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Johnny Manziel, backup QB? No. 2 should be No. 1 in Cleveland

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Johnny Manziel may not be the future of the Cleveland Browns.

In that event, he'll have something in common with 36-year-old Josh McCown.

And McCown's kid brother, Luke, who started four games (consecutive losses) for the Browns back in '04.

And 24 other starters since Bernie Kosar was released in 1993.

Many were retreads whose greatest glories were long past (Mark Rypien in '94, Trent Dilfer in '05 and Jake Delhomme in '10 come to mind). Others were career backups, like the McCown brothers -- Josh will be making his second start for Cleveland this Sunday, one of 10 quarterbacks who've served as the Browns' starter since 2010.

The Cleveland Browns have some glorious traditions. Quarterbacking -- at least in this millennium -- is not among them.

So why go back to the future? Or, in the case of the Browns, back to the past?

Nothing against McCown. He is, by all accounts, a great guy. But he's now two seasons removed from an excellent stint he had in Chicago under Marc Trestman, renowned for his work with quarterbacks. The quarterbacks coach in Cleveland is one Kevin O'Connell, who, not coincidentally, is a great believer in Johnny Manziel and helped tutor him for the draft.

So get on with it already.

The Browns won with Johnny Manziel starting last Sunday. He threw a pair of 50-plus-yard touchdowns, one of which came after spinning away from the clutches of Brian Orakpo.

"A heck of a play," coach Mike Pettine said in the postgame interview. "He felt pressure coming from his blind spot. It was vintage Manziel."

Actually, by Pettine's own account, it was a little more than that: "One of the signs of maturity there, too, was that he kept his eyes downfield."

Vintage Manziel, with a little maturity ... Um, isn't that why you drafted him?

I will readily concede that one win does not a quarterback make. But it's a start. And it deserves another. And another. A full season of starts, actually.

You don't draft a guy in the first round not to play him. Going into the season, of the eight first-round quarterbacks drafted since 2012, Manziel was the only one who didn't have 10 or more starts as a rookie.

Every game, all season

The year before, guys like Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were rookie starters. It's difficult to argue that Manziel -- despite the foibles of his rookie year -- doesn't have more upside now than those guys had then.

When you draft a first-round quarterback, you've got to let him be imperfect -- on the field. It's the only apprenticeship that really matters. And it's the only way the team can really know. If the Browns were willing to play Brandon Weeden -- which was the right call, of course -- they should do the same with Manziel. Again, there's only one way to know.

Missing on a first-rounder can set your franchise back. But not playing him can set you back more.

Yes, the arguments against Manziel are abundantly clear, the most immediate of them summarized in that spectacular phrase, "ball security." He's fumbled four times in two games. Of course, he's not the only quarterback with this issue (see: Luck, Andrew).

Then there's the presumption against shorter quarterbacks. It's worth noting, then, that in the Super Bowl era, three quarterbacks listed at six feet or shorter wound up in Pro Football Hall of Fame: Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson and Fran Tarkenton. Another's on the way: Drew Brees. Four such quarterbacks have won Super Bowls: Dawson, Joe Theismann, Brees and Russell Wilson.

Still, while those arguments have merit, they aren't quite the point. Let's be honest: The real question with Johnny Manziel isn't one of stature, but character.

Part of it's maturity, a considerable hurdle for most 22-year-olds, but part of it's sobriety. Manziel has had a history of alcohol-related incidents going back to high school.

It didn't seem like a cause for great alarm while he was winning the Heisman and beating Alabama and flashing his money sign. Johnny Football was America's Frat Boy: Hanging out with Drake. Partying in Vegas. Making vulgar cell phone videos.

It was all very cool.

Until it wasn't.

On April 11, Manziel was released from a 10-week inpatient rehab stint.

Did it solve all his problems?

No. Rehab doesn't work like that.

But it might have given him that which all young stars need: a partial antidote to the reckless arrogance that plagued him, on and off the field.

A little humility. It should make him a better quarterback.

Starting Manziel makes football sense. But I'll admit a rooting interest here, too.

I'd like to know we're not all doomed to be the same idiots we were in college.

Follow Mark Kriegel on Twitter @MarkKriegel.

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