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ATN Film Room: Can Manziel lead Browns?

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Cleveland's season didn't start according to plan.

After putting Josh McCown under center all offseason, the Browns saw their veteran starter knocked out with a head injury 13 minutes into the new campaign.

Thrusting Johnny Manziel onto the field, Cleveland's coaching staff was forced to attack a stingy Jets defense with an inexperienced quarterback who missed the last half of the preseason with elbow soreness.

With McCown still mired in the league's concussion protocol, Manziel will get his first start of the year this Sunday at home against the Tennessee Titans.

What can we expect based on how he performed against the Jets?

The Good


Even his first pass suggested changes to Manziel's preparation and execution.

On second-and-13, out of the gun, Johnny stood in the pocket despite linebacker Trevor Reilly coursing in off the edge. With an instant to react, Manziel works to set his feet and uncork the ball to an open Jim Dray:

He needs to step into more of his throws, but the footwork is cleaner than what we saw last season against the Panthers:

Against New York, he used his feet three plays later on third-and-4, escaping a diving Demario Davis behind a crumbling Browns line to scamper for 22 yards to the Jets' 17. Manziel showed good vision in open space, leaving Antonio Cromartie in the dust and wisely sliding before taking a hit. Coaches Film shows all four Cleveland targets well-covered. Under pressure, Manziel made a wise decision, although a flag wiped out the play:

One snap later, Manziel -- sore elbow and all -- showed solid arm strength with this on-the-money toss to Travis Benjamin. It was a quick-decision throw to a wideout who had Cromartie easily beat in coverage with the safety out of place:

Let's look at one more play where Manziel stays home in the pocket. All four targets are covered out of the chute, but Johnny waits patiently for his tight end to break free. Gary Barnidge drops the ball, but this marks progress from a young quarterback who danced around a year ago:

Where the team essentially balanced two playbooks in 2014 -- one for Manziel and another for Brian Hoyer -- Browns play-caller John DeFilippo said Thursday that he "didn't change the game plan one bit" once Johnny took the field, adding: "That's a credit to him."

"If you didn't notice a change in Johnny Manziel, then I don't know," said DeFilippo. "Did he run when the lane was there? Yeah. Did we get down and was he trying to do a little bit too much at times? Probably. I think that just comes with the maturation of understanding situational football. You can't get two scores back on one drive, and I think the more he plays and the more he learns those things, the better he'll get."

More work to do


Manziel didn't have the preseason reps to get into rhythm with his targets. Browns pass-catchers dropped three balls against the Jets, while Cleveland committed an outrageous 12 penalties and struggled to block New York's intense front line.

Johnny walked into a tough situation, but he also left points on the board. He could have put the Browns up by a touchdown with more finesse on this high-pitched ball to an open Andrew Hawkins in the end zone:

His lone interception came off a poor decision. With Marcus Williams blanketing Brian Hartline along the sideline, Manziel puts the ball where Hartline has no shot at it -- but Williams does:

An equal concern: Manziel's ball-control issues in open space. He lost a pair of fumbles, the first on a scramble and the second on a sack. These giveaways sealed the game for New York. No NFL starter can hand away possessions like this and keep his job.

What's Next?


At just under 6-feet, Manziel's size is a concern. He looks faster to me than he did last season. He also comes across as a completely different player. There was less freelancing and more of a commitment to stay home in the pocket and make a throw.

Johnny's mobility also hurt the Jets and will remain a nightmare for defenses if he wisely uses his feet. The question is whether he has the build, the durability and the arm strength to last multiple NFL seasons.

"Coach Landry taught me something when I was a very young coach trying to make my way. He said, 'If you start taking exceptions, pretty soon you're going to have a team full of exceptions,'" Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells told Colin Cowherd of FOX Sports on Wednesday.

"Johnny Manziel is an exception. Now, he's a fan favorite, he's like a mascot player. You know, the fans root for him, he creates excitement and there have been, in a couple of cases, guys like (Fran) Tarkenton and even Russell Wilson to an extent that have been very successful in doing this. But they're a very, very minute percentage group."

By all accounts, Manziel has committed himself to growing as an NFL passer. It shows. It's up to him whether he wants to be remembered as a "mascot" or one of the rare exceptions to the rule.

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