BEREA — Johnny Manziel returned from his latest whirlwind weekend, took snaps with the starters and threw a great deep ball Tuesday as Cleveland’s three-day mandatory minicamp opened.
There were no inflatable swans or bottles of champagne in sight.
Manziel, who’s battling incumbent Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job, has had three free weekends since being drafted by the Browns with the No. 22 pick. He’s spent all of them out of town, and each time has been photographed or videotaped partying.
First-year coach Mike Pettine said he told Manziel he doesn’t need to ask for permission to get away on his days off.
“The philosophy here is that we’re not going to micromanage the guys,” Pettine said. “I was involved in an event this weekend and if there were some cameras at certain times it probably wouldn’t have been the most flattering. It was a group of coaches out and we had a good time, but we were responsible. When it becomes irresponsible or it becomes part of breaking the law or it’s something we feel is a potential problem, we’ll step in.”
Manziel’s Memorial Day weekend excursion to Las Vegas started the stretch of fun in the sun, and created an uproar with pictures of him posing with women in bikinis and spraying champagne into the crowd at a club.
The stakes were raised this weekend on a trip to his native Texas. He was photographed in a pool on an inflatable swan with a bottle in his hand in Austin, was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 28th round of the Major League Baseball Draft and sat courtside at Game 2 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio.
Pettine feels it’s important for the organization to educate the rookies on all off-field issues “so they make great choices when they’re out of the building.” But he doesn’t see a problem with Manziel.
“I’m not concerned,” Pettine said. “I would become concerned if it was something criminal and I would be concerned if it affected his job.
“I think there’s a lot of our guys when they leave here if they were followed around you’d get some very similar pictures. I don’t know about an inflatable swan, but you’d still get some pictures.”
Manziel, 21, didn’t discuss his latest eventful weekend because the team refused to make him available to reporters and won’t until players report for training camp July 25. The decision was made before the weekend as the organization seeks to limit the exposure of one of the most popular players in the NFL.
Manziel has held two lengthy media sessions since rookie minicamp began May 16. Hoyer also is off-limits until training camp.
“I don’t think the message will be that different than it was before, so it’s something that was in our rotation of things and we didn’t feel that it needed to be done,” Pettine said.
Manziel is a different species than other Cleveland rookies — and even veterans. His jersey is the top seller in the NFL, and he instantly raised the profile of a franchise that has had double-digit losses in six straight seasons. Reporters from ESPN, NFL Network and USA Today were in attendance Tuesday.
The Browns knew what they were getting when they drafted Manziel, but might not have appreciated everything that encompasses. He was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, captivated audiences with his improvisational style of play, made headlines with questionable behavior off the field and became a fixture on TMZ.
It’s too early to tell what kind of player he’ll be in the NFL, but his celebrity and social-media status made the jump to the next level. Pettine said he doesn’t worry about Manziel putting himself in a bad situation.
“I don’t because I think it’s something he’s used to,” Pettine said. “I think that he understands that that comes with the territory, but I also think he’s a young man that he doesn’t want his lifestyle or how he lives it to be affected by social media. That he’s not going to ‘Hey, I’m not leaving my house.’
“I don’t think he wants to be that way and it just goes back to, one, we’re not going to micromanage him until we feel that it is an issue, and if it’s not affecting him on the field then I don’t think that it’s anything we need to address at this point.”
The last point was the key for players who talked Tuesday. Manziel’s life-of-the-party persona is cool as long as he’s putting in the time learning the playbook.
“I don’t know what Johnny does on the weekends,” receiver Andrew Hawkins said. “But it’s none of my business. He’s out here working his butt off. I’m not keeping tabs on where he goes Friday through Sunday in OTAs. Johnny works hard, and that’s all anybody cares about.
“Johnny’s the man. I like Johnny. Johnny’s a cool guy, but most importantly he comes out here and works hard. Whenever you have a guy like that, that’s always fun to be around.”
Manziel saw significant time with the first-team offense in team drills as Hoyer remains limited as the coaches want to protect his surgically repaired right knee. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan added some read option to the installation, and Manziel used his legs to turn the corner. He also completed a perfectly thrown 50-yard pass to receiver Anthony Armstrong off play-action.
“I think he’s getting better,” Pettine said. “I think he’s getting more comfortable in the huddle calling the plays. I think he has a very nice touch with the deep ball. He makes improvements every day, and that’s all that we ask of him.”
Veteran strong safety Donte Whitner sat down Manziel when the QB arrived and showed him the defensive playbook. He explained that if Manziel wanted to be great, he’d need to have an in-depth knowledge of defenses, be able to recognize the slightest subtleties on the field and process them immediately.
“And to learn these things, you have to spend more time here than any other guy, you have to get here before everybody else, you have to leave later than everybody else and you have to ask the questions that everybody are afraid to ask,” Whitner said. “Yeah, I think he appreciates that, but it’s going to be up to him to do it. He’s a pretty smart, savvy guy.
“I think he has all the intangibles. Everybody looks at Aaron Rodgers as being just a drop-back quarterback, but he’s dangerous because he can use his feet to manipulate things and get open and buy a little time and then he’s making a lot of big plays. Johnny has all of those intangibles. It’s just going out there and doing it and learning it.”