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QB Johnny Manziel to start vs. Cincinnati


Rookie quarterback Duke Johnson Jr. will make his first career start Sunday when the Browns host the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, coach Mike Pettine announced Tuesday.

Manziel takes over for veteran Brian Hoyer, who led the Browns into the thick of the AFC playoff race but struggled in a recent stretch of three losses in the past four games.

"We've made the decision to start Johnny this week against the Bengals. This decision is really not about Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, it is about the Cleveland Browns," Pettine said. "We are always going to make decisions that we feel are in the best interest of the team. Brian has done everything that has been asked of him and he has done so as a true professional. It's never just any one position when a unit is not functioning at the level you'd like. We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level. Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result."

Manziel didn't see the field in last week's loss to Indianapolis but served as a spark the previous week in Buffalo. The former Texas A&M star led the Browns on their only touchdown drive of the game, as he completed three of his four pass attempts for 54 yards and capped it with a 10-yard touchdown scramble.

For the season, Manziel is 5-for-8 for 63 passing yards and 13 rushing yards. He caught a 39-yard pass from Hoyer earlier in the season on a play that was ultimately nullified by a penalty.

"I'm very appreciative of the opportunity that Coach Pettine and the coaching staff have given me to be the starter on Sunday," Manziel said. "I've tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro and it's been great to watch Brian because he knows what it takes. I've prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible and my focus has been on improving every day.  I'm very excited to get out on the field with my teammates on Sunday and to have the opportunity to make the Dawg Pound proud." 

Pettine said Monday he declined to insert Manziel for Hoyer, who was 14-of-31 for 140 yards and two interceptions, against the Colts because the Browns held the lead until the final 32 seconds. With five days to prepare, he expects Manziel to be ready for a game the Browns absolutely must win to remain in the AFC playoff race.

"When he goes out on the practice field, he executes," Pettine said Monday. "I haven't seen anything that would make me think otherwise."

The Browns packaged two picks -- No. 26 and No. 83 -- to move up four spots to pick Manziel with the 22nd selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. Manziel starred at Texas A&M for two seasons, winning the Heisman trophy in 2012 and finishing with 7,820 passing yards, 2,169 rushing yards and a combined 93 touchdowns.

Hoyer was one of the main reasons why Cleveland bolted to a 6-3 start. Over the past four games, though, Hoyer threw eight interceptions and one touchdown pass.

The Cleveland native's attitude remained positive after learning the news.

"Although I am disappointed by coach's decision, I respect him and his choice and will be there to support Johnny," Hoyer said. "As always, I will do whatever I can to help this team win."

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