Is Johnny Football Really Going to Be Johnny Backup in Cleveland This Year?

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Is Johnny Football Really Going to Be Johnny Backup in Cleveland This Year?
David Maxwell/Getty Images
The Browns have already named Brian Hoyer their starting quarterback in 2014; is Johnny Manziel really going to ride the bench?

When the Cleveland Browns drafted Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick on May 8, this iteration of the organization appeared to have found its quarterback of the future. 

However, will he be the quarterback of the present?

In the 24 hours that followed, the Browns sold over 2,300 season tickets, a direct reaction to the team selecting Manziel. Manziel has the top-selling jersey among this year's rookie class. The player known at Texas A&M as "Johnny Football" is now "Johnny Cleveland," inspired by his very own theme song. Can the Browns really let this phenomenon ride the bench in 2014?

Initially, it seems like that's their plan. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam spoke last week at a Pro Football Hall of Fame luncheon and said, plainly, that "Brian Hoyer is the starting quarterback," and that "it's his job to lose." He said the organization told Manziel he is Hoyer's backup, that Cleveland "isn't Hollywood" and that the rookie is expected to "go to work."

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jimmy Haslam announced last week that Brian Hoyer would be the Browns' starting quarterback this year, but does that carry any weight in May?

Despite his first-round pedigree, his collegiate body of work and the Browns' seeming need to have long-term stability at quarterback, the team can afford to sit him for a season. He's not being paid starter money, thanks to the structure of the new collective bargaining agreement. And though he was an accomplished college quarterback, he still needs refining to have success in the NFL

That refining takes time. Five experts—retired quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Doug Flutie, former NFL coach Mike Holmgren, current Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and retired New England Patriots offensive coach Kevin Gilbridespoke with the MMQB's Peter King on Manziel before the draft and saw, more than anything, a project.

Gilbride thinks "his mechanics are awful." Cutcliffe and Gannon both noticed a hop to his throwing motion that needs to be eradicated. Holmgren worries he's a system quarterback who won't adapt well to throwing under center. Flutie says of Manziel, "Sometimes he just trusts his athleticism too much. You can't just run around and make plays in the NFL."

Johnny Manziel's Stats at Texas A&M
Year Atts. Comp. Comp.% Yds. TD INT Rush Att. Rush Yds. Rush TD
2012 434 295 68.0% 3,706 26 9 201 1,410 21
2013 429 300 69.9% 4,114 37 13 144 759 9
Total 863 595 68.9% 7,820 63 22 345 2,169 30


All, however, are awed by his arm and upper body strength. Those are things that cannot be taught. The rest of it? Maybe—depending on how teachable Manziel is and how quickly he can unlearn his bad throwing habits.

Regardless, these are improvements a team would prefer a quarterback not have to iron out in a live football game, but rather on the practice field. Having Hoyer as a one-year buffer would be a good move for the Browns and for Manziel's future.

Hoyer, of course, isn't without his risks. In his first five seasons in the NFL, Hoyer played just 18 games, completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards, seven scores and six interceptions. He started three games for the Browns in 2013—all wins—but threw for just 615 yards, with five touchdowns to three interceptions before tearing his ACL in October against the Buffalo Bills.

Brian Hoyer's NFL Passing Stats
Year Atts. Comp. Comp.% Yds. TD INT
2009 27 19 70.4% 142 0 0
2010 15 7 46.7% 122 1 1
2011 1 1 100% 22 0 0
2012 53 30 56.6% 330 1 2
2013 96 57 59.4% 615 5 3
Total 192 114 59.4% 1,231 7 6

via ESPN

He looked good in those three games last year, but that's such a small sample size. Looking good for a brief period and actually being a good quarterback for a full season are two very different animals; we don't know if Hoyer is the latter. 

So, while Hoyer at this point seems to have the starting quarterback job in his grasp, that doesn't necessarily mean he will keep it. If he falters, significantly and repeatedly, those 2,300 fans who bought season tickets because of Manziel—and thousands of others—will be calling for the rookie. Those calls will only get louder, and at some point, the Browns will have to give serious consideration to putting him in at least one game.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Hoyer starting for the full 2014 season would be the best move for Manziel's development into a pro-ready quarterback.

That's a worst-case scenario, however, for Hoyer, for the Browns and for Manziel. And Manziel seems accepting of the fact that he may have to wait a season to "wreck this league." Despite the draft-day text message Manziel reportedly sent Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, Manziel knows where he stands on the depth chart.

"I don't want to come in and have anything handed to me that I don't deserve," said Manziel after rookie minicamp over the weekend, via Sports Illustrated. He also added, "Whenever it is I get a chance to play, I don't want to come in and be mediocre." He's certainly put his head down and taken on the humble persona the franchise has pushed him to adopt. 

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Hoyer has only one year left on his contract with the Browns. Manziel is under contract for at least four seasons. It seems logical to start Hoyer in 2014 and get Manziel as ready as possible to take over the reins of the offense in 2015. Manziel's presence in Cleveland has been like a hurricane blowing through, but that doesn't have to dictate how the Browns handle their quarterback situation.

For now, it looks like "Johnny Football" will be playing the role of "Johnny Backup." There is certainly enough time for things to change—there's a whole summer of training camp ahead that could result in a quarterback controversy.

Per Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan, head coach Mike Pettine says competition is welcomed. However, the Browns plainly stated their commitment to Hoyer, and that's where the position stands as of now. In 2014, the Browns' starting quarterback job is Hoyer's to lose. 

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