BEREA, Ohio (AP) — There was no formal presentation or fanfare. No torch passing ceremony.
Browns coach Mike Pettine simply pulled Johnny Manziel aside and told him he would be Cleveland’s starting quarterback for the remainder of this season.
No longer just a celebrated bad-boy backup, Manziel joined an elite class.
The trick will be staying there.
Manziel’s budding pro career, dotted mostly by missteps on and off the field to this point —the NFL said Tuesday he will not be disciplined for a domestic case — seems to be finally headed in the right direction for him. Now, the Browns will find out if he can be their franchise QB.
Fresh off a strong start at Pittsburgh on Sunday, Manziel moved ahead of veteran Josh McCown on the depth chart, a switch that will either usher in a new era for the Browns or send them scrambling again to fill a troublesome position.
“I wanted the chance to be the guy and that was always my goal,” said Manziel, who was watching film before Pettine told him the news. “I’m excited, I think as I should be. This is a great opportunity with a great group of guys that are going to go out and fight with me every week.”
Pettine made the change before the team’s first bye-week practice, two days after Manziel passed for a career-high 372 yards in a 30-9 loss to the Steelers. He also flashed a few of those Johnny Football moments that won him the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M.
After fumbling on his first play, Manziel regrouped and completed 33 of 45 passes with one touchdown. He didn’t lead the Browns (2-8) to victory, but Manziel showed he’s learning from his mistakes, growing more comfortable in the pocket and ready to take his biggest step yet.
“The performance against Pittsburgh validated for us the progress he’s made and the improvement he’s shown and that he deserves this opportunity,” Pettine said. “We understand where our season is at this point and this is a kid we’ve invested a lot in. This will give us an opportunity to see how far he’s come and what he’s capable of.”
On the same day he was named a starter, Manziel also learned he will not be fined or suspended for his actions in a domestic incident last month in Avon, Ohio. The 22-year-old was questioned on Oct. 12 by police following an in-car argument with his girlfriend.
The league said it interviewed several people, including Manziel and his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, who told police he had been violent with her. Manziel admitted to drinking before the argument. He was not arrested.
Manziel released a statement Tuesday night through his friend and advisor, Brad Beckworth.
“I appreciate the NFL’s diligence and discretion in reviewing a situation that was both personal and embarrassing,” Manziel said. “Colleen and I cooperated fully with the NFL’s process and completely support their goals of making sure that every family under their umbrella is safer and more secure. I’m grateful that the review was so thorough and fair that there should be no question left in the public mind about what actually happened.”
For Manziel, being named a starter is both a personal milestone and evidence that he’s turned his life around following a disappointing first season and 10-week stay in a Pennsylvania rehab facility for an unspecified condition.
Pettine is giving his players the bye weekend off. He spoke to Manziel about his behavior and the club’s expectations for him away from the field as the face of the franchise.
“He’s done some things to affect that trust, clearly,” Pettine said. “He understands it. He knows with these expectations comes great responsibility. That’s something he knows he has to return.”
Manziel promised his coach he would be a model citizen.
“I let him know that I’m not going to do anything that’s going to be a distraction to this team or be an embarrassment to the organization,” Manziel said. “I don’t think they’re going to have to worry about me this week.”
Once back to work, the Browns, who have dropped five straight games, will prepare for a Nov. 30 game against Baltimore, a Monday night matchup between two struggling teams certain to draw more TV viewers with Manziel starting.
“Coach Pett said I couldn’t ask for a better stage,” Manziel said.
And, it’s an ideal platform for the Browns to further evaluate Manziel’s growth as a quarterback and leader. Now 1-4 as a starter, the final six games could be an audition for 2016 and beyond.
“I was just looking forward to coming out and trying to have a little bit of a spark and more than anything, get some wins,” Manziel said. “That’s what I told coach Pett, no matter what happens, whether you think this may be for next year or whatever the case is, we’re going to win some of these games down the road.”
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