Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Johnny Football trying to recapture winning identity

In this Dec. 13, 2015, file photo, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) gestures during the first half of an NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers, in Cleveland. Russell Wilson has it all put together. Johnny Manziel has been nothing but chaos since entering the NFL. The two players with similar football skills meet for the first time on Sunday.
In this Dec. 13, 2015, file photo, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) gestures during the first half of an NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers, in Cleveland. Russell Wilson has it all put together. Johnny Manziel has been nothing but chaos since entering the NFL. The two players with similar football skills meet for the first time on Sunday. AP

At some point, you stopped hearing the nickname so often.

Back when Johnny Manziel’s fiery performances warranted the nation’s attention and college football’s Heisman Trophy, he was known as “Johnny Football.”

But notoriety overtook the identity, and headlines came to portray him more as Johnny Party and then Johnny Rehab, and maybe, at times in Cleveland, Johnny Dubious Draft Pick.

Deep into his second NFL season, Manziel is expected to get his seventh career start on Sunday for the Browns against the Seahawks.

At times he’s been described as a spoiled rich kid, or an unrepentant frat boy who disrespects the game and the franchise he represents.

But the Johnny Manziel on the teleconference call with Seattle-area media Wednesday afternoon sounded respectful, self-aware, accountable for his mistakes and eager to advance his career.

He used the term “moving forward” a few times during the interview to signify renewed direction, but he didn’t try to dismiss the troubles that got him off the path.

At this point, moving forward involves “trying to make the best of the situation I’ve kind of made for myself,” he said of the negative attention he’s created.

“Fair or not, it’s the world I live in, and I kind of have to embrace it and now it’s, ‘How do I live in that world and make the best of the situation I am in?’ 

At times he thinks the headlines are “a little overblown, and I think at times I’ve probably done it to myself, going back to my college days.”

Seahawks center Patrick Lewis snapped for Manziel at Texas A&M and thinks so highly of him he’s contacted Manziel and arranged a post-game jersey swap.

“The Johnny I know is a great guy, a gracious guy and a great teammate,” Lewis said. “A lot of people have a perception of him, but when you meet him, you can’t believe it’s the guy you hear about.”

Winning the Heisman as a freshman alters expectations, and Lewis could see it happen. “You don’t get a chance to explore life without the eyes of everybody on you. His mistakes are on a bigger stage than anybody else because of what he accomplished in football.”

Manziel’s accomplishments have been scant in Cleveland, winning only two of the six games he’s started, although his passer rating this season of 89.2 is reasonable, and his performance last week against San Francisco was effective enough to get the Browns their third win of the season.

Coach Mike Pettine cited Manziel’s preparation before that game and his overall poise throughout. In general, the Browns coach sees Manziel building a better understanding of the scheme and improving his capacity for reading defenses and processing information.

But does he have the potential to be the kind of quarterback who can earn the trust of the team and lead a franchise to success?

“The reason he hasn’t lost this coaching staff or lost his teammates is because when he’s here, he’s all about football,” Pettine said. “He’s prepared, he knows what to do, and he handles his business. It’s easy for us as coaches and teammates to still have faith in him just because of the way he carries himself every day.”

The matchup against the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks creates a juxtaposition of quarterbacks similar in stature (under 6 feet) and so very dissimilar in demeanor, reputation and production.

Each is hypercompetitive, but Wilson is so cool and controlled and mature.

After throwing an interception on Sunday, Manziel went to the Browns bench, studied the electronic copy of the play on the league-endorsed Microsoft Surface and then repeatedly smashed the tablet with his forehead.

Look, sometimes the strong-willed and youthful need to have tough lessons pounded into their heads.

And during his interview on Wednesday, Manziel sounded as if he’s getting it.

He was asked for a response to critics who claimed he’s disrespectful of the game.

The thought seemed to bother him.

“I definitely don’t try to disrespect the game. … I hope I’m not disrespectful to the game,” he said. “Have I made myself an embarrassment to myself and the NFL in the process with some of the things I’ve done in the past couple years? Sure. The only think I can really do now, moving forward, is make sure I’m not making those mistakes and hold myself to a higher standard.”

He summed it with: “I’m trying to play the game the right way.”

Maybe it’s not enough to earn the nickname again, but it’s the best way to keep the respect of his teammates, which is more important anyway.

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