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Browns preparing as if Johnny Manziel will start, leave door open for Josh McCown

The Browns began their on-field preparations for the Steelers on Tuesday with Johnny Manziel as their first-team quarterback.

Browns coach Mike Pettine didn't completely close the door, though, on veteran Josh McCown returning in time to make his eighth start of the season. McCown was inactive last Thursday at Cincinnati because of rib and shoulder injuries and continues to make progress from the injuries he sustained in his previous two starts.

"I think this period of time helped, but I would still consider him day to day," Pettine said. "He's going to work out a little bit this afternoon with (head athletic trainer) Joe Sheehan and we'll see how he responds to that. I think day to day is the safest way, most accurate way to list it."

Pettine said he'd prefer to have a final answer on McCown's status sooner rather than later. He outlined some parameters that would have to be fulfilled in order to anoint McCown the starter against the Steelers.

"I want to wait to hear that he's healthy to be able to make it, but if he's ready to go and be able to execute the game plan and not have to change the way you call a game to protect a guy, yeah, he will be (the starter)," Pettine said.

Though Manziel and the entire Cleveland offense struggled and came away with nothing in last week's second half, Pettine pointed to areas in which Manziel has improved from the pocket in his second year with the Browns. It's still a work in progress, as evidenced by his inconsistent start against the Bengals, but he's "getting better" and "headed in the right direction," Pettine said.

Manziel was 11-of-18 for 128 yards and a touchdown in the first half against Cincinnati but just 4-of-15 for 40 yards in the final 30 minutes. The majority of his successful throws came from outside of the pocket.

"Throws that are there early in the pocket on the first read you have to take and then if the play breaks down, guys that can create and get out, that's when that skill kicks in," Pettine said. "But it can't be the opposite where I'm looking to get out no matter what."

Pettine said the Browns, at 2-7, haven't reached the point in the season where it'd be most prudent to play Manziel no matter McCown's health. His philosophy is rooted in what he's said since the start of the preseason

"We've said all along Josh McCown started the season as our No. 1 quarterback and he's been out due to injury and potentially coming back," Pettine said. "I get the call for 'hey, why not?' but we're tasked as coaches to put the roster out there that's going to give us the best opportunity to win. I understand as the year goes on those circumstances can change, but we'll see. We'll get the information as it comes out with Josh and react to it accordingly."

A close-up look at the action against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football.

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