BEREA, Ohio — There were No. 2 jerseys everywhere, ringing the practice fields in various shapes, sizes and colors.
On the first day of training camp, Browns fans came out by the thousands, many of them to get their first live look at the popular and polarizing quarterback who electrified college football and who may one day lead Cleveland back to pro football glory.
They all came to see Johnny Manziel.
Strutting around the field with his usual swagger, Manziel went through his first training camp practice on Saturday, a workout that finally allowed the focus to be on his playing ability after months of his social life making headlines. A day after acknowledging he “made some rookie mistakes” with his off-the-field exploits, Manziel zipped passes and showed some of the elusiveness that earned him his Johnny Football nickname while at Texas A&M.
“I have fun playing this game,” Manziel said. “I have fun going out on this field playing football. It’s what I live for, it’s what I love to do.”
On Friday, Manziel, who will battle Brian Hoyer for Cleveland’s starting job, said he wished he had done some things differently during the offseason, when his wild weekends partying in Las Vegas nightclubs brought both he and the Browns some unwanted publicity. Manziel vowed to be all about football now, and his every move will be dissected over the next few weeks as he and Hoyer compete.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam hopes Manziel sticks to his word and changes his behavior.
“Johnny said it himself, he made some mistakes,” said Haslam. “We expect better from him. I’m sure he’ll perform and now we’re anxious to see what he can do on the field, which is what really counts.”
Haslam, whose Pilot Flying J truck-stop company has been at the center of a federal investigation for fraud, rattled off the names of famous athletes like LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter as examples of athletes Manziel should try to model himself after.
“The really great athletes make their news on the field, not off the field,” Haslam said.
Hours before the Browns opened the gates of their training complex, fans waited patiently in lines for a chance to get a prime spot to see Manziel. Bracing for huge crowds at camp, the Browns required fans to register online for the first time to reserve a ticket for the practices.
At 9:22 a.m., Manziel emerged through the door of Cleveland’s locker room and made his way onto the field. As Manziel came into view, fans wearing “Johnny Football T-shirts” and No. 2 jerseys, some of them recycled ones they wore when Tim Couch was Cleveland’s starting quarterback, cheered as House of Pain’s “Jump Around” blared through loudspeakers.
Manziel later said he appreciated the support.
“Personally, I’ve had an incredible fan base that’s followed me and really come out of the woodwork here in Cleveland for me,” he said. “It’s truly incredible. I’m truly thankful to have those guys, but more than anything, it’s not just my number, my name on the back. It’s Cleveland. It’s the Browns. It’s awesome to have the fan base that we have for this team, not just me. It’s a great turnout today, and I’m sure that won’t stop anytime soon.”
Hoyer had a much smaller following, but there are plenty of Cleveland fans who are pulling for the hometown kid to fend off Manziel.
Hoyer opens camp with a sizeable advantage over Manziel, but the 28-year-old knows he can’t afford any major slipups or his lead will evaporate. Hoyer put in countless hours rehabbing a surgically repaired right knee to be ready for this season. He knows this could be his last chance at a starting job.
“Like I’ve said all along, playing for this team was my dream as a child, but also being from here doesn’t make me the best quarterback for this team,” he said. “I want to earn it out on the field.”
Even Haslam feels some sentimentality toward Hoyer.
“Is there a better story?” he said. “He’s a hometown kid, he’s coming off an injury. We all want him to do well.”
Hoyer took the first reps with Cleveland’s starting offense, and he completed his first pass to wide receiver Austin Miles. Manziel was behind center a few plays later, and after dropping deep in the pocket, his throw toward the sideline sailed long, beyond the outstretched hands of receiver Charles Johnson.
The incompletion didn’t discourage the Manzielmaniacs, who are confident he can make the Browns winners.
“I loved watching him play in college,” said Sam Wilson of North Canton, Ohio, who came to camp with his girlfriend, Savannah Meadows. “I think he’s kind of a football genius and I think he’ll turn it around. I have faith in him.”
Not everyone was focused on Manziel’s throws.
“I just think he’s really cute,” Meadows said.
NOTES: Second-year LB Barkevious Mingo made several nice plays, tipping away an early pass by Hoyer. Coach Mike Pettine said Mingo came in heavier this year, but hasn’t lost his speed. “I’m very pleased. He got into the playbook and showed up ready to work,” Pettine said of the No. 6 overall pick in 2013. … The Browns placed TEs Gary Barnidge and MarQueis Gray, G John Greco and DT Phil Taylor on non-football injury list after they failed their conditioning tests.
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