NFL Nation writer on what it’s like covering Johnny Manziel, one aspect of Browns beat

Johnny Manziel and Jon Gruden (Anthony DeVita/ESPN)
In preparation for the Cleveland-Washington game tonight, ESPN MNF analyst Jon Gruden (right) last week interviewed Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. (Anthony DeVita/ESPN)

As far as NFL preseason goes, tonight’s Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins game on ESPN’s Monday Night Football (8 p.m. ET) is as intriguing as it gets.

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel – the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner who burst on the scene after helping the NFL Draft telecast generate record ratings in May – and Brian Hoyer are in the midst of the NFL’s most compelling quarterback competition of training camp.

The game also will feature Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III – another former Heisman winner from the state of Texas – and MNF analyst Jon Gruden calling a Redskins game for the first time since his brother Jay took over as head coach this offseason.

Johnny Manziel (Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)
Browns QB Johnny Manziel
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

With national ESPN reporters and columnists being assigned to the story, Front Row spoke with Pat McManamon (@PatMcManamon),’s NFL Nation team reporter in Cleveland, about the Manziel phenomenon. The veteran sports writer offers his perspective below on covering the Browns and the league’s latest sensation:

I’ve had the privilege of covering or being around some great players in my career in journalism. Dan Marino with the Miami Dolphins, a host of future NFL stars at the University of Miami, Emmitt Smith at the University of Florida and LeBron James the first time he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Johnny Manziel is the latest.

But he’s the subject of attention for very different and unusual circumstances. First of all, he’s not the starter. Manziel has had reams of material and hours of interest given (to) him merely because he did something in college and now has the potential to start in the NFL.

At this point, he’s not.

But he’s the subject of attention because he’s the poster child for the social media phenomenon.

Covering Manziel, though, is nothing like the circus it’s portrayed to be. He shows up, he works, he goes to meetings, he practices, he watches video and he starts the routine over again. At one point this camp, Manziel was carrying the helmets of veterans into the locker room — a rite of passage for every rookie.

Every few days — perhaps once or twice a week — Manziel meets the media. It’s a controlled environment, but no question is squashed, nor does Manziel avoid a question.

The Manziel we see in covering him is not the guy on the floating swan.

He’s a teammate, a player, a rookie trying to win a job. While off the field he might seem loud and obnoxious, that’s not an accurate representation of the guy we see. With the team he’s quiet, focused, driven and humble.

In the days of Marino and Emmitt Smith, there was no social media to chronicle a guy’s whereabouts. There was just the side of Manziel that folks see in Berea, Ohio, at the Browns facility every day.

That’s a guy — a confident guy — trying to win a job.

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