manziel the Cavs did with James. If James didn’t want to talk, the Cavs didn’t push. They put up with his entourage, his moods, his post-game interviews that sometimes started an hour after the final horn.
There will be other issues to consider. At training camp, the practice fields at Berea may not be big enough to handle the crush of fans who will want to catch a glimpse of Manziel and try to get his autograph. Quarterback Bernie Kosar used to draw crowds of 6,000 at Lakeland Community College and that was the 1980s. In the Browns’ most recent camp setup, hundreds may have to be turned away every day. They could practice at FirstEnergy Stadium and probably average 10,000.
Pettine was with the New York Jets for Tim Tebowmania in 2012, although Pettine said he was isolated as defensive coordinator and “didn’t really get the scope of it.”
But after four years with the Jets, Pettine may have more of an idea of what Manziel’s celebrity will bring than General Manager Ray Farmer.
“I don’t think that it’s difficult to handle,” Farmer said Saturday. “You have to have a game plan and a strategy. People have created this swell around him, and part of our job is to help him deal with that in a professional manner.
“I’ve had conversations with him; I know others have had conversations with him. He’s maturing in a way that, hopefully, he’s going to learn how to deal with these things on his own, and he won’t need anyone to help him guide the ship. Nonetheless, I think that’s part of my role, that’s part of our role as an organization is to help these guys truly become pros.”
Farmer may have been talking about Manziel’s behavior outside Berea, not inside Browns headquarters, about getting caught by the paparazzi swilling out of a champagne bottle and not about studying his playbook. Presumably the changes that need to be made in the organization with Manziel’s arrival will fall under the umbrella of Browns President Alec Scheiner, not Farmer.
But Manziel will need someone to help him guide the ship. And with what Farmer deemed “the legend of Johnny Football,” one strong captain might not be enough.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.