By Nate Ulrich Akron Beacon Journal
BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel let everyone know Wednesday that he’ll fight for his right to party.
Manziel defended his choice to live it up over the holiday weekend in Las Vegas. He insisted hanging out poolside with adult beverages, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, DJ Pauly D of MTV’s Jersey Shore and bikini-clad women as well as spraying champagne into a crowd of dancers at a nightclub wouldn’t have any effect on his commitment to an NFL career.
“I don’t live my life according to you guys (in the media) or according to what other people think of me,” Manziel said following the Browns’ fifth practice of organized team activities. “I’m going to live my life to the fullest and continue to be committed to this game and committed to what I need to be doing here and trying to earn my place in this locker room with these coaches, with this organization. If I want to go out and have some fun and it doesn’t hinder what my main goals in life are, then I don’t really care what anybody has to say.”
The 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Manziel is competing with incumbent Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job. After toiling with the third-team offense last week, Manziel took second-team reps Wednesday behind Hoyer and first-team reps while Hoyer sat out 11-on-11 drills for precautionary reasons as he continues his comeback attempt from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last season.
Manziel’s critics say his Vegas vacation proves that he cares more about being a celebrity than a starting quarterback. They argue he should have been focused on studying his new offense instead of partying. But Manziel, who brought his Browns playbook and iPad with him on the getaway, is convinced he can successfully juggle unwinding in his free time and dedicating himself to football.
“I’m very surprised actually that it’s actually a story,” Manziel said. “I’ve accomplished dreams of mine that I never really thought I would get a chance to be in this position. I’ve been here every day working extremely hard, coming in here every day trying to earn my place and do what I need to do. For me to get a free weekend to spend some time with friends and family of mine and just have fun and relax and get away from the grind a little bit and then come back when I’m supposed to and get back to work this week and do what I’m supposed to do, I don’t really feel that that’s a story.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine said he doesn’t question Manziel’s commitment and insisted he has no qualms about Johnny Football being unleashed in Sin City.
“We have a saying in the NFL — as long as it doesn’t affect your job — and he’s a guy that was very proactive. He let us know that he was going (to Vegas), and my advice to him was have fun,” Pettine said. “He’s a young guy. He’s done everything that we’ve asked. The playbook has not been an issue for him. I know a big deal was made of it, but internally we have an expectation for all of our players outside of the building to act a certain way, and it’s really a non-issue. Just like anybody else, he’s a man, and we’re going to treat our guys like that until they prove that they need to be treated otherwise.”
Asked if he was bothered by the image Manziel portrayed when he sprayed champagne into a crowd, Pettine said, “I’m not going to micromanage our players outside of the building. … He didn’t do anything illegal, so to me, it’s a non-issue.”
Manziel pointed out that he has been all business while in the Cleveland area.
“I go straight back to the hotel (after practice) and get ready for the next day, so I haven’t really gotten to see the city much just because of the way things are right now,” Manziel said. “I actually haven’t been downtown. I haven’t been anywhere but on a shuttle from here to the hotel and back and maybe to Chipotle or something like that.”
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan echoed Pettine, and like the coaches, Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and Pro Bowl strong safety Donte Whitner said they don’t have any problem with Manziel fleeing to Vegas.
Thomas said several NFL players probably spent the weekend in Las Vegas, but no one knows because they aren’t under a microscope like Manziel.
“Not a big deal,” Thomas said. “If you were doing that the night before a game, then it would be a different issue. But it is the offseason. You need a chance to decompress and get your mind off of football because it’s a long haul and the season is going to be a long grind, so you need to kind of let loose a little bit when you get the chance.”
Whitner believes if he were Manziel’s age, he would’ve likely joined the party.
“I’m not really bothered because I was once a guy that was 21 years old,” Whitner said. “I came into the National Football League at 20 years old, and I can guarantee you if me and Johnny came in together, I probably would’ve been in Vegas with him.
“He didn’t get into any trouble. He didn’t harm anybody. He’s here. He’s working hard. He’s in his playbook. He’s not out there making mental errors. He’s out there doing what asked of him, and that’s all that matters. I’m sure he’s going to take this as a little more fuel to the fire. He’s still in a quarterback battle right now, and it’s not a big deal.”
Manziel said he has “learned to accept” that he can’t live in privacy.
“I can’t go anywhere without people knowing I’m there or tweeting, so I’m used to it by now,” Manziel said. “And fair or unfair, that’s my life.
“For some reason, wherever I go, people want to take pictures. They think I’m doing something wild when I’m just living the normal life.”
However, he fuels the mania surrounding him. After all, he used Instagram to post a photograph of Manziel and Gronkowski posing with other partyers because, he said, the image was already circulating online and he “thought it was pretty funny.”
But why can’t Manziel be low-key like other quarterbacks? Patriots star Tom Brady is married to a supermodel, but even he doesn’t generate nearly as much attention off the field.
“I feel like Tom and those guys are in a way different stage of their lives,” Manziel said. “They have families and they go home every day to their family. I’m not married, and I don’t have any kids. I have a lot of free time.”
Manziel hopes “the chaos will die down a little bit” and aims to become an elite NFL player who warrants attention for success on the field.
“I haven’t really done anything at this level,” Manziel said. “I haven’t done anything to establish myself or create this type of buzz or anything like that. I’m just another rookie.”