COLUMBUS — Johnny Manziel’s comeback is picking up speed.
The second-year quarterback showed poise in the pocket and made several nice throws — all against Cleveland’s backups — on Friday night as the Browns held an intrasquad scrimmage before 50,000 fans at Ohio Stadium, which also welcomed back former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Manziel completed 9 of 11 passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, a solid performance for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner trying to bounce back from a disastrous rookie season followed by a rehab stint and questions about whether he can succeed in the NFL.
Manziel has a long way to go, but some of the small steps he’s taken are getting longer.
“I wouldn’t make a huge deal about it, but it’s progress for me,” Manziel, his arm wrapped in ice, said afterward. “It’s better than I played last year in the scrimmage. A year later, there’s a lot of progress. I’m happy about it and happy about stringing some good days together. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Manziel completed a 3-yard TD pass to tight end E.J. Bibbs, and an 18-yarder to Josh Lenz on a strong back-shoulder throw.
It’s early in training camp, but the Browns are excited about Manziel’s growth. He’s shown maturity off the field, and he’s beginning to earn the respect and confidence of his teammates.
“It’s a good step for him because he knows he didn’t do the things he wanted to last year and have the type of season he wanted to,” Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “He had to make amends for the mistakes that he made last year, 50 good things are wiped out by one mistake in this business.
“So he had a long way to go to get back into the good graces with the team, but he’s made all the right steps since he stepped back in Berea back in April, and even before that. He’s really proved to a lot of people that this is important to him and he is ready to be an NFL starting quarterback.”
Manziel remains behind veteran Josh McCown, who threw a 10-yard TD pass to wide receiver Brian Hartline on his only series with Cleveland’s starting offense. Manziel, who didn’t play with the Browns’ first stringers, isn’t threatening McCown at this point, but things could get interesting later this summer if the two QBs perform equally.
Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel is displaying composure that wasn’t apparent at any point last year. He’s seeing the field better, and delivering the ball on target.
“The thing that jumps out is that he’s much less antsy in the pocket,” Pettine said. “He sets his feet, which is something you really didn’t get to see much, and he’s trusting his reads. I thought he placed the ball and thought his location and accuracy was very good tonight.”
For Pryor, the night was a homecoming to the school he left in disgrace.
Attempting to make Cleveland’s roster as a wide receiver, Pryor was back on the field where he starred for the first time since he abandoned Ohio State amid a tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal that led to the firing of coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes being sanctioned by the NCAA.
Pryor didn’t play in the scrimmage because of a hamstring injury, but he was thrilled to return to an iconic stadium where he racked up wins and memories.
“It’s a blessing for me to come back and be around all of this,” Pryor said while signing autographs. “We had a lot of success here. There are a lot of memories out there. I love this place.”
Before the scrimmage, Pryor said he spoke with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and met coach Urban Meyer for the first time. Pryor plans to be back, but his short-term goal is to show the Browns he can help them win.
“In terms of athleticism and making plays, like I’ve always said, I’m the best on the field when I step on the field,” he said. “That’s how I see myself.”