BEREA: In one week, Johnny Manziel dropped from the top spot on the quarterback depth chart to No. 3 without the Browns playing a game.
The demotion is a result of coach Mike Pettine becoming fed up with Manziel after a video and photographs surfaced online Monday showing the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft partying in nightclubs in Austin, Texas.
Pettine announced his decision to start Josh McCown in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. Austin Davis will serve as McCown’s primary backup, and Manziel will be third in the pecking order.
Both Pettine and McCown said the veteran is healthy enough to start next week when the Browns (2-8) host the Baltimore Ravens (3-7) on Monday Night Football. McCown, who’s 1-6 as a starter this season, sat out the past two games with a rib injury suffered Oct. 25.
“Josh McCown will be the starting quarterback on Monday night against the Ravens,” Pettine said in the statement. “I informed the quarterbacks of that decision after I sat down and spoke with Johnny, [offensive coordinator John DeFilippo] and [quarterbacks coach] Kevin [O’Connell] after practice today. Johnny will be the third quarterback. I’ve spoken to [General Manager] Ray [Farmer] and [owner] Jimmy [Haslam] to inform them of my decision, and they are in full support.
“Everyone in this organization wants what is best for Johnny just like we do for every player in our locker room. I’m especially disappointed in his actions and behavior because he has been working very hard. The improvements from last year to this year have been tremendous, but he still has to consistently demonstrate that he has gained a good understanding of what it takes to be successful at the quarterback position on this level. It goes well beyond the field. We are going to continue to support him in every way possible, but at this point, we’ve decided it’s best to go with Josh as the starter going forward.”
Hints of decision
Pettine foreshadowed the decision after Tuesday’s practice.
“Disappointing — very,” Pettine said when asked about the actions of Manziel, who spent more than 10 weeks this past offseason in an inpatient rehabilitation facility specializing in alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
“It’s a little easier to handle when it’s a one-time occurrence. But when the behavior repeats — and not just him, with anybody — certainly it’s a cause for concern.”
Pettine said on his coach’s show the recent five-day, bye-week break essentially served as a test for Manziel. When Manziel failed the test, Pettine decided to strip him of the starting job he had been handed last week.
“We all know what happened and what got put out there, and it’s led to much disappointment, frustration, however you want to term it,” Pettine said Tuesday on the Browns’ radio network. “It was something that we felt had violated the trust that we had put in him before the bye coming out of the [Nov. 15] Pittsburgh game, and it was the decision we made as a result of it.”
Benching Manziel, 22, could have a profound impact on his future with the Browns. The final six games this season were supposed to serve as his audition for next year because the franchise will likely be armed with a top draft pick and could use it on a quarterback.
Manziel is 1-4 as an NFL starter, including 1-2 this season. He has completed 59.4 percent of his passes this year with five touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 88.4.
When Pettine told Manziel on Nov. 17 he would replace McCown as the starter, the coach discussed the former Heisman Trophy winner’s off-field conduct with him. Manziel, who was coming off a career-high 372 passing yards in a 30-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, promised Pettine he wouldn’t do anything to embarrass the organization during its bye and later echoed the vow to reporters before the team departed.
“The conversations that we had, and I’m not going to go into details, it adds to [the disappointment],” Pettine said, adding he watched the video in which Manziel holds a large bottle while singing and dancing in a nightclub.
Manziel spoke to a few reporters Monday during a community event at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, but he didn’t address the media Tuesday.
He suggested the video could be old, though he declined to comment further when asked if the footage is old.
“I haven’t seen it, so I can’t speak on it,” Manziel said.
The Browns obviously know Manziel was indeed partying during their brief vacation.
According to BustedCoverage.com and TMZ.com, Manziel partied Thursday and Friday at Austin hot spots. BustedCoverage.com posted two photographs from social media in which Manziel posed with revelers, and TMZ.com cited unnamed “witnesses” who said Manziel was drinking.
Manziel’s rampant partying last year led him to rehab in January. A similar pattern has seemingly developed lately.
For example, Manziel told Avon police he and girlfriend Colleen Crowley were drinking about four hours before officers questioned them roadside about their infamous, in-car fight on Oct. 12. The NFL announced Nov. 17 it did not find sufficient evidence to punish Manziel for his altercation with Crowley under its personal conduct policy.
He was also photographed with partygoers the weekend of Nov. 7 during a trip back to his old stomping grounds at Texas A&M University.
“You spend that much time with somebody, there is genuine concern,” McCown said Tuesday. “You just want people to make healthy choices.
“If it doesn’t seem like that’s the case, then I think as a teammate and just like I would do with any other close friends in my life, you just go, ‘How can I serve them? How can I help them?’ And if you feel like you’re doing that, then what other area or what other plan of attack can you take to do more if need be?”
Pettine declined to comment on whether he thought Manziel needed more professional help like rehab.
“I’m not prepared to answer that at this time,” he said.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz conceded it’s “a little bit” frustrating to deal with Manziel’s roller-coaster ride of a life.
“If he’s still fighting that stuff and it’s affecting his performance or his preparation or anything like that, I think that’s where it gets to be an issue,” Schwartz said. “I think that’s kind of what people focus on ... if he’s still out doing that. Even though it’s bye week, I’m sure other guys were [partying], but with his past and trying to do the cleaner look and lifestyle, they kind of think that maybe he reverted back to college or the stuff last year. Hopefully he’s got it under control. Hopefully, it was just bye week. He had five days. It’s hard to know.”
Manziel’s lifestyle affected his job during a disastrous rookie season, but Pettine and others in the organization have repeatedly insisted he has done all the right things when he’s been with the Browns this year. When he’s away from the team, it’s a different story.
“He’s done everything that’s asked as far as meetings and studying and trying to improve as a quarterback. I think we’ve seen that,” McCown said. “There are obviously things away from the facility that maybe people aren’t pleased with and maybe need to get cleaned up. I think it’s a work in progress. But I feel like I always see and believe the good in people. There’s some youth involved in some of the decision making that might not be the best, but I certainly don’t count him out by any stretch.”
Although the Browns can provide Manziel with support, Schwartz is among those who believe only Manziel can help himself.
“You can only provide so much support for a guy,” he said. “You have to trust him. He’s an adult. He’s got his own actions in his hands. You can’t really force a guy to have a handler all the time. I think it’s something that he’s trying to prove to the organization his value and that he can be a long-term answer. ... It’s something that probably needs to get cleaned up, and I don’t really know the solution.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.