Johnny Manziel era begins after Browns make switch
BEREA, Ohio (AP) Johnny Manziel seemed a little taller. Not in height, but definitely in stature.
The playmaking, headline-making, love-him-or-hate-him sensation who has spent the majority of his rookie season as an orange-helmeted spectator, Manziel is now the Browns' starting quarterback - No. 2 is No. 1.
And just like when he was college football's most electrifying player, Manziel is again in the spotlight and not scrambling away. As he prepares for his debut start Sunday against Cincinnati, Manziel said the pro version of Johnny Football is new.
''I don't think you're going to see the Johnny that you saw at Texas A&M because this isn't Texas A&M,'' he said Wednesday following his first practice as a starter. ''This is a different point in my life. I'm a different person than I was. ''
He's been a different quarterback since Monday, when Browns coach Mike Pettine informed the 22-year-old Manziel that he was benching struggling starter Brian Hoyer after a four-game funk. Pettine nearly made the move last week but stuck with Hoyer because he had gotten the Browns (7-6) into playoff contention.
Pettine's counting on Manziel to keep his team there.
''We wanted to make a change to do some different things schematically and to maybe bring a little bit more energy,'' Pettine said.
Manziel, whose commitment and dedication to his craft have been questioned in the past, seems to embrace his new role. He spent Tuesday at the team's facility getting a head start on this week's game plan with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. A week ago, Manziel raised some eyebrows by attending a Cavaliers game to see friend LeBron James play before Pettine announced his starter.
''There was no Cavs game on a Tuesday this time,'' Manziel said, smiling. ''I'll try to provide a spark and be smart while doing it.''
Manziel also made light of a comment by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who called him a ''midget'' earlier this week in a radio interview.
''It's absolutely funny,'' the 6-foot Manziel said of the remarks by Lewis, who has apologized several times. ''I'm not going to sprout 5 inches over the course of the week, so my height is my height and I need to overcome it with other pieces of my game.''
Hoyer's game has been in a tailspin for a month. He threw eight interceptions and his quarterback rating dropped each week as the Browns lost three times in the last four games. The stretch has jeopardized Cleveland's chances of making the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Hoyer's homegrown, feel-good story and comeback from knee surgery helped make the Browns relevant again. He was understandably disappointed by the demotion but said he was proud of his accomplishments.
''I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me,'' said Hoyer, who went 10-6 as a starter and will be a free agent after this season. ''I got to live out a childhood dream, and it's not over.''
Cleveland's locker room is supporting the decision, which certainly has Browns fans invigorated. Ticket brokers have seen a rise in demand since Manziel was named starter and Sunday's home finale will have a greater buzz that in previous seasons, when empty seats were the norm.
Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said he's excited to see Manziel start after he had some success in the preseason and against Buffalo on Nov. 30.
''I'm excited to see what he can do now that he's got the reins,'' Thomas said.
NOTES: Pettine said a change at kicker was discussed, but the team is sticking with Billy Cundiff. Cundiff has missed seven field goals this season, one in each of the past five games. ''Billy knows,'' Pettine said. ''It's important to him that he's got to pick it up.''
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