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'Johnny's still the man'

TNS Regional News • Aug 23, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Browns wide receiver Nate Burleson isn’t joining the masses who are questioning Johnny Manziel’s ability to succeed in the NFL in the wake of the league’s most popular and polarizing rookie finishing runner-up in a quarterback competition against veteran Brian Hoyer.

In fact, Burleson is still convinced Manziel is destined for greatness, even though he’ll begin his career on the bench while Hoyer starts the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh.

“Johnny’s still the man,” Burleson, who has 11 NFL seasons under his belt, said Thursday after practice. “He’s still a really good quarterback. He’s an NFL-quality starting quarterback. ... Johnny being the No. 2, as you want to call it, we got arguably the best No. 2 in the NFL.

“Johnny will be successful in this league. He’ll have his opportunities. Regardless of how many chances he’ll get or waves of opportunities he gets, he’s going to take advantage of them. It’s not a bad thing for him to be the No. 2 [quarterback] Week 1. He is a rookie, still has a lot to learn and to do as a professional and as a player when it comes to the playbook. He’s going to be all right. I’m a Johnny Football fan.”

The Browns host the St. Louis Rams in a preseason game at 8 p.m. today.

Not everyone is as confident that Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, will live up to the hype. People from all walks of life — including former Browns General Manager Phil Savage and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — have expressed some doubt.

On SiriusXM NFL Radio, Savage discussed concerns scouts had before May’s NFL Draft regarding Manziel’s work ethic, intangibles and leadership, stating Manziel attended just four of 33 workouts last summer at Texas A&M. And when asked recently during an interview with a Phoenix radio station about Manziel flipping the bird toward Washington’s bench, McCain said, “I just think he’s gotta grow up.”

Burleson, though, isn’t worried.

“I don’t mind the guy making mistakes, especially young in his career,” Burleson, 33, said. “God knows that I’ve made a lot of mistakes over my 12 years. I just didn’t have five high-definition cameras on me at all times. So I’m fine with a guy making decisions and manning up to them. It’s going to happen. You can’t expect a guy to be perfect. I don’t care if he’s a rookie, a vet or old guy like myself. You’re going to make mistakes.

“What you want to look for is a guy that shows up every day and wants to go to work. Now when he shows up and doesn’t want to work — he’s lackadaisical about the playbook or you can tell there’s other things in life that has him distracted from what he’s paid to do — then we can have that discussion, and I’ll probably answer differently. But from what I’ve seen from Johnny and the way he approaches this job, he loves this sport and he wants to be great at it. So I’m all right with the mistakes. I’m no one to judge.”

Although Burleson praised Manziel, he made it clear he also supports the coaching staff’s decision to name Hoyer the starter, a move the team announced Wednesday morning.

“I think it’s a good decision. We’ve got really two quarterbacks that are good, and I’ve been saying that since we first got to camp,” Burleson said. “Regardless of who was named the starter Week 1, I feel like we were going to be winners. ... They’ve both got their qualities. They’re different in ways. But I like the way Brian has commanded the leadership in this team and grabbed a hold of the playbook.”

Burleson’s compliments are nice, but the reality is Hoyer and Manziel struggled almost beyond belief Monday night in the second preseason game. The first-team offense has yet to score a touchdown through two exhibition games in which it has played about 2 1/2 quarters, including seven series against an opposing first-string defense.

“You don’t win a lot of games 7-3 anymore like maybe the old days in the NFL,” All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas said. “We have to get a lot better. We have to execute. When you turn on the film after the Redskins game like we did, it wasn’t that we were getting our butts kicked all across the board. It was just execution mistakes.”

Coach Mike Pettine said the starters will play about a half, with a chance some of them will extend into the third quarter during the third preseason game Saturday night against St. Louis at the newly renovated FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns hope the entire offense will benefit from the quarterback derby reaching a conclusion.

“I’m pleased that we made the decision early so that we’re going to be able to get a couple more weeks here before the Steelers prep starts of getting good, solid practices with Brian as the starting quarterback,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to have consistency in the guy that’s taking the snaps with the first team because I think it gives everybody a chance to grow. That’s how you get better. It’s difficult switching between guys because you never really gain that consistency between the guys that you’re playing with.”

Pro Bowl center Alex Mack said he is glad the Browns made a choice and are moving forward.

“I’m happy for Hoyer,” Mack said. “He’s done a good job all camp. It’s been a pretty fierce competition. I’m glad to see that they picked someone early now and we’ll run with that.”


By Nate Ulrich - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com

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