Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel have a lot in common.
Both had electrifying college careers that were big on improv and solos. Both won the Heisman Trophy at outlier schools in Texas. Both were expected to become franchise quarterbacks (under coaches no longer in place).
And the questions outnumber the answers regarding both.
But two years behind RG3 in experience, Manziel wants to limit similarities down the road. He can’t go back to last year, rewind his rookie season and produce an award-winning campaign that results in a playoff berth like Griffin did right out the gate. Nothing that has transpired in Washington since then holds no interest.
Griffin started with a bang and is trying to reignite his flash.
Manziel has been a dud who’s trying to sparkle for the first time.
In five games, including two starts, he completed 18-of-35 passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Johnny Football was deflated.
He’s firmly entrenched as the Browns’ second-string QB entering Thursday’s exhibition at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. But he has impressed coaches and teammates during the Browns’ training camp, drawing the type of praise that Washington fans long to hear about RG3.
“His patience and his ability to trust his feet,” Browns quarterback coach Kevin O’Connell told reporters Tuesday, explaining the difference in Manziel this season. “Trust his feet and his eyes and, with his physical arm talent to make throws, good things are going to happen.
“You see him getting through his progressions. We talk a lot about progressions and protections and it’s kind of scattered — a lot of different topics — and there’s a lot of little things you have to focus on in playing the quarterback position. But when you start getting comfortable with that, the game starts slowing down for guys.”
In the Browns’ scrimmage last weekend, Manziel completed 9-of-11 passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. It was Cleveland’s second-string offense versus the second-string defense, so the outing must be weighed accordingly. But Manziel was demonstrably better in looking like a bona fide NFL quarterback, not a take-off-running spread-option college quarterback.
“Obviously he was very productive,” Browns coach Mike Pettine told NFL Network. “I thought he was very calm in the pocket. One thing you noticed was that his feet were very settled. He did not have the happy feet moving around. He could set his feet and makes his reads, trust his arm and I thought he made some throws into tight coverage. He let his receivers make a play.”
That should be the mantra taped on RG3’s mirror: “Set my feet. Make my reads. Trust my arm.” He reportedly was sharp Tuesday in Washington’s final practice before the exhibition, delivering the ball in rhythm and on time, hitting receivers in stride and giving them a chance to gain yards after the catch.
“I felt good,” Griffin told reporters afterward. “I felt from a mental and fundamental standpoint, today was my best practice of the camp. That’s what you want. It helps when you have guys in the right spot, where they’re supposed to be and that’s what we’re preaching the entire time. My job is to facilitate the ball and get us in and out of the right checks and make sure we’re moving the ball. Today was great.”
That was against teammates running at three-quarter speed, not opponents vying for spots on the roster and rank on the depth chart. Thursday’s game will provide a better indication — though by no means definitive — of how far Griffin has come in his second year under coach Jay Gruden and first year under quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh.
Griffin might play the entire the first quarter against Cleveland and could cross paths with Manziel, who’s currently the backup to journeyman Josh McCown. Manziel will get the starting job if he keeps improving at this rate, while Griffin could lose his job unless there’s significant progress from last year’s performance.
The NFL would love to see RG3 regain his star form and have Manziel join him. They are two of the league’s most marketable players, with prime opportunities to be the face of their franchises over the next decade.
Gruden has shared plenty of thoughts about Griffin — some brutally honest — and is trying to minimize the attention paid to his QB. But it sounds like Gruden wouldn’t mind trying his lot with Manziel, who appears wiser and humbler after the abysmal rookie year and a trip to rehab.
“I think in year two, he’s a more mature player,” Gruden told reporters. ” I expect Johnny to perform a lot better. He’s a heck of a talented quarterback and I’m sure he’s going to push their starter for reps. But everything that I’ve seen, everything that I know, he’s a pretty good quarterback.”
He hopes that’s something else Manziel and RG3 can share in common.