Manziel’s time to shine with Cleveland Browns

AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

Maybe Josh McCown didn’t get a fair shake. But, then again, how could he expect to after taking a contract with a team who invested a 2014 first round-pick on a quarterback?

McCown came to Cleveland this year and quietly claimed the starting job under center. The aforementioned first-round pick, Johnny Manziel, was coming off a historically disappointing rookie campaign and was in the midst of a 10-week stay in a rehab facility.

By the time the start of the 2015 NFL season arrived, we had all settled on McCown as the man for the Browns. Manziel would spend the year as an understudy to a journeyman quarterback, albeit one without many sterling seasons on his resume. And if you asked anyone, they likely would have told you that Manziel could use the year to learn how to be a professional after a year of the party-boy life seemed to have derailed his rookie season.

But that all changed in Week 1, when McCown dove for the end zone in the first quarter against the New York Jets and got spun into a concussion.

Suddenly, Johnny Football was pressed back into action. The only difference is this time he actually looked like Johnny Football. He looked much more comfortable in the pocket, no doubt a product of an extra offseason in the NFL. He was mobile at the same time though, evading pressure while keeping his eyes downfield, and was able to turn that into a deep touchdown to Travis Benjamin on his second throw of the game for the first score through the air of his career. He would finish that game 13-for-24 for 182 yards and one touchdown while adding 35 yards on the ground on five carries. He also committed three turnovers though. One interception and a pair of fumbles showed that though he had improved, there was clearly plenty of room for improvement and the Browns lost 31-10.

In Week 2, everyone expected McCown to be cleared to play, but when he was suddenly sent back into the NFL’s concussion protocol, Johnny was given a second chance. Against the Tennessee Titans, he went 8-for-15 for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Browns’ 28-14 win. But the most important takeaway from the former Heisman winner’s first start of the year was an absence of turnovers. No interceptions and no fumbles lost, though he did have two fumbles that Cleveland recovered. It was proof to everyone, including Manziel, that he had the ability to lead the Browns to a win.

Through two games, Manziel is 21 of 39 for 354 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. In five games in 2014, two of which were starts, he was 18 of 35 for 175 yards and two interceptions. Definitely a noticeable uptick in productivity from year one to year two.

Detractors will say he isn’t running the ball as well this year, particularly after having three carries for one yard against the Titans. But just because he racked up rushing yards in college doesn’t mean that’s what Manziel needs to do to be effective at the highest level. He has neither the bulk nor the flat out speed to do a Michael Vick or Cam Newton impression. But he does have the balance, mobility and elusiveness to extend plays, avoid pass rushers and find receivers when plays look broken.

When McCown comes back, I think he needs to remain on the bench. McCown has thrown for over 2,000 yards just twice since he entered the league in 2002 and has had a passer rating over 75 just once, in 2013 with Chicago when he filled in for Jay Cutler. He has 61 career touchdown passes to 59 interceptions. In short, he is a game manager. McCown will likely not be the reason the Browns lose games as a starter, but he will not put them on his back and carry them to wins. And at 36 years old, he isn’t going to develop into something other than what he is. Manziel represents the future for the Browns. Coming into the year, his rookie season led to questions about whether he would ever be capable. But these last two games made him appear more like a viable option with a future and, for the good of the franchise, the Browns should stick with Johnny Football and see where he can take them. Besides, maybe McCown can do some fun backup commercials for Verizon with his brother Luke.