BEREA, Ohio — Johnny Manziel should come with a warning sticker: Watching can be hazardous to your health.
On Sunday, the NFL will get its first extended look at Manziel, who routinely turned broken plays into touchdowns at Texas A&M and will now try to rescue the Browns’ wilting playoff hopes.
As he prepares Manziel for his first career start, Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he’s not sure what to expect from the cocksure rookie quarterback when he faces the Cincinnati Bengals.
Once Shanahan sends a well-designed play in from the sideline there’s no telling what Manziel might do with it after the ball’s snapped.
“Everything out here is pretty much scripted and stuff,” Shanahan said following Thursday’s practice. “I’m waiting. I’m sure it’s going to happen pretty fast. We call a pass play, and he’s going to do six spins reversing back and forth outside the pocket. I’m going to hold my breath be yelling half the time, and then probably be running and jumping on top of him excited at the end of it.
“Who knows what will happen. I think that’s why everyone enjoys watching him, and that’s why I’m excited to see what he does. It’ll be fun.”
The Browns (7-6) need more than entertainment out of Manziel. They need him to take care of the ball, make good decisions and inject some energy into to Cleveland’s lifeless offense. Manziel may be the 21st quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999, but the team is discarding its sordid history at the position to see what the 22-year-old can do.
Cleveland has tapered its offense to suit Manziel, who came off the bench for deposed starter Brian Hoyer two weeks ago at Buffalo and flashed some of his Johnny Football magic by tucking the ball away, recognizing a lane many quarterbacks wouldn’t have seen and darting to the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run.
With a week to install plays to best use Manziel’s arm and legs, the Browns hope to keep the Bengals off balance. But the bigger issue may be getting Manziel to understand that he doesn’t have to transform every play into a TV highlight.
Browns coach Mike Pettine doesn’t want to put a collar on Manziel, but he doesn’t want him running wild.
“It’s going to be more within the structure of our offense, but at the same time, if you have a guy that has a unique skillset, you don’t want to quell that either,” he said. “You want to allow him to do it, but you’ve got to be able to pick and choose your times to do it. On every drop-back pass he cannot look to turn it into a punt return.
“We just don’t want to turn it into, ‘Hey, let’s run his college offense and let it turn into street ball,’ but we also don’t want to say, ‘Hey listen, here’s the playbook. We need to follow this exactly to the letter.’ We’re not going to do that either.”
Shanahan said he has occasionally looks at game tapes of Manziel in college to help him put together plays.
The Browns don’t have any allusions that Manziel will be able to run around and do what he did while winning a Heiman Trophy. They’re going to let Johnny be Johnny and hope that it’s good enough.
“He’s tried to develop in every facet, but when that ball snaps, I don’t want him thinking about coaching points. I don’t want him thinking about how the play is supposed to be. I want him reacting, and hopefully when someone is open, he reacts and lets it rip. Hopefully when someone’s not, he reacts and does his deal.
“You just don’t want to take that away from him.”
NOTES: Browns WR Miles Austin expects to play next year after his season was ended by a lacerated kidney suffered against Buffalo. Austin said he had urine in his blood for several days, which led to his hospitalization. He’ll undergo further tests in a few weeks. Austin’s contract ends after the season, but he wants to re-sign with Cleveland. “I’ve had such a great experience with the guys here,” he said. “I just have to heal up and make sure everything’s right.” …CB Joe Haden said he and his teammates have not forgotten the negative postgame comments Bengals RB Jeremy Hill made about them after the Browns won 24-3 in Cincinnati on Dec. 14. “We’ve got them up. It’s bulletin board material,” Haden said. “You see what he felt about us. They’re coming in here with something to prove.”