Before the NFL Draft, rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel attracted his share of supporters and critics who opined about his chances in the league.
Merril Hoge, a former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and current analyst for ESPN, offered some of the toughest criticism in the run-up to the draft.
With the Browns set to play the Steelers in the season opener Sunday and rumors of a possible Manziel package, Hoge, in an appearance on a morning radio show on WDVE in Pittsburgh, hasn't changed his opinion one iota.
“He really had no business being drafted in the first round,” Hoge said. “When I was doing the draft and I was going through and studying him, I actually got done and it’s the first time, aside from when Tim Tebow came out, there’s nothing, nothing he does that transitions to the National Football League. There's not one skill set he had where you say ‘Gosh he’s a first-rounder.’ Really nothing.”
Hoge said Manziel’s text to Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains asking to be picked so that he could “wreck this league” came across as something a “juvenile punk” would do, and that it angered many players and coaches.
As for Manziel packages?
“If you're on the Steelers defense, you want him on that field. He has no business being on the field right now,” Hoge said.
Manziel wasn’t fazed.
“Stuff pops up on my phone and I happened to see something,” Manziel told ESPN of Hoge's latest criticism. “He’s been in the opposite corner of me for a while now, so all I can really do is go out and try to prove him wrong. He’s entitled to every bit of his opinion.”
Asked about Hoge's comments Wednesday, Browns coach Mike Pettine referenced the critic’s days with the Steelers. “Where did he play again?” Pettine quipped.
“He’s entitled to [his opinion]. I get that,” Pettine said. “I don’t want to sit here and respond to individual reports. I don’t have a relationship with him, and I don’t think I've ever met him. I don’t want to be in that business of responding to individual criticism.”
Pettine said he also recognizes the media landscape that exists now.
“I just know in the age that we're in of sensationalism that a lot of times that people that want to be heard have to make bold statements in order to bring attention to them,” he said. “That’s something that I think is a regular occurrence in this league.”
Hoge was plenty bold as the interview went on.
“This will be the saddest, quickest ending we’ve seen in quite some time. It’ll be like a Tim Tebow,” he said. “He is exciting. They keep coming back to it, and that’s great, but it's not a skill set that transitions in our league.”
Harsh history lesson
When Pettine gave his players a history lesson about the franchise’s series with the Steelers, he questioned whether a rivalry really exists.
“I researched the history and I talked to the players about it. It’s not pretty. I’ll be honest with you," Pettine said Wednesday during a news conference. “I put it up on the slide to kind of talk our young guys through, the guys who don’t know the history. I put rivalry, and I put question mark. From the Steelers standpoint, it's not much of a rivalry.”
The Browns are 57-67, including 0-2 in the playoffs, all time against the Steelers. But since the Browns re-entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, they’re a dismal 5-26, including 0-1 in the postseason, against their AFC North foes from Pettine's home state of Pennsylvania.
“When you look at one win in Heinz Field in 14 tries, two wins in the last seven years, five wins in the last 36 times against them, it’s brutal when you truly look at it,” Pettine said. “But that’s something that’s a big part of our prep, understanding that that has nothing to do with us, that has nothing to do with this game and nothing to do with us moving forward. It was our message back in the spring when we said, ‘Hey, recognize the history, but break off the rearview mirror.’?”
Safety Donte Whitner, who played high school football in Cleveland at Glenville, recognized the reality of the Browns’ rivalry with the Steelers as well.
“I didn’t exactly know the numbers but I pretty much knew it,” he said. “It can’t be a rivalry until both sides throw punches and win football games. It’s not a rivalry until we beat them. It will be a good opportunity for us.”
Quarterback Brian Hoyer, who once played for the Steelers, understands what it means to the players and the fans.
“Obviously, the rivalry will always be there because it's the AFC North, there is a history of bad blood between the cities of Cleveland and Pittsburgh and that will always be there,” he said. “But the biggest thing is whatever the record is before this year, that means nothing when we step out on that field on Sunday. I think it was good for him to point it out but we realize we know that has no effect on the 2014 Cleveland Browns.”
George M. Thomas — Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
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