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First-team reps for Johnny Manziel don’t necessarily change status of QB battle

Posted Aug 4, 2014

Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer to take 1st-team reps ahead of Browns’ preseason opener.

Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel

It’s hardly a surprise that there was a little bit of a stir over the fact Johnny Manziel took all of the first-team snaps during the Cleveland Browns’ training-camp practice Monday.

Pretty much anything Johnny Football does can and usually will cause a commotion.

But despite some opinions to the contrary, this one doesn’t seem to make any significant statement about the status of the competition between Manziel and Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job.

Mike Pettine was being straight with the media when he said that having Manziel take first-team reps was part of a plan established before camp rather than any sort of dramatic shift in his or the coaching staff’s perspective that Hoyer, who opened camp as the starter, has suddenly lost some ground.

Pettine did raise some eyebrows by saying that he was not ready to name a starter for Saturday’s preseason-opener at Detroit after saying last week that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Hoyer would likely start. The coach was quick to add that Hoyer still likely would end up starting, although anyone inclined to believe there is more to Manziel’s working with the starters than it simply being “part of the plan” could read plenty into Pettine’s hesitation to publicly lock Hoyer in as Saturday night’s starter.

My sense is that allowing Manziel to spend significant time with the starting offense is simply Pettine’s way of assuring that the competition is fair rather than an indication that Hoyer has fallen into disfavor with the head coach or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan or any of the other decision-makers.

It’s reasonable to say that neither Hoyer nor Manziel has been spectacular through eight camp practices. Each has had his good moments and some pretty bad ones. The offense, in general, has generally struggled while the defense has mostly dominated.

But Hoyer has pretty much looked like, well, Hoyer. There isn’t much flash to his game. When he is performing at his best, he is efficient. He is smoothly taking the team in and out of the huddle. He is making solid decisions and completing the throws that he should complete.

You don’t see all that many jaw-dropping plays, because that isn’t what Hoyer does. And the coaches know that. They (and most of the rest of us) have operated on the premise that he is the most ready of the Browns’ quarterbacks to start the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh because he is less likely to make the major mistakes that would undermine the team’s efforts to win with defense while running the ball effectively.

They look at Manziel differently, as most of the rest of us do. They expect him to make more difference-making plays, because that was his forte in college and that was what made him a first-round draft choice.

But, first, they needed to see him develop a better understanding of a new offense and everything else that goes with making the transition from a scheme that allowed him to be much more of a freelancer than he can be with the Browns – or pretty much any NFL team for that matter.

Manziel is showing that. In the last few practices, he has done a better job of reciting in the huddle plays that, for the most part, consist of far more words than those he called at Texas A&M. That is providing the coaches with greater trust to run the offense and show what he can do when surrounded by front-line players.

He still is unmistakably a rookie. He still attempts throws he shouldn’t attempt. And when he make throws on the move – which he tends to do whenever his first receiving option is unavailable – his mechanics sometimes suffer.

Hoyer is going to go back to working with the starters. He could obviously help his cause by making some eye-opening plays, but he probably will do the most to help himself by staying efficient – by looking like the guy who looks as if he would make the fewest mistakes when the season begins.

The main conclusion to draw from the latest Manziel stir is that the best word to use regarding the Browns’ quarterback competition is fair.

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