If Johnny Manziel hasn’t figured it out yet, he probably will very soon. The rookie quarterback affectionately dubbed “Johnny Football” has a pigskin-sized target on his back.
For the first time in his brief NFL career, Manziel faced opposing defenders who couldn’t care less about his Heisman Trophy, his record setting performances at Texas A&M or his lavish, off-the-field partying.
Simply put, the Washington Redskins entered their preseason game with the Cleveland Browns on Monday night looking to put Manziel in his place. Not only did they hold Manziel in check (7-of-16 passing for just 65 yards), they reminded him of the stark differences between collegiate and professional football.
Trash-talk has always been a big part of NFL culture and the Redskins, led by Brian Orakpo and Ryan Clark, decided to make an example of the celebrated signal caller. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising when Orakpo openly taunted Manziel after an early sack by teammate Ryan Kerrigan.
With Manziel struggling to find his footing as action progressed, Clark rubbed further salt into the wound by not-so-politely reminding the young quarterback where he currently stands on the professional level.
“The statement was, ‘This isn’t college anymore and these people are faster than you are.’ He didn’t like it. And that was me cleaning up the statement,” Clark told ESPN’s Mike and Mike when asked about what was said to Cleveland’s rookie quarterback.
Manziel’s reaction to it all is where the trouble began for both him and the Browns. Visibly frustrated by what had taken place, Manziel flipped-off the Redskins’ sideline on national television during the third quarter. In that moment, the Redskins had completely accomplished their mission while Manziel was again left to answer questions about his maturity level.
Therein lies the problem for Manziel as the season fast approaches. As one of the most hyped signal callers to enter the NFL in decades, Manziel faces an unrelenting microscope of pressure. The media is watching him, the coaches are watching him and fans are already obsessed with what he might bring in both endorsements and popularity.
Opposing defenders are also watching and if the Redskins’ Monday night ribbing is any indication, Manziel faces a long road ahead. While his partying, tardiness and attention-seeking ways may have been grudgingly accepted in college, professional football is an entirely different animal.
In a league known for its deference to veterans, NFL defenders look at Manziel and see a welcome target. They see a kid whose collegiate exploits have led to the perception of entitlement. More importantly, they see a youngster who is easily provoked while currently lacking the skills or experience to back up his celebrated swagger.
To his credit, Manziel admitted the mistake and pledged to handle similar circumstances better in the game’s aftermath. You can bet Cleveland coach Mike Pettine also had a word or two with Manziel. After all, the last thing the Browns need are more negative headlines after the franchise’s struggles in recent years.
Obviously, Manziel is experiencing the kind of growing pains any rookie quarterback faces. He’s in a new system playing against bigger, faster players. With that being the case, first-year quarterbacks often struggle in their transition to the NFL. But if he’s ultimately to be a success, maturity is going to be as necessary an ingredient as being able to audible at the line or throw the deep-ball. As Monday night showed, Manziel still has a long ways to go in that regard.