CLEVELAND -- The man behind the defense that forced Johnny Manziel into a disastrous NFL starting debut says the Browns quarterback has a shot to be a productive starter and can look to Drew Brees for small-statured quarterback inspiration.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, whose defense mugged Manziel for two interceptions, three sacks and 80 passing yards allowed in a 30-0 Browns home loss, told ESPN "Honestly, I think the kid needs more time" before anyone writes him off.
The Dec. 14 game launched a downward spiral for Manziel, who left his next start at Carolina and did not play in the Browns' season finale.
The Bengals employed a strategy similar to what LSU did while Manziel was at Texas A&M -- sealing the edge and forcing him to stay in the pocket. That accentuated Manziel's 6-foot-0, 210-pound frame, but Guenther said quarterbacks at any size can learn to operate from the pocket.
"Drew Brees did it," Guenther said. "I know Drew is a little bit thicker than Johnny but about the same height. ... I don't see any reason why he can't do it up there. [Manziel] was such a high-profile guy out of college and everyone expected what he did at Texas A&M, but it's a man's game, it's a lot different, and it takes time. You have to take your lumps a little bit."
Brees is listed at 6-0, 209 pounds.
Guenther blames Manziel's Week 15 struggles on the state of the Bengals, who wanted redemption after an underwhelming 24-3 loss to the Browns on "Thursday Night Football" on Nov. 6.
The Bengals held the Browns to their first home shutout since 2009. Manziel became the first quarterback to start his first game and be shut out since Tennessee's Rusty Smith in 2010. The Bengals taunted Manziel after sacks, with defensive end Wallace Gilberry flashing Manziel's money signs in his vicinity. After the game, Gilberry said "he kind of brought that on himself." The Bengals showed Manziel "this ain't college," defensive tackle Domata Peko said.
Manziel, who is currently the Browns' No. 2 quarterback behind Josh McCown, said in a mid-June news conference that he is moving on from the celebratory money signs, hoping to focus on his play and professionalism.
"I think he has good feet, is obviously a threat to run it, and I think in the right system he can be a good player," Guenther said. "There was so much expected in his first game, and maybe some of that was self-warranted, but it was so much from the fan base that you have to let him make mistakes."
Last season, former Browns coordinator Kyle Shahanan tried to get Manziel comfortable with different looks out of the shotgun, but the quarterback wasn't ready to handle it, later calling his rookie season a "disaster" from a preparation and maturity standpoint. New coordinator John DeFilippo has said Manziel is improving his understanding of NFL offenses, such as formations and pre-snap reads. DeFilippo wants Manziel to use his athleticism on the field when warranted, he said.
Guenther recognizes that loss to the Bengals in December vacuumed all momentum from the Browns, who still had playoff hopes at 7-6.
"The stadium was packed, it was loud, and I knew we have to make sure to get on this guy early and not give him confidence," Guenther recalled. "Just keep those broken plays to a minimum."