Johnny Manziel's former teammates at Texas A&M believe he will be a playmaker at the NFL level.
BEREA, Ohio -- In four weeks' time, the Cleveland Browns will open training camp with a competition between veterans Brian Hoyer and Tyler Thigpen, as well as rookie Johnny Manziel for the starting quarterback job.
But in the opinion of one of Manziel's former teammates, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, the competition will not last long, as he believes his former quarterback at Texas A&M will show the Browns who their starting signal-caller should be.
"He's a great quarterback," Evans said. "He's the best quarterback prospect in this draft, and I think he'll change the program in Cleveland. The NFL hasn't seen anything like him, I think, and he's a better passer than most people give him credit for, and he can adapt.
"He's strong-willed. He's dealing with all of the media attention and he's been doing it for a while, so he should handle it well, but I think he should be the starter in my biased opinion. He's the smartest guy I've been around so far."
Atlanta offensive lineman Jake Matthews, who blocked Manziel's blindside at A&M, added, "He's a competitor, and he's going to come out and play. I think he's going to be a good player. I really do. It is going to be interesting because he's such a different player and he's so unique. I can't say anything else. I really think he's going to be good."
Evans and Matthews both believe Manziel can help turn around a Browns franchise that has had six straight double-digit losing seasons and only one playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999 because of the way he commanded the huddle and got people to be productive at Texas A&M.
"In the game, he throws great balls," Evans said. "He has great accuracy, a great(er) arm than most people give him credit for. Off the field, you know he's going to go work for you. When we were in the film room, sometimes, he'd tell me he wants to throw it back shoulder, and he'd tell me if he wants to throw it over my shoulder. He's a real smart guy."
Matthews added, "When we're in the huddle, he's in control. When he talks, everyone listens, and that was one of the things I really picked up from him, determination. He was not going to take 'No' for an answer. That's what I love about him the most. He's just one of the truest competitors that I've ever seen, so I'm excited for him."
In addition to Manziel's presence in the huddle, Matthews believes in him because of "his determination, his attitude, his work ethic" and the way he handled the responsibilities of studying film and preparing for games, all while dealing with the outside distractions of being "Johnny Football," the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
"He gets after it, man," Matthews said. "When he's on the field, he's got the mindset that no one's better than him. I really enjoyed blocking for him. I'm proud to say I blocked for him. I blocked for a Heisman Trophy winner, and I think he's going to do a lot of good things here. I'm looking forward to following his career.
"He came in and worked every day. I know he's going to do that here. He did a lot of good things at A&M, so I've got no complaints with him. He's going to be fine. There's been media and stuff like this going on for a while, and he's always come in and gotten the job done, so I'm not worried about him. I trusted him. He was one of those guys in the locker room, and I didn't resent him."
During the freshman year of his career at Texas A&M, Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions while completing 295 of 434 attempts despite taking 22 sacks.
Then, as a follow-up to his Heisman campaign, Manziel completed 300 passes for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns against 13 interceptions and was sacked only 19 times in leading the Aggies to nine wins last fall.
Although Manziel's plays were not always conventional in nature, they were fun to run, according to his teammates.
"It makes it different, but go back and look at our highlights at A&M," Matthews said. "Most of the time when he started doing that, he made plays. It's a different level, that's for sure, in the NFL. He might have to change some things because you don't see many quarterbacks doing that now, but who knows? He may start a new trend. He can run around and do whatever he wants."
Evans added, "It's a lot of fun. It was a lot of backyard football. It was a lot of fun seeing him run around and do that. After the play, (I'm) thinking, 'Man, how is that possible?' But he's a great player. He used to do it in scrimmages, and I remember thinking to myself, 'Man, this guy's got some talent.'"