CLEVELAND — The Browns, unspeakably miserable for years, have a major buzz about them. It may soon become deafening.
The Dawg Pound is barking — and some of its more rabid members are begging — for Johnny Manziel.
With starter Brian Hoyer on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and watching last week, Manziel, the Browns’ rookie quarterback with the quick feet, rocket arm, and penchant for partying, scrambled, pump-faked, and launched himself into the end zone for his first touchdown as a pro.
Cleveland’s crowd roared as if it won the Super Bowl.
Manziel popped to his feet and, Johnny Football, love him or hate him, flashed the signature “money” sign he made famous during two memorable seasons at Texas A&M.
As he rubbed his fingers together, thousands of Browns fans in No. 2 jerseys, mimicked his gesture.
“That’s for those guys,” Manziel said afterward. “It’s not for me.”
But it’s all about Johnny, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, man of the people, and maybe the one who delivers Cleveland from football purgatory.
The Browns drafted Manziel in the first round with an eye toward the future, and it might be much closer than anyone thought. Manziel will begin the season as Cleveland’s No. 2 quarterback behind Hoyer.
First-year coach Mike Pettine plans to install a package of plays for the mobile Manziel, and it won’t be shocking if both quarterbacks play in the opener against the Steelers.
Manziel is adjusting to the speed of the game, making better downfield reads, and doesn’t seem intimidated. He expects to succeed — even in Cleveland, where quarterbacks are chewed up and spit out annually.
“I don’t look at is as I was drafted to come in Day 1 and save the franchise,” he said. “For me, there’s no pressure, there’s no timetable. It’s to continue to develop, get smarter, get better, and whenever that time is, I’ll go out there and play football like I’ve been doing for the past years of my life.”
All eyes will be on Manziel, wherever he is, and here are some other things to watch with the Browns:
PETTINE’S TURN: The only thing the Browns discard as quickly as quarterbacks are coaches. Pettine is Cleveland’s third in three years and seventh since 1999. Billionaire owner Jimmy Haslam fired Rob Chudzinski after one season, canning him shortly after the 2013 finale in Pittsburgh.
This is Pettine’s first head-coaching gig since high school, and the man nicknamed “Blunt Force Trauma” better be ready to take some hits.
PLAYMAKERS WANTED: Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension leaves Cleveland’s offensive cupboard bare. Gordon led the league in yards receiving last season, and defenses have to account for No. 12 every time he’s on the field. Without him, the Browns don’t have a deep threat capable of stretching teams beyond comfort. Tight end Jordan Cameron might find it tougher to find open space. WR Miles Austin, slowed by hamstring injuries in two of the past three seasons in Dallas, could help fill the void, but he’s not Gordon.
ZONING OUT: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s running game is based on a zone-blocking scheme his dad, Mike, helped devise in Denver. With Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, elite center Alex Mack, and impressive rookie guard Joel Bitonio, the Browns have good pieces up front to open gaps for RB Ben Tate, signed as a free agent from the Texans.
The Browns are counting on their running game — and an attacking defense — to keep them competitive.
SLOW STARTS: The Browns are 1-14 in season openers since 1999. Too often, that first loss has been followed by many more. Cleveland has had only two winning seasons (2002, 2007) in its expansion era, and the Browns have lost at least 10 games in 12 of the past 15 seasons.