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Haden, Dansby defend Manziel

Two Cleveland Browns players came to the defense of Johnny Manziel this week following criticism of him in an ESPN.com report that chronicled his rookie year.

Cornerback Joe Haden, who played in last week's Pro Bowl and is appearing at the Super Bowl festivities as part of his Global Ambassador role for the Special Olympics, told Cleveland.com that Manziel is "definitely not a joke." Linebacker Karlos Dansby also said from the Super Bowl that Manziel practiced well during the season.

"It's not true at all that Johnny's teammates think he's a 100 percent joke," Haden said. "There's a lot of players on the team that do [love Manziel]."

One Browns player told ESPN for a story published last week that Manziel throughout the 2014 season was a "100 percent joke," a reference to his lack of preparation and the Johnny Football persona affecting his work life as a rookie, a sentiment echoed by many sources interviewed for the story. Manziel has become a lightning rod for criticism from many outlets after his struggles as a starter late in the Browns' season.

"When opportunities present themselves you've got to take advantage of it," Dansby told Cleveland.com from the Super Bowl's radio row. "If you don't, people start to question your character and if this game is for you and that's just how this game goes."

Haden disagreed that Manziel did not prepare hard.

"For most of the season, he was the backup," Haden said. "He was doing what he was supposed to do. [Brian] Hoyer was out there balling, he was the starting quarterback. What do you want him to do? He was the backup."

Haden told ESPN Radio's "SVP & Russillo" this week that he tried this season to show Manziel what it takes to be a professional but acknowledged that, "if you're a quarterback, it takes another level that you have to be on."

Haden was asked in the ESPN Radio interview about Manziel, who was on injured reserve at the time, missing his scheduled morning treatment on his hamstring the Saturday before the season finale. Two team sources told ESPN that security found a player who they felt clearly had partied hard the night before. The Browns fined Manziel and then had him sit in the locker room for the game against the Ravens.

Haden said Manziel apologized to his teammates for the incident.

"When he did miss that treatment, he cared. He came and apologized to everybody individually," Haden told ESPN Radio. "He came and talked to us and you could really see that it mattered to him. He knows he can't be doing that."

Haden told Cleveland.com that the Browns' talented defense would make practice difficult for any rookie quarterback.

"Johnny gave us some great looks," Dansby said. "I can't lie. He was giving us that every day. He was making us better as a defense every day. Like I said, it's a different level when you get on the field and you get thrown into the action like that. It's a tough situation for him, not having any reps throughout the whole season and then getting thrown into the fire."

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