BEREA — Like a Broadway understudy, Johnny Manziel knows he might practice with Cleveland’s starters all week and not play Sunday.
“That’s part of it,” he said.
In the theater, and in the NFL.
With starting quarterback Josh McCown still recovering from a concussion, Manziel is preparing as if he’ll start Sunday’s home opener against the Tennessee Titans in what could be a matchup against fellow Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Manziel, who replaced McCown after he was knocked out of the season opener against the New York Jets, took snaps with the Browns’ starting offense Wednesday as the team began installing its game plan for the Titans.
The plan is the same for Thursday as McCown can’t be cleared to practice until Friday, per the league’s protocol on head injuries.
Manziel had some nice moments — and a few not-so-nice ones — after coming off the bench against the Jets. He threw his first career touchdown pass, a 54-yard strike to Travis Benjamin, but also had three turnovers, was sacked three times and took at least one unnecessary shot while scrambling.
Manziel, who has been slowed by tendinitis in his right elbow, showed more poise than during two forgettable starts as a rookie.
The former first-round pick looked like he belonged.
“I started off a little nervous, a little shaky,” he said. “And then as I made that pass to Trav, as we continue to see some of the pressures and continue to see some of the things we saw throughout the week, it slowed down a little bit.”
A year ago, Manziel’s every move was analyzed as the sports world wanted to see if one of college football’s most entertaining players could pull of the same magic he performed at Texas A&M.
But Manziel fell flat, fizzled out and his poor play was followed by stint in rehab. And while Manziel remains popular, there are nearly as many who doubt his ability and wonder if he’ll be the next big bust.
Manziel said he can now block out the external noise and focus on getting better.
“I’ve been disappointed in the way I’ve performed, especially ending the season last year. It didn’t end on a very good note,” he said. “Was it better on Sunday? Sure. Did I feel more comfortable? Sure. But did I do some things that looking back that I would have like to have back? Absolutely. So now moving forward, it’s don’t make those same mistakes again.
“I want to continue to improve and go out and not care, not worry about what anybody else is saying. There was a time I was talked about every single day on every station around the entire country.
“There were days where I was talked about good. There were days I was talked about bad. Now it’s for me block all that out, do what I need to do in this locker room, make sure I’m prepared and go out on Sunday and try to do better than I did last week.”
Manziel said he was able to make all his throws in practice, but the Browns will keep a close eye on his cranky elbow.
McCown is still recovering from the concussion he sustained while trying to dive into the end zone on Cleveland’s opening drive of the season.
Per league rules, he must be cleared by an independent neurologist before returning to the field and can’t practice until Friday — at the earliest. Even if the 36-year-old does come back, there is no guarantee he will start against Tennessee.
“We’ll be prepared either way,” coach Mike Pettine said.
McCown was on the field watching practice, taking mental notes and helping Manziel where he could.
Manziel threw a few passes during the portion of practice open to reporters, but never let loose. Pettine said the team will be careful not to put any stress on the elbow by overloading him with throws this week.
If Manziel does start, he’ll be matched up against Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick who threw four TD passes and recorded a perfect 158.3 passer’s rating in his pro debut against Tennessee. He and Manziel first met when they were both being recruited at the same time by Oregon. The two have bumped into each other at various other events over the years, and could now face off on the field.
“It would be cool,” Manziel said.
NOTES: Pettine said any discipline to CB Justin Gilbert for his road-rage incident last week was handled internally. Pettine also talked to his players about “acting the way we expect when they are out of the building.” … G Joel Bitonio (knee), WR Dwayne Bowe (hamstring), DL Desmond Bryant (shoulder), LB Karlos Dansby (foot) and Manziel were limited in practice.
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