Johnny Football Is Dead. Long Live Johnny Manziel, Backup Quarterback.
Fare thee well, Johnny F—ing Football, Ye Caster of Money Signs and Subject of Many and Enduring Instagram Portraits of a Young Man Partying His Way Through the College Towns of Texas, Boy Hero of College Station and Humiliator of Saban, and Friend and Ally of Drake. In your stead stands only Johnny Manziel, the backup quarterback to 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown, of the Cleveland Browns.
That’s the takeaway of an impromptu press conference Manziel gave this afternoon following organized team activities with the Browns. Manziel—whose Johnny Football persona has led to both amazing moments, when the player on the field lived up to the hype, and great disappointment, when he stank as bad as he did in the handful of games he played in his rookie season—came out mature, focused, and reflective in describing his perspective on the game.
With that in mind, let’s meet the new Johnny Manziel, who is happy to be taking second-team reps and improving his reputation as a student of the game:
Johnny Manziel does not make money signs.
Johnny Football was the guy doing the “money sign” celebration after scoring, and Johnny Manziel—should he find himself in a position to score on an NFL field again—will not be doing that. That somehow became TMZ-worthy gossip (summer is slow and there’s only so much you can say about Rachel Dolezal), as Manziel answered a question about it in no uncertain terms: “The money sign will not be back,” he said on-camera.
He regrets having been a distraction.
Manziel has had time to contemplate the choices he’s made in his life over the past few months. He had a well-publicized and extended stint in rehab—a decision that we respect and admire—and in that time, he came to regret the fact that not only was he not as focused on improving as a quarterback as he needed to be to succeed in the NFL, but he had been a distraction for his teammates. Other Browns stars like Joe Haden and Joe Thomas—gifted players on a team that showed promise over the past two seasons—did not need to have to answer questions about Manziel’s behavior or focus, he said.
“I feel bad about that throughout the last months of my life really thinking back and seeing how much of my life outside of this field and outside of this locker room was documented. It’s not fair for Joe Haden to be having to answer questions about me every day. It’s not fair for Joe Thomas and all these guys to just continue to have questions asked about me. I don’t think that’s fair at all and I don’t want that on them.”
The Johnny Football persona took over his life.
As even the most casual social observers can note, the line between “Johnny Football,” the bratty-but-beautiful athlete whose ego continued to write checks that his talent somehow actually did manage to cash, and Johnny Manziel, the young man who needed to win football games to remain viable in the NFL, became blurred. The idea that his draft day slide last year might have humbled him into proving the doubters wrong was proved woefully incorrect, and his transition from golden boy to guy-on-his-last-chance has been sudden and stark.
Speaking at his press conference, though, Manziel was the first to pour dirt on the grave of Johnny Football, and embraced the idea of being “another player on the team.”
“I think it just overtook who I was as a person too,” Manziel said. “I think at times Johnny Football probably took over me a little bit too, and I bought into that. … I think I didn’t do my best to hush things down, push down the hype.
“I think at times I welcomed it with immaturity and just accepted that a little bit. And that’s my fault. At the end of the day everything that happened last year is not on anybody else but myself.”
He said he could not handle the hype and spotlight that focused on him and he wants to “suffocate that a little bit.” Moving forward, he wants to be conscious of the effect his presence has on his teammates.
He really likes spending time in the film room.
In the past, Manziel might have responded to on-field frustrations by blowing off some steam off the field. These days, he says, the most interesting place to him is the film room, where he can develop as a passer and understand defenses better to avoid being frustrated in the first place.
“All I’m trying to do is come out right now and do what I can to make coach Flip, Coach (Kevin) O’Connell … not turn the ball over and try to do what they want this quarterback position to do—that’s not turn the ball over, be smart with the ball, go through our progressions.
“Because of the lengthiness of it last year and because of being through it a year, it’s easier now, and now I’m focusing on ‘where’s the safety going? What’s the defense doing?’ Whereas last year I was still enamored with everything we were doing and not being able to focus on the defensive side. So just continuing to take the progression of just being a quarterback in this league to another level and just continuing to learn where things become second nature. I think that’s the biggest step for me.”
Manziel added, “This position is extremely demanding. I think even if I feel I may be doing enough, I need to continue to do more. The more time I spend in this building, the better.”
He’s happy to be working under Josh McCown.
Manziel will have time to develop and improve the mental side of his game because he’s definitely not the Browns’ starter. That job belongs to team newcomer Josh McCown, a journeyman who is a few weeks away from his thirty-sixth birthday and who is renowned for being one of the best teammates a young passer can have in the locker room. And it’s helpful, perhaps, that the two can connect on the grounds that they’re both Texans. Manziel, who was born in Tyler, describes the Jacksonville native as “from just down the street.” (The two towns are less than thirty miles apart.)
Manziel stopped short of fully embracing the backup role—he’s humble, not dead—but expressed no desire to try to poach McCown’s job. The team’s quarterback coach—Manziel’s former private tutor, Kevin O’Connell—expressed his own confidence in Manziel last week, but it’s not O’Connell’s call to make. Instead, Manziel seems to be enjoying his time in the film room watching over McCown’s shoulder. And if he picks up some of the attributes that have kept McCown employed far longer than anybody would have guessed, he may get the chance to eventually enjoy a career renaissance of his own. But it’s not likely to happen soon, and the new Johnny Manziel, backup quarterback and develping talent, seems to be okay with that.
(Screencap via NFL Now)