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Browns’ quarterback competition will come down to efficiency, but play-making matters

Posted Jul 16, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci offers his thoughts on the Browns’ quarterback competition in training camp between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel

Media and fan discussion about the competition for the Browns’ starting quarterback job will begin in earnest on July 26, when the team holds its first practice of training camp.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts about the impending battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel:

>Is it going to be a true competition? Absolutely. Hoyer was clearly ahead at the end of offseason workouts, but coach Mike Pettine made a point to say that the lead wasn’t “insurmountable.” That served as a not-so-subtle reminder that Manziel would have every opportunity to close the gap in training camp. As much as many of us have espoused the theory that it makes the most sense to have the more experienced Hoyer start the Sept. 7 season-opener at Pittsburgh, Pettine isn’t remotely close to reaching such a decision. He is going to allow the competition to play out through practices and preseason games, and make a determination accordingly. Manziel was drafted in the first round to start as soon as the people involved with selecting him – and that includes Pettine – are confident he’s ready. Of course, as NFL history shows, top-flight starters don’t necessarily start right away. Notable examples include Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers (who sat for three whole seasons) and Colin Kaepernick.

>What does Manziel need to do to win the job? First, be efficient. Demonstrate that he can keep mistakes (especially turnovers) to a minimum, which is an enormous challenge for a rookie. Second, show a firm grasp of the play-calling verbiage. This was a challenge for him during offseason workouts because the wording of the plays in the Browns’ playbook is longer and more complex than what he dealt with at Texas A&M. And that would have been the case with pretty much any NFL team. Manziel must demonstrate that he has taken the time to learn the plays cold so that he can spit them out in the huddle smoothly and quickly. Third, make some of the eye-opening plays that convinced the Browns to use the 22nd overall choice on him. He doesn’t need to do it constantly and he shouldn’t try too hard to force something that isn’t there because that’s when mistakes happen. But it would help for him to look like, well, the Johnny Manziel that was so much fun to watch on Saturdays.

>What does Hoyer need to do to maintain his lead? Continue to be efficient. Pettine has said this more than once: the quality he likes best in Hoyer is his accuracy. As a defensive-oriented coach, Pettine appreciates a quarterback who keeps turnovers to a minimum, thus reducing the times the opposing offense has a short field. Ultimately, Pettine expects the Browns to win with a dominant, play-making defense and a run-oriented, ball-controlling offense. The best quarterback for that approach is one who understands he is a complementary part of the offense, not the whole offense. Hoyer also can help his cause by continuing to display his firm grasp of a new offense, reinforcing the trust he already has from Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

>What else will Pettine consider when making the decision? It wouldn’t be a shock if play-making skills end up being a higher priority than avoiding errors. Remember, Pettine very much believes in a high-risk/high-reward approach to defense. As the Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator last season, he built a pass rush that ranked second in the NFL with a franchise-record 57 sacks. He did that largely because his scheme didn’t burden the front seven with a whole lot of concerns beyond getting to the quarterback and trying to force big plays. That mentality would figure to leave Pettine at least somewhat open to the idea of favoring the quarterback who will do whatever it takes to make something happen, which Manziel routinely displayed in college.

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