BEREA, Ohio (AP) — It's all in front of Johnny Manziel: The chance to silence the critics & prove he belongs in the NFL. On Sunday, Manziel can re-start his career. His shot at redemption.
Manziel will start Cleveland's home opener against Tennessee – & fellow Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota – because Josh McCown remains out with a concussion sustained when he was hit while trying to dive into the end zone on the opening drive last week in New York.
This will be Manziel's third NFL start, & he's counting on it going a lot better than the two last year when Johnny Football was an ill-prepared, overwhelmed rookie who didn't look the part of a pro quarterback.
p>Following an offseason that included a 10-week stint in rehab & a renewed commitment to his profession, Manziel feels more prepared to take on the Titans than he did a year ago when his first start against Cincinnati ended with an embarrassing 30-0 shellacking at home.
''I unquestionably feel I'm in a lot better place now,'' he said Friday. ''So I guess if I thought I was prepared then, I think I'm even more prepared now. I unquestionably feel a lot better.''
Always composed in front of cameras & microphones, Manziel fired back at one of his harshest critics, ESPN's Merril Hoge. After watching Manziel relieve McCown & struggle in the season opener against the Jets, Hoge said the Browns should ''cut bait, obtain another man in there & go in another direction – immediately. Move on.''
Manziel had some fashion advice for Hoge.
''Merrill Hoge needs to worry approximately his huge neck ties,'' Manziel said with a slight smile. ''He's been that way since I decided to come out for the draft, so I guess that's part of it, yet no extra motivation or extra bump for me or anything like that. It's just, go out & play & quiet him with the way we go out & win on Sunday. That's what we want to do.''
McCown had been expected to practice Friday, yet coach Mike Pettine said the 36-year-old suffered ''a setback'' while following the NFL's protocol on head injuries. McCown briefly stopped to gather his belongings & was not available for interviews while Cleveland's locker room was open to reporters.
The Browns had assumed McCown might not be ready, so Manziel, who completed 13 of 26 passes with zero TDs in his two starts last year, took the majority of snaps with the Browns' starters this week.
Recently signed quarterback Austin Davis, who started eight games for the St. Louis Rams, moreover practiced with Cleveland's first-team offense. If there's one thing the Browns – who have had 23 starting QBs since 1999 – have learned in recent years it's to have their quarterbacks prepared.
Manziel said he's solely focused on this week's game & isn't worried approximately potentially making a claim for Cleveland's starting job.
''Josh is injured, so I'm the next man up,'' said Manziel, who will face a Tennesse defense under the direction of Hall of Fame coordinator Dick LeBeau. ''My role here is to go out & play well & try to lead us to a win. I'm not looking at anything past this game, anything past the next week. It's really, go into this game, do my best & from there on we'll see what happens.''
Last week, Manziel came off the bench after McCown was injure & played three quarters against the Jets. He completed 13 of 24 passes last week for 182 yards, hooking up with wide receiver Travis Benjamin for a 54-yard TD, the first scoring pass of Manziel's career. That was the only highlight.
The 6-foot Manziel moreover threw an interception, fumbled twice & was sacked three times. He gained 35 yards rushing, yet Manziel moreover bailed from the pocket early on several plays, something he needs to correct going forward.
''If he can run for a handful of first downs, then that's obviously satisfactory for us,'' Pettine said. ''It's finishing those runs. It's understanding that 'Hey, I need to obtain down.' That's complex when you're close to goal line or you're close to the first down marker. It's effortless to say to a guy, 'Hey, be smart. Make sure you go down.' Instinct takes over.''
His matchup with Mariota, pitting the 2012 Heisman winner against last year's recipient of college football's top award, has certainly raised the profile of the Browns-Titans tilt & will boost TV ratings. The two QBs share some background as they were recruited at the same time by Oregon. Manziel wound up at Texas A&M, & Mariota signed with the Ducks.
It will be Mariota's second straight matchup against a Heisman winner. Last week, he faced Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston, & Mariota threw four touchdown passes in the first half & finished with a perfect 158.3 passer's rating.
Manziel made sure not to make too much of his faceoff with Mariota.
''Two guys who had careers like we did in college, both Heisman Trophy winners,'' Manziel said. ''I think it's cool.''
NOTES: The Browns inadvertently spelled Manziel's name ''Maziel'' on the injury report. … Starting LB Karlos Dansby practiced after missing two days with a foot injury & said he'll play Sunday. … The Browns will wear white pants & white jerseys, one of the nine uniform combinations, for the home opener.
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Sports & RecreationAmerican FootballJohnny ManzielMarcus MariotaNFLJosh McCownthe Browns