WASHINGTON — Whole lot in common between Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. Both from Texas. Both have Heismans. They’ve got catchy nicknames. They know how to create a commotion or two, and sometimes it comes back to bite. And they both sure can run.
“Anybody that wants to compare,” Griffin said, “I’m sure they’ll just look at us and say both of us are real fast, guys that can play backyard football at times.”
Now for a big difference: Griffin hasn’t had to compete for playing time in the NFL.
Griffin was anointed the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback about a week after he was drafted in 2012. He’s missed games because of injury and was shut down early last season in a power move by coach Mike Shanahan, but he hasn’t dealt with any sort of traditional training camp challenge that would place in doubt his spot atop the depth chart.
Manziel has no such luxury. Drafted No. 22 overall by the Cleveland Browns this year — 20 spots lower than Griffin — Johnny Football has been going mano a mano with Brian Hoyer.
The duel is about to hit its climax: The Browns visit RG3 and the Redskins on Monday night, and Cleveland coach Mike Pettine says he’ll pick his Week 1 regular-season starter Tuesday.
It’s one of those rare preseason games that packs a wallop, with every Manziel snap sure to be put under a microscope. Of course, he’s so used to it that maybe we should just call him Johnny Chaos.
“The chaos, everything that’s been going on — the talk, the hype, the overreaction, the over-analysis — has been from the day that I won the Heisman when I was a freshman, from that spring, to that fall, to the draft, to now,” he said. “If you look at it, it’s been a constant in my life. It’s been the one thing that’s been the most constant in my life for the past two years. I don’t even pay attention to it anymore.”
Pettine wants Manziel and Hoyer to split time with Cleveland’s first-team offense against the Redskins, but finding a fair balance could be tricky. The coach said he wants his starters to play “in the neighborhood” of a half, yet new Washington coach Jay Gruden plans to have his first-teamers on the field for only a quarter or so.
Pettine said he would consult with Gruden to help ensure that neither Manziel nor Hoyer gets a disproportionate number of snaps against a bunch of backups.
Hoyer will start for the second consecutive week. He got 24 snaps last week against the Detroit Lions and completed 6 of 14 passes for 92 yards. Manziel, playing with second- and third-teamers, had 25 snaps and was 7 for 11 for 63 yards and ran for 27 yards on six carries.
Griffin and Manziel also have a very important person in common. Kyle Shanahan was Griffin’s offensive coordinator for two seasons — one spectacular, one miserable and tension-filled — before he was fired along with his father at the end of last year. He now has the same job with the Browns.
Asked if he’s been in touch with the younger Shanahan, Griffin said: “No, we’ll leave that where it’s at.” Asked if the two will speak before the game, Griffin said: “Yeah, I mean, it’s not that kind of a relationship that we wouldn’t talk, so if I get a chance to see him and talk to him, I definitely will.”
Shanahan took his playbook to Cleveland, using some of the same zone-read concepts that helped Griffin win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Last week, he added a special tutor: Veteran backup QB Rex Grossman, who knows the offense well and aided Griffin in Washington, will do the same for Manziel after signing with the Browns.
“It’s like learning Spanish, really for the first few weeks,” Manziel said. “But now, getting into it, I’m able to paint a picture of the play in my head as it’s said.”