Friday, August 22, 2014
Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, the team's heralded No. 1 pick, is a self-absorbed jerk. At least that's what some of his teammates are quietly saying.
None of them are going to publicly trash him. Teammates don't do that. But in the locker room some of them are griping to each other and, at times, to him about his silly, frat-boy behavior. Early this week, he gave the finger to the Redskins' bench--on national TV yet. Could you see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees doing something that idiotic?
Sources close to three Browns' players report that many guys on the team are livid with Manziel, don't support him, regard him as a lame leader, are embarrassed by his immature antics and hate that he's the face of the franchise. Can you blame them?
The Browns, among the NFL's have-nots forever, are dying to upgrade their image. They're eager to be known as a tough, dedicated, hard-working team. But now, thanks to Manziel, they're known as the playmates of an out-of-control playboy who'd rather be hanging out in Las Vegas than working on improving his game.
It's not his incessant partying that his teammates hate. Some players can romp in the club scene until early morning and still do their job efficiently on the field. In the old days, for example, quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Dan Pastorini and, in the real old days, Bobby Layne, managed to be playboys and good players at the same time.
Manziel, however, can't do both--not on the pro level anyway. At Texas A& M, as a party animal, he had no peer. In those days, put Manziel up against the most degenerate, slacking frat boys, and he'd win, hands down. Nicknamed Johnny Football, he was legendary. Some of his favorite bars in College Station, home of the A&M campus, boast plaques in his honor.
But he could get away with that nonsense in college, even in the rugged SEC. At A&M he had a mountain of an offensive line, was familiar with his receivers and was working in a system he knew in his sleep. Also, he played against a lot of linebackers and secondaries that couldn't keep up with him. He could get through a practice or even a game with a hangover. He could get by with a lazy effort. In college, he was that good. Remember, he won the Heisman as a freshman. But the NFL is a different ballgame. The game and the players are faster and he's learning a new system, so he's going to be, at times, indecisive. If Manziel were a mature guy, he'd put partying on hold and dedicate himself to fitting into this new system. But that's not what he's doing.
The Browns really need him. The players are desperate for a leader, for a QB to lead them out of the NFL darkness. Manziel has the skill set to do that. He could be the Browns' savior--if he put his mind to it. That's why his teammates are so angry at him. Right now, he's too much of a slacker and a lazy leader to be awarded the reins of the Cleveland offense.
First-year coach Mike Pettine is furious with Manziel too. These sources report the coach has been putting on a good front, appearing calm and level-headed when talking about Manziel's competition with Brian Hoyer for the first-string job. That's his media face. In the locker room, though, he's genuinely angry and extremely disappointed at Manziel. Pettine knows that if the rookie would dedicate himself to being a good pro QB, he'd be starting.
But Coach just named Hoyer, who's coming off a serious knee injury, to start in the opening game on Sept.7 against Pittsburgh. Face it--Hoyer is terrible. His mechanics suck, he's a mediocre passer, he's lousy at reading defenses, etc. He's looked horrible in the games so far. But he knows the system and the players have confidence in him.
As bad as Hoyer is, he's still, at this point anyway, a notch above Manziel, who's looked lost at times in practice and games because he's still learning. Manziel's pre-season numbers haven't been great. He was spotty (7 of 11 for 63 yards) in the Detroit loss and unimpressive ( 7 of 16 for 65 yards) when Cleveland dropped a close one to Washington. Still, he has shown flashes of brilliance as a runner and a passer. Occasionally he'll make a play that Hoyer could never make, that makes you see why he was nicknamed Johnny Football. Clearly, when Manziel figures out what he's supposed to do and gets comfortable in that system, he could be an effective starter.
Prediction: Manziel will take over as the starter after a few games because Hoyer will be so awful that even an unsure, unfocused, often ragged rookie like Manziel will look good.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 12:21 AM
Friday, August 8, 2014
What's really going on in the St. Louis Rams' locker room re: rookie Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end and 7th round draftee, who's the first openly gay player in the NFL?
The league would like you to believe that everything is warm and fuzzy and friendly in that locker room and that the players are getting along well with Sam.
Scratch the surface and, according to two sources close to two Rams, many players are uncomfortable around Sam, are sniping about him privately, liberally using the f-word, and hoping he doesn't make the team. First of all, there are the homophobes, the hard-core anti-gays who flat out don't like being in the same locker room with gays. Guys like this will always be around and will make life miserable for guys like Sam. As you can imagine, the homophobes really hated seeing Sam kiss his boyfriend on TV and are appalled at his affinity for public affection. This anti-gay bunch, report the sources, is generating an undercurrent of tension in the locker room. They're not going to broadcast it, for fear of angering league officials, but many Rams wish Sam would go away..
Some of Sam's competitors--the other late-round draftees and marginal players--also aren't crazy about him. These are the guys desperate to make the team, desperate for a job. But all they have going for them is their skills. Sam, however, has more than that. A player drafted near the end of the final round should be hanging by a thread. But Sam isn't the typical seventh-rounder. And he's not hanging by a thread. He's a media darling, the face of the NFL gays. He's in a preferred position, but not because of his playing skills. When it's time for roster cuts, Sam will definitely have an edge. There's no denying that. If he was up against a player of equal skills for one roster spot, who do you think would get the spot? To his competitors, he's playing the "gay" card and winning the pot. They think he has an unfair edge and resent him for that. That situation is creating a lot of locker-room tension.
Let's face it. The NFL doesn't want Sam to fail. It's bad public relations. If the league is perceived as a place that's not gay-friendly, that will be, among the general population, a black mark. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL bigwigs don't want that to happen--and they'll make sure it doesn't. Sam will make the Rams or some other team. Goodell will make sure of that.
Of course, the commissioner says he stays out of such decisions. Don't believe that for a second. Remember that Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, wasn't even drafted. One problem is that this award is tainted. If you look closely, it was based on him running wild against bad teams. For the most part, the good SEC teams held him in check. He wasn't even the best DE on his own team--Kony Ealy was. Sam's big drawback is that he's a "tweener," too slow to be a demon pass-rusher and not fast enough for linebacker. He's not really a potential starter and teams didn't want to put up with all the media distractions for a so-so talent. That's why he fell to the bottom of the draft.
But do you really think Goodell was going to let Sam, perceived by most as a courageous good guy, go undrafted? That wouldn't have looked good for the NFL's image. The word around the league is that the commissioner's reps were working the phones in the seventh and final round to make sure Sam was drafted. Once again, Goodell's people will deny they had any part in that. But these are the same people who'll make sure that Sam is on some team when the season starts.
By the way, according to several league sources, there's another NFL group--the league's closeted gays-- that is uneasy and unhappy about all the media attention Sam is getting. These guys--some estimates say there are twenty or thirty of them--like being under the radar and prefer keeping their private lives private. Because of Sam, though, there's a spotlight on the NFL's gays now and the glare just might spread to these closeted gays. More tension.
Of course, there's a way Sam can make the tension go away and wipe out notions he's getting special assistance to stay in the league. The solution is for him to morph into a good, solid, dependable, humble NFL player. Hell, that way he might even win over a boneheaded homophobe or two.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 7:19 PM