CANTON, Ohio (AP) – As the crowd of football fans bowed their heads before Browns owner Jimmy Haslam spoke, a priest delivering the invocation asked for a special blessing for new quarterback Johnny Manziel.
He may need more than divine intervention.
“Father, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a prayer like that,” Haslam told the clergy man. “I’m not sure what Brian Hoyer thought of that either.”
Speaking for the first time since the Browns landed Manziel, Texas A&M’s playmaking quarterback in the NFL draft, Haslam made it clear that Johnny Football will have to earn everything he gets and won’t jump Brian Hoyer on the depth chart just because he has a Heisman Trophy, celebrity friends or fame.
“He’s not the starter,” Haslam said of Manziel.
Haslam spoke Monday to a packed room of 500 — most of them hardcore Cleveland fans, who wanted to know how the Browns’ boss felt the team did in the three-day draft.
Cleveland’s biggest move was picking the polarizing Manziel with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round. His selection has brought a buzz to the Browns and sparked sales of season tickets and No. 2 jerseys.
And while Haslam is thrilled at the pick, he said the Browns — starting with first-year coach Mike Pettine — have told Manziel not to expect any preferential treatment.
“We were very frank with him that `You’re the backup quarterback. This is a hardworking, blue-collar town. This isn’t Hollywood,”‘ Haslam said.
“We want you to come in here, work hard and work as hard as anybody on the team. He’s not the starter. Brian Hoyer is our starting quarterback. Johnny is the backup.”
Haslam called Manziel “ultra-competitive” and feels the 21-year-old will come to training camp with the right attitude. He knows Manziel wants to prove he can succeed in the pros.
“I think you’ll find a guy that’s really hard-working, a serious guy that doesn’t want to be a three-year-in-the-league flash-and-out who makes a lot of money on endorsements,” Haslam said.
“He’s a football player. He was a little upset he went 22. He was a little upset he was the second quarterback picked. I think he comes in with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and wants to show the people he’s about winning games and not about all the other `stuff,’ if you will.”
Following the speech, Haslam also denounced a report that the Browns originally submitted Lousiville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s name on the draft card at No. 22 before changing it to Manziel’s.
“That’s crazy. That’s nuts,” Haslam told The Associated Press.
Earlier, Pettine shot down the same report at the team’s charity golf outing in Aurora.
“It’s absolutely false,” Pettine said. “I heard that story too. It’s beyond laughable.”
Haslam also tried to clear up any misconceptions that he was the one who orchestrated the pick of Manziel. Haslam complimented general manager Ray Farmer for staying “unbelievably disciplined” during the draft and said it was the GM’s choice — not his — to move up and take Manziel.
“I thought it was very important we take a quarterback this year, because Brian Hoyer — great guy, great leader — hasn’t played that much and is coming off an injury.
“So I thought it was important to take a quarterback. We picked the top-rated quarterback on our board when he was available. That was solely Ray’s call, not my call. Soley Ray’s call, not my call. OK?”
Haslam was careful not to comment directly on the fluid situation involving Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon. ESPN reported on Friday that Gordon is facing a one-year ban from the league for failing another drug test. Gordon was suspended two games last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy but still led the league in yards receiving.
Haslam said Gordon is making strides, and the third-year player has the Browns’ support.
“Josh is 22 years old, OK?” he said, “and all of us need to think back to when we were 22 or think back to when our kids were 22, OK? Josh is learning and growing and improving as a person. He’s learning how to work hard. He’s learning how to be a professional. Josh is a smart young man.
“All of us have made mistakes when we were that age. We’re counting on Josh being a good football player for the Browns for a long time to come. We have all spent a lot of time talking to Josh and I’m not going to comment on the situation, but I’ll say this, I’ve been very pleased with his professional growth over the last year and the way he handles himself.”
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