By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Ante up: In the 1980s, Gary Danielson was the quarterback mentor to Bernie Kosar. He played a huge role in the Browns’ resurgence, then watched in awe as the football team ignited the city.
Since 2006, Danielson has teamed with Verne Lundquist as the No. 1 college football broadcast team for CBS Sports. So he is an expert on Southeastern Conference football … and quarterbacks … and the Browns … and, well … Johnny Manziel, but we’ll get to him.
“There’s only so many great quarterbacks,” Danielson said. “When you have one, you have to cherish him. The Browns have had a few. It’s been a while.
“The tough part of it for the Browns is that the league is evolving even more so that it’s even more important to have a franchise quarterback than it was even 20 years ago. So, sorry, the price of admission is a franchise quarterback if you’re going to compete to be great.”
You can talk about defense and linebackers and running the ball all you want. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, you talk about those things. And you hope those things that you do have will be enough to win games.
But can you win a championship that way? Seattle did it with Russell Wilson transitioning from “game manager” to “franchise quarterback.”
“You can put together one of those special years, but if you want to have a 10-year run of a franchise, I think you have to have that (quarterback) in place,” Danielson said. “And even if you do, that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win. That just means that’s the ante into the game.”
Johnny Football: There are five quarterbacks from the SEC eligible for the NFL draft this year – Manziel of Texas A&M, A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Aaron Murray of Georgia, and Connor Shaw of South Carolina. Danielson has seen them all.
“Manziel is the only quarterback in the SEC that merits consideration going in the top 8-10 picks,” he said.
“I really believe he’s something special. And here’s the funny part – I think he’s worth the risk.
“Back in the day, when you drafted a quarterback – and the Browns have been through this – if you make a mistake, it devastates your franchise. Now it doesn't devastate your franchise as much. It’s a tough mistake and you’re always saying you could have had ‘that guy.’ But there’s not a lot of sure things in the draft.”
The Browns had a private workout of Manziel in College Station, TX, on Saturday and will host him in a visit to Berea this week. He is the most polarizing player in this year’s draft.
Manziel’s short stature (5-11 ¾ and 206 pounds), his schoolyard style of playing the position, and his penchant for off-field extra-curriculars present great risks in anointing him your franchise quarterback. But Danielson believes the rewards are great, too.
“He has a lot of the traits you could build a franchise around and he would put life into your franchise, but he hasn’t really played in an NFL pocket-dominated offense,” he said. “I still believe that the pocket is where the NFL passer has to thrive.
“You can be Colin Kaepernick after you prove you can operate in the pocket. You can be Russell Wilson after you prove you can win from the pocket. But everything after the pocket is gravy. You still have to win in the pocket.
“If he tries to change NFL football to fit his style I think he’ll have trouble. Kaepernick, he’s 6-4 and rangy, when he started off last year and they were trying to dominate the league, or RG3 was trying to dominate the league, doing something outside of what the rules allow the quarterback to do … the guys are too fast, too big, there’s too much money in that position, there’s too many practice snaps devoted to the quarterback and an injury there is just too devastating, so you have to play within the system and you have to play healthy.
“I think Manziel can figure out the game and I think the smart quarterback coaches will say, ‘Johnny, we don’t want you to run. We want you to get out of trouble and not get hit. You’ve got 18 games (counting postseason) here. Save yourself for the important runs of the game and quit calling those quarterback keeps where you start kind of feeding in to that desire for the guy to run the ball.’”
The ‘it’ factor: Danielson always considered Kosar’s competitiveness his winning edge. He sees the same in Manziel.
“He’s got a lot of moxie. He’s got that intangible, that competitive intangible that Bernie had. He’s gonna find a way to beat you – if it’s possible,” Danielson said. “Bernie had his limitations, and he made them work within his game. Johnny’s gonna have to figure out if he’ll relax his style to the NFL game. I think he can do it.
“Bernie would spend 20 hours a day because it was very important for him to be a great NFL quarterback. Johnny Manziel has not proven long term that he’s willing to dedicate himself and kind of anonymously do the work necessary to be a quarterback.
“But he’s the one that could take kind of a dull franchise (and turn it around).”
“It’s kind of hard for me to say that,” Danielson added, “because it was very important for me playing my years in Cleveland and (knowing) how important that team was to that community … to say now they’ve become dull.
“The fans deserve better than that.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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