Doug Wolter: Sit Manziel, go slow with Bridgewater
I tend to have many discussions with other NFL fans about the subject of when to start rookie quarterbacks.
My own take on this matter is that both philosophies make equal sense. Sometimes quick starts work. And sometimes they don’t. It all depends.
I’ve been thinking of rookie quarterbacks a lot lately, and more specifically the cases of Minnesota Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater and the Cleveland Browns’ party boy, Johnny Manziel. First-year Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t determined whether his rookie QB (taken with the final pick in the first round) will ride the pine in his first season, but one important teammate — superstar running back Adrian Peterson — has announced that he’d prefer the situation to be resolved quickly. Manziel (taken 22nd in the first round) is also waiting to learn whether he’ll play or sit, but his nonstop frat boy ways have become an unwelcome side issue.
Will Bridgewater become a better quarterback if he starts right away? Will Manziel get a better focus if he’s declared the starter for Week One? Fans can’t wait to find out.
Historically, there have been many cases where quick-starting quarterbacks have become success stories. Joe Flacco led the Baltimore Ravens to the AFC championship game in his rookie season. Ben Roethlisberger was an immediate star with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dan Marino was brilliant in his rookie year. Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his first year, but he turned out alright. Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Terry Bradshaw and John Elway looked horrible, at times, in their rookie seasons but came out of it OK.
On the other hand, David Carr and Ryan Leaf also started as rookies. Their careers ultimately tanked. Was it because they started too soon?
The wisdom of starting rookie quarterbacks early received a boost when today’s celebrated young signal callers Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all looked very good in their first seasons. The takeaway from that was that if they can do it, why can’t my rookie?
Well, that’s because your rookie isn’t Luck, Griffin or Wilson. As I said, everybody’s different. Every situation is different.
Now let’s take a look at Bridgewater.
The Vikings can afford to use training camp and the exhibition schedule to analyze their three quarterbacks — Bridgewater, Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. Cassel has the inside track, according to Zimmer, and rightly so. Ponder has started enough games already to conclude that he hasn’t got what it takes, and it wouldn’t hurt Bridgewater to hold a clipboard for a few weeks.
When you’ve got the kind of quarterbacks the Vikings have got (two marginal veterans and a rookie), and a head coach who hasn’t yet worked with any of them in games that matter, you can’t just choose one as if you’re playing rock-paper-scissors. AP hints that the Vikings will be a better team if they settle on a starter quickly, but I suspect that it won’t make much of a difference regardless. The Vikings aren’t going to set the world on fire this fall, anyway.
Now for Manziel.
I gave the kid a pass shortly before the draft, because he spoke to the media (and prospective employers) as if he had finally grown up. He said he was ready to be a pro, and also to act like it.
He lied. Which is no way to start a career.
Since being chosen by the Browns, “Johnny Football” has doubled down on his party lifestyle, causing growing concerns among those in the football community that the young man’s immaturity is undermining his usefulness. They’re right. An NFL quarterback is a leader of men, and when you’ve got a high-profile rookie who lives as though his job is only a secondary concern, then you’ve got trouble.
The training camps are open now, and this is the time when Manziel needs to buckle down and become less like Bill and Ted and more like a man. His teammates might not say it publicly, but Manziel’s off-field activities are surely causing them to question whether they want him as the face of their franchise — which is what he was drafted to become.
The more Manziel talks, the more grating he sounds. He sounds like a teenager when he explains himself, saying in one breath that he’s 21 years old and needs to mature, then saying in another breath that life is all about having fun.
He just doesn’t get it. And if he doesn’t get it very soon, he should be told to shut up and ride the pine.
The Browns already have a serviceable starter in Brian Hoyer, who’s not a star, but has shown himself to be a professional his teammates can get behind. I say, if I’m Manziel’s boss, I sit him down right now and tell him, “Son, you’re in training camp. You’ve got to grow up real fast, and I’m gonna have to see it within the next week.”
If Johnny doesn’t get it then, I hold a press conference and announce Hoyer as my starting quarterback. Do it now. Don’t wait until training camp is over, or until the preseason schedule has been played. Do it now. And then watch and see how Johnny Football responds to that.