BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As he discussed the possibility of quarterback Johnny Manziel being picked by Cleveland in the upcoming draft, Browns linebacker Quentin Groves made a small sign of the cross.
A prayer that he’s coming? A plea that he stays away?
Groves’ intentions with his gesture weren’t clear.
Like just about everything around Johnny Football, there’s no definite answer.
The most polarizing player to enter the NFL in a while, Manziel, is being closely linked to the Browns, who own the No. 4 overall pick in next week’s draft and have been seeking a franchise quarterback for more than a decade.
Cleveland’s inability to land a QB either in the draft or via free agency or blind luck may be the single biggest reason the Browns have only made the playoffs once since 1999 and seem to change coaches every year.
There are those who believe Manziel can save the Browns. Others feel the Texas A&M quarterback’s dazzling skills — and size — won’t translate to the pro game.
He’s too small.
He’s a game-changer.
He’s a hard worker.
He’s a head case.
Everyone has an opinion on Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner who has been projected as being picked anywhere from the top 5 to the bottom of the first round.
“If Johnny Manziel came through, if he beats out the other quarterbacks that are here, it’s all good,” Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden said. “I like Johnny Manziel. I like him a whole lot.”
Haden’s not alone. Sports radio talk shows here are crammed with callers screaming for the Browns to choose Manziel, one of several QBs in this year’s class expected to go in the early rounds.
Cleveland hasn’t used a pick higher than No. 22 on a quarterback since taking Tim Couch first overall 15 years ago.
The Browns have done their homework on Manziel. The team recently worked him out privately in College Station, Texas, and brought him to Cleveland to visit their training facility and headquarters.
As they consider taking him, Browns general manager Ray Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam wanted to get to better know Manziel, who served a suspension last season for violating an NCAA rule involving signing autographs, as a person.
They’ve seen him on film. Nothing beats the real thing.
“I don’t think I have any reservations with who Johnny is,” Farmer said. “He’s a good young man. I think the interesting part about Johnny is that, much like a lot of us, you don’t get a handbook for how to operate in certain instances.
“When you go from being a kid from Tyler, Texas, to being Johnny Football and winning the Heisman Trophy really quickly, they don’t hand you a manual and tell you how to handle the media swarm, how to handle the paparazzi, how to handle people coming up to you at dinners.
“He would tell you very candidly that it’s probably not how he would have written it up now that he’s at the end of it or getting towards the end of his college career, but you live and you learn.”
Manziel would certainly put Cleveland back on the football map and revitalize a flagging franchise. He’d sell tickets and move merchandise.
But is that enough?
Groves called one of his college coaches now at Texas A&M for a scouting report.
“I asked him, ‘How is Johnny? Is he a football guy?'” Groves said. “He said, ‘Honestly, he’s the most competitive guy you’ll ever meet. He is a guy that will come in, be the first in, last to leave. that’s just him.’ I know you have the flashy lifestyle (Groves mimics Manziel’s signature finger rub), (rapper) Drake and all that stuff, and at the end of the day the guy wins ballgames.
“He makes plays. He extends drives and wins ballgames.”
Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who coached quarterback Robert Griffin III in Washington, thinks Manziel’s unorthodox style can win in the pros.
“If you can make those plays in college, you can do it in the NFL,” he said. “The one thing about the NFL, there’s a lot of tape out there. You’ve got to be able to do everything.
“Whatever you do very good, they’re going to eventually be able to shut that down and you’re going to have to do something else. He’s going to be able to make plays in this league. Eventually when they try to contain him, he’s going to have to do everything he didn’t always have to do in college.”
The Browns must also consider all that comes along with Manziel.
Number 2 brings a three-ring circus.
Groves, for one, believes the Browns are suited to add Manziel.
“We’re a mature enough team to handle it,” he said. “We’ve had some individual success here and people have handled it well. Josh Gordon and (Alex) Mack going to the Pro Bowl, Joe Thomas going to the Pro Bowl. Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron making their first Pro Bowls, things like that. I think we can handle it.”