Monday, August 10, 2015

Now comes real test for Manziel

After watching Johnny Manziel perform at the Browns’ intrasquad scrimmage Friday night in Columbus, it’s easy to see why some fans have glommed onto some hope for the brash Texan following his miserable rookie season.

He actually looked like a National Football League quarterback in 7-on-7 drills and 11-on-11 matchups with the defense.

He looked nothing like the ill-prepared, frightened, deer-in-the-headlights-look  quarterback who played briefly before an injury closed out his first professional season. His body language was different. Everything seemed natural, not forced.

He displayed confidence, command of the huddle and the ability to get rid of the ball quickly and to the correct target. His three-and five-step drops taking the snap from under center were smooth. So was his footwork.

It was a transformation that was unexpected considering reports his progress was coming along slowly.

And yet, Manziel downplayed his 9-of-11, 93-yard, two-touchdown performance. “I wouldn’t make a huge deal about it,” he said. ”But it’s progress for me. It’s better than I played last year in the scrimmage.”

The fact his production came against second-and third-teamers doesn’t diminish the notion that he is not the same quarterback we saw in 2014. Considering the hype that accompanied his arrival last season, he might have been putting too much pressure on himself.

But Manziel is absolutely correct. Let’s not get carried away here. He is still learning the rudiments of playing like an NFL quarterback. The fact he looks more comfortable than the knee-jerk, run-first quarterback he was last season is a large step in the right direction.

Now let’s see how he plays against someone who does not wear the Seal Brown and Orange, players who do not pull up because he wears the don’t-you-dare-touch-him orange jersey in training camp.

Let’s see if he can properly read opposing defenses, call the correct blocking scheme for his offensive line, throw the ball to the correct receiver. We’ll find out Thursday when the Washington Redskins invade for the opening exhibition.

One thing is certain with regard to who starts at quarterback in the season opener against the New York Jets: Barring injury, it will be Josh McCown no matter how Manziel performs.

The only way he wins the job is if he suddenly turns into Russell Wilson. He is still a long way from being the kind of quarterback in whom the coaching staff has confidence. Even though he looked good in Columbus, he still has a long way to go before he earns a starting nod.

The fact he has improved so much – at least he passed the eye test – is the kind of news most Browns fans didn’t see coming. Now it’s up to him to refine and then hone the skills he showed in Columbus.