PITTSBURGH -- As polarizing a figure as Johnny Manziel is, he can probably get Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers fans to agree on one thing.
The majority of fans on both sides would love to see him start Sept. 7 when the Browns visit Heinz Field for the regular-season opener between the bitter rivals.
Steelers season-ticket holders would pay double to see the quarterback who reached celebrity status before throwing his first NFL pass receive a baptism/comeuppance from Dick LeBeau’s defense.
Browns fans might be just as eager to see Manziel in Pittsburgh, though obviously for a different reason.
The Browns have gone through quarterbacks at an alarming rate since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999. They desperately need someone to stop the cycle, and Browns fans might want to see if Manziel can conjure up the magic that made him a legend at Texas A&M right from the start -- even if the circumstances for his NFL debut in Pittsburgh could be a recipe for disaster.
Manziel, speaking to Browns reporters at the NFL Rookie Symposium, said his goal is to start this season. But the former Heisman Trophy winner conceded that he is still well behind Brian Hoyer, who will enter training camp as the No. 1 quarterback.
I asked a handful of Steelers defensive starters before the end of offseason practices whether they would like to see Manziel under center for the season opener, and I didn’t get much more than a collective shrug of the shoulders.
“It don’t matter,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We’re trying to win ballgames. It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback.”
Mike Mitchell agreed.
“To be honest I just want someone that’s going to throw me a pick,” the Steelers free safety said. “I don’t really care who it is. I want the quarterback that’s the most confident, the most prepared, so when I take it from him, no excuses. That’s what I want every week.”
Defensive end Cameron Heyward played his college ball at Ohio State, so he can understand, even if only to some degree, the scrutiny Manziel is already under in the Buckeye state.
“It’s tough. Everybody’s looking for him to mess up,” Heyward said. “He’s a great player. I wish him the best.”
So, would Heyward like to get the first crack at Johnny Football, so to speak?
“Whoever’s in there I’m going to have fun either way,” Heyward said with a smile.