Football / Sports

Potential package featuring Johnny Manziel appeals Browns

BEREA, Ohio -- With the Browns' offense struggling this preseason, coach Mike Pettine has made it known he and his staff are considering using a special package of plays featuring backup quarterback Johnny Manziel to supplement the normal personnel groupings led by starting quarterback Brian Hoyer.

"It would be great," Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron said Tuesday after practice. "1/8Manziel is3/8 an exciting player. He's energetic and any spark we can get would be awesome."

It could be a decoy. It could be a realistic option. It could be used early and often. It could collect dust on a shelf somewhere in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's office.

The bottom line is the Pittsburgh Steelers need to think about the possibility of facing a package designed for Manziel as they prepare to host the Browns in the Sept. 7 regular-season opener.

"1/8The Steelers have3/8 talked about Johnny and what he brings to the table," Pettine said. "I would think that any defensive coordinator that we play, especially early on until we're kind of more of a known quantity, will prepare for all eventualities."

Strong safety Donte Whitner is among those who believes the Browns can benefit as a result.

"With 1/8Pettine's3/8 words alone, they have to prepare," Whitner said. "They have to prepare for the 1/8read3/8 option. They have to prepare for the 1/8zone3/8 read play and all of that. So even if 1/8Manziel3/8 doesn't get out there, Pittsburgh or whoever we play has to prepare for it."

When the subject of a Manziel package was broached, Hoyer has said he would be fine with any strategy that helps the Browns win. Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year's draft, is obviously in favor of the idea.

"I think Kyle is obviously a very innovative guy who is extremely creative," Manziel said. "So whatever is put on my plate or asked of me, I'm absolutely happy to do and would be extremely excited to get on the field and help this offense in any way I can."

Whitner not only knows what it's like to prepare for different types of quarterbacks, but he also saw former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick transform from Alex Smith's backup who was used in specialty packages to a standout who helped the franchise reach the Super Bowl during the 2012 season.

Whitner called practicing against Hoyer and Manziel "similar" to practicing against Smith and Kaepernick.

"We knew that Alex Smith, he's not just a sitting duck back there. He's actually a good athlete. But he's more so pass first," Whitner said. "Kaepernick, he could do anything. He could take it 80, 90 yards on you if he was running the football.

"It's the same here. I don't know if Johnny can actually take it 80 on a defense running the ball, but I know that he can get some yards and make some things happen. And I know that Hoyer is a true drop-back passer."

Many are turned off by a two-quarterback system, but not everyone agrees with the following expression: "If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks."

"That's laughable to me," Pettine said last week in an interview with NFL.com. "When you have two quarterbacks, you have two quarterbacks."

There are two main schools of thought on using a two-quarterback system.

Some say the strategy doesn't usually work well because it disrupts the rhythm of the starter and his cohesion with the supporting cast. Others point to the time required of a defense to prepare for it as well as its ability to keep opponents off balance.

Pettine sees both sides of it and remembers preparing for Smith and Kaepernick when he was the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets.

"If you don't prepare for it, you have a chance to look very unprepared and give up some big plays," Pettine said. "I just go back to that game. We did spend time preparing on it and still gave up some chunk plays. There is that positive to it that your forcing prep time, but the negative is you're affecting your own continuity."

So how much time would the Steelers need to devote to preparation for a Manziel package?

"I believe it'll take a big chunk out of their time, but 1/8defensive coordinator3/8 Dick LeBeau and all those guys, they know defense, so they'll have two or three plays or two or three ways to try to stop that," Whitner said. "But we just want to make them take some time off of something else. 1/8They3/8 might mess up on something else 1/8against3/8 the offense by having to worry about this read option and Johnny being back there and being a mobile quarterback because mobile quarterbacks scare defensive coordinators in the National Football League."

Whether a Manziel package is unleashed like a secret weapon remains to be seen. In the meantime, Hoyer and the rest of the first-team offense are looking to get their act together Thursday night when the Browns host the Chicago Bears in the preseason finale.

"We do some things really well and then we shoot ourselves in the foot," Hoyer said. "If we just sucked, then I think we would kind of just be down on ourselves, but we realize what we can be. That's the most frustrating part, and that's why we've been coming out of these games feeling mad at ourselves.

"I think obviously we want to go out and play and execute Thursday night really well, but I don't think there's going to be any type of hangover whether it's positive or negative going into regular season. I think it's a whole new ball game when that comes around."

Still, Pettine would like to see Hoyer get over the proverbial hump before the real games begin.

"I don't think he's stuck," Pettine said of Hoyer. "I just think he can't press, that he just needs to keep it simple. Do your job. Good things will happen. Go out there, be confident and hopefully the rest of the offense 1/8will be3/8 functioning well around him."

Before Hoyer prevailed over Manziel in the competition for the starting quarterback job, Whitner told Sports Illustrated's Peter King the locker room was " split about 50-50" on the two players.

"I think some guys like Johnny, and I think some guys like Brian," Whitner said. "Pick your poison. Pick who you like. So that's what I meant. I didn't mean that we were divided."

So Manziel package or no Manziel package, Whitner insists the team will rally around Hoyer.

"We have all the confidence in the world that he can make all the plays, make all the throws, that he's going to do what he's supposed to do," Whitner said. "We expect him to come out, play great, get us in the right situations on offense, not turn the football over, allow us to play great defense and win some football games."

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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