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Browns rookie Johnny Manziel leaves doubts of whether he understands reality of NFL life

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

BEREA, Ohio – Cleveland Browns fan Matt LaVelle showed up at the first day of training camp wearing a jersey with "Johnny DawgPound" taped across the back. It was a bit of refashioning he did prior to May's NFL draft in the hope that Johnny Manziel would be Cleveland's pick.

Manziel was on the field here Saturday, creating the expected frenzy, or "buzz," in the parlance of Johnny Football. Yet the more LaVelle and his friend watched the side-by-side drills featuring not just Johnny, but of the zipping, accurate throws of the actual No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, Brian Hoyer, something kept sinking in.

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This isn't the official Johnny Manziel jersey but it'll do just fine for this Browns fan. (Dan Wetzel/Y Sports)

This isn't the official Johnny Manziel jersey but it'll do just fine for this Browns fan. (Dan Wetzel/Y Sports) …

Yes, he's a Manziel fan …

"… but I like what I'm seeing out of Hoyer," LaVelle said of the low-key, local veteran (Cleveland St. Ignatius High School). Hoyer is a Michigan State product that spent three years backing up Tom Brady in New England. When he finally got a chance to start last year for the Browns, he looked good in three games before injuring his knee.

"Class act," owner Jimmy Haslam said of Hoyer. "He handles himself extremely well … Is there a better story? He's a hometown kid, coming off of an injury."

Well, other than the first day of the rest of Johnny Manziel's life, no, there wasn't a better story.

Manziel faces a steep climb here and that stark reality was evident all over the place. Or at least should be to Manziel, who must prove he can play on the field while also separating himself from a lifestyle that he unapologetically embraces.

His off-field flair is one reason there were plenty of Manziel No. 2 jerseys among the capacity crowd of 4,000 but they, like the team owner who went out on a limb to draft him, will gladly forget their shiny new sensation in exchange for victories, even ones from dull old Brian Hoyer.

That's why there were plenty of "Hoyer, Hoyer" chants as well.

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Meanwhile, Haslam didn't sound all that pleased when discussing Manziel's proclivity for partying, recommending that he model himself after LeBron James or Peyton Manning, who either avoid drinking on inflatable swans at nightclubs and holding rolled up $20 bills in Vegas bathrooms, or at least do it away from camera phones.

"The really great athletes make their news on the field, not off the field," Haslam said.

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Johnny Manziel had a few admirers on Saturday at Browns training camp. (Getty Images)

Johnny Manziel had a few admirers on Saturday at Browns training camp. (Getty Images)

Has that message sunk in yet?

"We'll see," Haslam said.

Manziel addressed Haslam's comments after practice and left lingering doubts. His speech was part concession of some nebulous mistakes, part brag session about how totally awesome his life is, you know being so popular and talented and all.

"Here's the thing I want to say," Manziel said. "The reason I'm popular, the reason people follow me and there's been such a buzz around me, when I went out on Saturdays at Texas A&M, I played with an extreme amount of passion and I played with my heart on my sleeve.

"But more than anything I had fun. I had fun playing this game, I had fun going on out on this field playing football. That's what I live for, that's what I do.

"The same thing off the field," he continued. "Whether I'm going out and playing golf, whether it's going out and having the nightlife, whatever it is, I'm having fun. That's what my life is. And luckily for me I'm living out my dream of playing in the NFL, having a ton of fun.

"My dream come true and I finally got to have some time to have some downtime and to celebrate that with my family and my friends. This is the greatest life I could've ever imagined for me and I'm loving it." "So will I continue to get better being a professional and learn lessons about life?" Manziel asked. "Of course, I'm 21 years old. Age is not an excuse but I need to mature and I've done some immature things. Moving forward I need to mature and get better and handle myself better as a professional … Life's fun. Enjoy it while it's here."

Manziel can live his life anyway he chooses but if he thinks life is short and needs to be embraced, he needs to show he understands life in the NFL is even more precious. Players claim NFL means "Not For Long" for a reason.

Coach Mike Pettine said he will name the Browns starter after the second preseason game, which is Aug. 18, or just over three weeks away. Right now Hoyer is getting the reps with the first team. He'll likely get to start the first two preseason games with them too. He wasn't the guy Pettine had to interrupt his vacation to call about the latest social media partying photo.

"I expect to be the starting quarterback," Hoyer said.

In the end, this isn't going to be some grand morality tale about the dutiful worker against the talented party boy. It's quaint but unimportant. In the NFL it's about winning games and nothing else.

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Brian Hoyer (L) has no plans of surrendering the No. 1 QB spot to Johnny Manziel. (AP)

Brian Hoyer (L) has no plans of surrendering the No. 1 QB spot to Johnny Manziel. (AP)

Both quarterbacks have their fans here but nothing creates excitement, buzz or even eventual idolatry like winning.

"All that matters is what happens on the field," Hoyer said. "No one is going to cheer for a good guy if they're 4-12."

"It's not just my name and my number on the back," Manziel said of the cheering fans before pointing to the front of his jersey. "It's Cleveland. It's the Browns."

Manziel talked about the urgency of every snap. He talked about buckling down and working. He talked about getting better each and every session, of plowing through the learning curve of a more complex NFL offense.

He also kept talking about how he's living the dream and should embrace it like a typical 21-year-old, except he isn't a typical 21-year-old and, as such, the dream can vanish quickly.

So he better chuck it for the Browns. He better be damn, damn good. The competition is serious and significant and popularity doesn't mean a thing. Fans can always buy a new jersey.

"It's getting real now," Manziel said.

We'll see, the man signing his checks said. We'll see.

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