BEREA: Mental notes to self during 15 minutes of Browns practice Saturday, the first glimpses of Johnny Manziel the media got to see:
“Do I waste time tweeting or actually pay attention?”
“My cellphone camera is not going to cut it. Any way to expense an iPad?”
“A Jay-Z tune during warm-ups. Did Johnny pick the playlist?”
That’s how Manziel Mania began as “Johnny Football” went through drills during rookie minicamp at the Browns’ fieldhouse in Berea. Only Northeast Ohio media were permitted to attend, and about 40 stood behind the end zone waiting for something significant to happen.
Of course, nothing did. The best thing Manziel said was admitting #wreckthisleague, trending on Twitter, was not what he texted Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains before he was drafted. But the presence of the larger-than-life Texas A&M quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner seemed significant enough.
My first impression that had something to do with football was how small Manziel looked. Taken 22nd overall, Manziel is listed as 6 feet and 210 pounds, but even in shorts the 26 rookies and 35 tryout players (ex-Ohio State linebacker Larry Grant among them) dwarfed him. Physically, the beast in the room was running back Terrance West, the third-round pick from Towson, whose solid frame and bulging biceps could not be missed.
Manziel’s first play (that we witnessed) was a handoff to West. Alternating with quarterbacks Connor Shaw of South Carolina and Corey Robinson of Troy, Manziel completed all three of his passes to running backs. The Browns moved on to receiver routes as the media’s 15 minutes ended at 11:05 a.m.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, in an orange sweater and jeans, stood at midfield alongside coach Mike Pettine, and Haslam never stopped talking. In warm-ups, Loggains, whose interview with an Arkansas radio station Thursday revealed how involved Haslam was in the Manziel pick, sidled up to a staffer, but it wasn’t offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Comments from the media were the best part of practice. Some gems:
“He’s so tiny.” “He does everything with a swagger, even walk.” “Can you imagine if they let the national media in here? I’d be standing on your shoulders.” “There’s never been such stretching.” “This is Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan practice in Norway.”
When he reached the podium afterward, Manziel gamely tried to explain his worldwide popularity.
“The success we had and the style of play in college, our offense, the excitement we brought to college football the past couple years, we won, that factors in a lot,” Manziel said. “Some of the things I did off the field where I was a little reckless at times might have factored into it as well, making me popular with younger guys. More than anything probably the style of play … it was fun to watch A&M play. We were always on TV. Then with social media, it’s easier nowadays to expand — I don’t know if brand is the right word — who I was as an athlete.”
Pettine expertly fielded questions about Loggains’ interview, how the selection of Manziel transpired and the Manziel phenomenon despite the distraction of the fieldhouse door going up and down like a garage door on steroids. A staffer went over to hit the off switch, but there was none. When he finished, Pettine mentioned the noise.
“We’re well aware of the persona, we’re well aware of what it brings, we’re excited about it,” Pettine said of Manziel Mania. “It’s something that we weren’t going to turn away from. We’ll ruffle some feathers with how we handle some things — I’ll apologize in advance for that. If there’s something we feel we can control that will limit the distractions, then we’re going to do it.
“It’s something I know probably won’t be the most popular thing, especially on a national level, but we also feel that the credibility of the Browns, as far as what stock we have nationally, I don’t think we’re very highly thought of given the recent history of the team, so it’s not something we’re really interested in playing into. We want to kind of bunker in, build the best football team we can build and worry about winning games in the fall.”
Pettine believes Manziel can be Johnny Football in the NFL, but said he has to earn it.
“I think he knows that is the end of the tunnel for him, but he still has to travel through that tunnel,” Pettine said.
A touching testament to Manziel’s drawing power came after the day’s interviews ended.
Kevin Smith of Olmsted Falls and son Aiden, 7, walked to the gate of the Browns’ practice fields and asked to take a picture. They’d just come from FirstEnergy Stadium, where Smith bought Aiden a Manziel jersey as a gift for his first communion last week.
There was no one around. So in a rare moment of calm before the storm, the Browns let them in briefly to make a memory.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.