Extra Points: For Browns, 'Hard Knocks' sooner or later
06/11/2014 2:44 PM
06/11/2014 2:50 PM
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - If you don't want the circus in town, you probably shouldn't pitch the big top.
The Cleveland Browns invited additional scrutiny when they decided to get into the "Johnny Football" business and at some point they're going to have to deal with it.
For whatever reason, Johnny Manziel enters the NFL with a higher "Q Rating" than perhaps anyone not named Manning or Brady, so it's no surprise HBO inquired about the Browns being a part of its hit reality show "Hard Knocks," something first-year head coach Mike Pettine quickly nipped in the bud.
"This was a decision that was made long before the draft," Pettine said when asked why he turned down the show. "It was just something that I felt in my gut, I just didn't want (the program) to be a part of the first year."
Pettine may not have much experience as an NFL head coach just yet, but he does have a history with "Hard Knocks" as an assistant under Rex Ryan in New York when the Jets took part in the series back in 2010.
"I saw the positives of it," he explained, "but I think there's some negatives to it as well. Just not having a good feel for our roster, as far as the chemistry and the personalities and all of that. That's kind of going into some uncharted territory."
Despite the critical and ratings success of "Hard Knocks," most organizations have no interest in inviting the cameras to training camp, feeling the added surveillance creates unwanted distractions that could morph into a competitive disadvantage.
More and more teams have shied away from the program in recent years and the NFL was forced to pass a new rule compelling clubs to participate in "Hard Knocks" if they meet a certain set of criteria.
Teams can only decline a "Hard Knocks" invite if they have a rookie head coach like Cleveland, made the playoffs in the last two years or appeared on the program in the past decade.
Eight teams -- Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Jacksonville, the New York Giants, Oakland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis -- can not shy away from HBO if asked this time around, but the network still took a pie-in-the-sky swipe at Manziel and Co.
"It can (create a distraction), Pettine said. "I just always felt if there's anything that causes us to think for one second about something other than preparing our football for the opener, then that's probably not a good thing."
Fair enough, but walking away from "Hard Knocks" is avoiding only one potential distraction. The Browns have created plenty of others by drafting Manziel, an immature young man, blissfully unaware, or at least unconcerned, with how his behavior affects his team.
Quarterbacks -- good, bad or indifferent -- are the face of any franchise on the field and it's impossible to hide a nondescript one, never mind one with the star power of a Manziel, yet that's exactly what Cleveland has tried to do at times, shutting out the national media from rookie camp before closing down the availability of their quarterbacks this week at minicamp.
"They had been made available (at OTAs)," Pettine said. "I don't think the message will be that different than it was before. It was something that was just in our rotation of things that we just didn't feel that it needed to be done."
Few are buying that and most understand the Browns wouldn't have a problem letting veteran Brian Hoyer speak to the media on any given day, but Manziel is a different animal.
"I agree with that," Cleveland-area sports talk host Jerry Mires told The Sports Network. "The Browns are trying to protect Manziel a little bit."
And they should be. Before minicamp, the rookie was spotted partying for the third straight weekend far away from Cleveland.
"I didn't feel like he had to come to me every time he was going to leave town," Pettine explained. "The philosophy here is we're not going to micromanage the guys."
The Manziel hoopla all started with a Memorial Day excursion to Las Vegas when the former Heisman Trophy winner was photographed poolside with noted knucklehead Rob Gronkowski and a bevy of beautiful ladies before taking in a UFC fight.
A so-called one-off could be written off pretty quickly, but Sin City was followed by Manziel "living life to the fullest" in Hollywood and an X-Games party in Austin, Texas, where he was captured enjoying a drink on an inflatable swan.
"I'm not concerned," Pettine conveyed. "I would become concerned if there was something criminal, and I'd be concerned if it affected his job. I think there's a lot of our guys when they leave here, that if they were followed around, you'd get some very similar pictures. I don't know about an inflatable swan, but I think you'd still get some pictures."
If Pettine wants to succeed as an NFL head coach, though, he should be concerned.
While Manziel had done nothing wrong, it's unrealistic to ignore the fact that the position he plays demands a strong work ethic and significant leadership- by-example skills, something he never really flashed at Texas A&M.
So, while it may be too early to pull on the reins of Manziel publicly, Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer should be doing exactly that behind the scenes.
So far, though, the Browns have only made excuses and enabled their future at the game's most important position.
"I was involved in an event this weekend that if there were some cameras at certain times, it probably wouldn't have been the most flattering," Pettine said. "It was a group of coaches out. We had a good time, but we were responsible. When it becomes irresponsible or becomes part of something that involves breaking the law or something that we feel is a potential problem, we'll step in."
The potential problem already exists.
Many believe maturity is reached only when an individual understands he is not the center of the universe.
Manziel has all the physical tools in the world to succeed on the football field, even his staunchest supporters would have a difficult time arguing he has the life skills to navigate all the potholes littering his path.
Instead of taking the proactive approach, however, Pettine and the Browns have decided to wait and react when that potential issue becomes a very real one.
"It just goes back to we're not going to micromanage him until we feel it is an issue," the coach said. "If it's not affecting him on the field, then I don't think it's anything that we need to address at this point."
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