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Training camp battle: Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel


ESPN camera crews might change hotels down I-71 South, but they'll be posting up in Cleveland again until mid-August. The Cavs are passing the torch straight to the Browns for the most talked-about sports team in the country.

Let's not sugarcoat it: Brian Hoyer against Johnny Manziel is the juiciest NFL storyline as we head into training camp.

Jim Donovan and Nathan Zegura will host the official Browns training camp preview show this Thursday at 7 p.m. on WKYC channel 3.

Let the games begin.

Brian Hoyer

Age: 28

Last season: 3 games, 615 passing yards, 5 TD's, 3 INT's,* *

Strengths: Decision making, leading by example, accuracy, he's hungry for his moment.

Question mark: Four career starts in five seasons.

Quotable: "At this point now, I can kind of take my starter mentality with my teammates. For example, just throwing the other day with Andrew Hawkins, I can be like, 'Hawk, on this route, I'd really like it if you do it this way.' Last year I didn't really feel like I could do that because at the time, Brandon Weeden was the starter. You don't want to step on anybody's toes. Now I can [take the starting] approach."

Brian Hoyer, among other things we'll discuss, has this going for him: he's the best quarterback Cleveland has seen since 2007 – at least based on a very brief body of work.

There's no denying Hoyer's presence behind center in 2013 gave the Browns a sense of clarity. The entire team responded to Hoyer. The game always seemed winnable when Hoyer was slinging darts to Jordan Cameron and managing a two-minute offense. Mike Pettine even told us he thinks if Hoyer stayed healthy last season, that Pettine himself wouldn't be in Cleveland – meaning the Browns would have won a bunch of more games.

So why try and make any drastic quarterback change now? Why not at least start the season with someone who looked more than steady just nine months earlier? The Browns' defense, revamped running game and an attitude metamorphosis in the building are all factors in why Cleveland should believe that a playoff push is within reach. The only thing missing is a veteran quarterback who takes care of the football.

Include all of the above on top of Hoyer's dedication to return from his ACL injury has been unmatched. There essentially was not an offseason for Hoyer, who has been at the team facility more than any other player – by far. A few receivers mentioned Hoyer's work ethic has made them want to raise their own. That's the definition of leadership.

Hoyer also has this going for him: his mentor is Tom Brady from their days together in New England. The two stay in contact more than you would believe. We could think of worse people to receive advice from.

While Hoyer's lead in the competition "is not insurmountable," said Pettine, at the moment, it seems pretty significant. He's done everything right. He's said everything right. He's waited for this moment since entering the league in 2009. Here it is.

Johnny Manziel

Age: 21

Last season: 13 games, 4,114 passing yards, 759 rushing yards, 58 total TD's, 13 INT's

Strengths: Makes other players better, cannon arm, shifty speed, infectious confidence.

Question mark: He's a 21-year-old rookie.

Quotable: "The Browns definitely drafted me with an idea of what my skills were and what some of my weaknesses were. For me, the coaches are continuing to adapt to me and I'm continuing to adapt a little to them. I'm continuing to try and get better as an all-around quarterback. I know what I can through running the ball and things like that. So I'm just continuing to improve as a passer and improving my timing as a quarterback."

Johnny Manziel, among other things we'll discuss, has this going for him: he's a humongous Christmas present wrapped under the tree and we have no idea what it could be.

On his very first play of the preseason, Manziel could scramble for a 64-yard touchdown. Or he could throw an interception.  In the infancy of his career, he defines the word wild card.

But goodness gracious is he talented. So talented, that it's tempting to start him from day one.

Manziel can fit the football where most quarterbacks can't. He has the rare trait of being able to throw receivers open, meaning he could be the unconfirmed wide receiving corps best friend. His speed, and underrated vision that comes along with his feet, freezes linebackers, opening up the entire field. Mostly, Manziel loves pressure, something most Cleveland fans haven't been able to say about their quarterback in ages. When he's been backed into a corner during the fourth quarter, Manziel almost always pulled a Harry Houdini. 

The thing to remember about Manziel is that, he, more than most quarterbacks, shouldn't be solely judged on practice. No matter how hard SEC defenses prepared for Manziel's athletic ability during the week, he would out maneuver them on Saturday's – through the air or with his legs. It'll be up to Manziel to show the world he's still that guy in preseason games.

As Manziel says himself, the Browns drafted him with an idea of his skills. If he indeed does win the starting job, it won't be a muted version of what he was at Texas A&M. With more refined footwork and mechanics, he will be Johnny Manziel in a Browns jersey. The thought of him scoring touchdowns is exciting, not just for fans, but the coaching staff too.

Training camp won't be a physical challenge for the gifted Manziel. Nope, the grind of camp will test Manziel between the ears. Some will be the playbook. Some will be the tempo in the huddle. Some will be the expectations to be the ever confident Johnny Football.

Ah, the word confidence. It'll be linked with the Browns' quarterback for his honest answers to questions and his transparent lifestyle. Eventually, Manziel does have the confidence in himself to propel his name alongside Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. Manziel wants it that badly. It's that confidence or "it factor," as Pettine calls it, that could rally the Browns. It's what ultimately gives Manziel a legitimate chance to unseat Hoyer.

NFL careers are marathons. Could Manziel have the RGIII-effect and give the Browns enough wins to sneak into the playoffs? Potentially. But sometimes it's better to leave the Christmas present unwrapped.

That's the decision Mike Pettine and his staff will have to make when the time is right.

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