Should Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel be taunted by the Cincinnati Bengals defense during his first NFL start Sunday, the former Heisman Trophy winner says he's now better equipped to maintain his composure.
Manziel lost control of his emotions against the Redskins in August when he extended his middle finger toward the Washington bench, drawing a $12,000 fine. Earlier in the preseason game, Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo had imitated Manziel's signature "money" hand gesture.
Manziel insists he doesn't mind being a target, having grown accustomed to the attention when he was at Texas A&M.
"I think I welcome it," Manziel told Cleveland reporters. "I think I accept that, and I've been a guy that's had a lot of hate spewed towards me."
Having lost ground in the AFC North, the Browns (7-6) earlier this week decided to bench struggling starter Brian Hoyer for Manziel, who said he has matured on and off the field.
"I'm in a different place now," Manziel said. "It's not like it was in preseason. I'm under a lot more control than I was then, and I know I have a lot better control of my emotions. I know I need to go out and be the leader of this team, and regardless if I'm a rookie or not, go out and try to have fun and not get caught up in any other [stuff]."
Listed at 6 feet, Manziel was called a "midget" this week by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who later apologized.
"Especially Johnny being the celebrity that he is, there's a lot of people that are jealous of that, especially outside of this building," Browns safety Donte Whitner said. "Yeah, there's defenders out there that's going to want to get a shot on him. There might be some late hits. There might be a little talking trash. But if you know Johnny, he might say something back."
Browns coach Mike Pettine expects Manziel to be a target but has raised expectations for his conduct.
"Everybody's gunning for him," Pettine said. "I guarantee everybody that sacks him is going to stand over him and make the money sign. He's no stranger to it, but that's the price that he has to pay for being who he is and the reputation he brings with him to the NFL."
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has set a high standard all season as a three-down player capable of running through and around defenders, catching passes and flattening linebackers as a blocker.
Bell has 1,231 rushing yards and 693 receiving yards this season, for 1,924 yards from scrimmage.
"I want to make sure I'm always available," Bell told Pittsburgh reporters. "When guys look at me to make a play, I want to be the guy who makes that play."
Bell had 32 total touches for 235 yards, including 26 carries for 185 yards, in a 42-21 win over the Bengals last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Bell is drawing favorable comparisons to former Steelers star Jerome Bettis.
"I have been fortunate to play with a Hall of Famer in Jerome," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "Jerome was one of the greatest running backs of all time. I think that Bell is on his way. He's still young, but the things he can do in all three phases of the game, to run, to catch and to block, are some of the most special things I've ever seen a running back do. He's grown fast, and we feel we can do anything with him."
Green vs. Haden
Sunday's matchup between Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Browns cornerback Joe Haden bears watching.
The stars will square off for the eighth time in the NFL, but they also used to compete against each other in the Southeastern Conference when Green was a Georgia standout and Haden was at Florida.
Haden is one of the few corners capable of shadowing Green, who has 30 receptions for 425 yards and four touchdowns in his previous seven games against the Browns.
"To me, it's going to determine how the game goes," Pettine said. "It's no secret that we are going to put him on A.J. a good amount during the game, and that very well could determine it because I know they are not going to shy away from throwing the ball to their best receiver."