The Cleveland Browns did a great job of using free agency and the draft to their advantage this offseason.
Even with change once again running rampant within the halls of the front office, new general manager Ray Farmer and first-year head coach Mike Pettine have found a way to enhance this roster.
In the coming months, position battles will take place on the practice field and during the preseason. The most obvious one will be at quarterback, between high-profile rookie Johnny Manziel and veteran signal-caller Brian Hoyer.
For the first time in a while, the war between the two quarterbacks won't just be isolated to the sportswriters in Cleveland. Because of Manziel's glossy star power, it will also play out under the daunting eye of the mainstream media.
In order to determine who has the best shot at winning the starting job, you have to first understand what both players bring to the table.
Hoyer is sort of a hometown hero. He was born in Lakewood, Ohio and grew up rooting for the Browns.
"I was only about 10 or 11 and I remember crying when the Browns left," Hoyer told Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer when he first joined the team.
Prior to joining the Browns, Hoyer's NFL experience has seen mainly that of a reserve quarterback. He served as Tom Brady's backup in New England from 2009 until 2011 before landing with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012.
Hoyer wound up starting just one game for the Cardinals in 2012. His time in the desert was cut short when head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and the team decided to go in a new direction.
It was former Browns GM Mike Lombardi who had a longtime infatuation with Hoyer.
During his time with the NFL Network, per Cabot, he praised the veteran QB. "I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters. I've said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics," he said.
When he finally hit the open market in 2013, Lombardi jumped at the chance to bring him back to his home state.
Hoyer finally got another opportunity to start again last season, this time with the Browns.
His first start came on the road against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3. In a Browns victory, the 28-year-old threw for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
He showed off a strong arm, clean movement when scaling the pocket and a smooth release.
But it wasn't until the week after that he really set things into motion.
Going up against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hoyer was able to fend off the NFL's third-ranked defense. Throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns, he looked very comfortable while in control of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme.
In the picture featured above, you'll see one of Hoyer's best plays of the game. Turner draws up a well-designed play that features the two wide receivers squared off running screens.
Hoyer takes the snap, fakes to the wide receiver highlighted in red, sells it, then quickly unloads the ball to Travis Benjamin on the opposite side of the field.
Thanks to the excellent fake, the Bengals defense is out of place, allowing Benjamin to catch the ball with a ton of real estate and a platoon of blockers in front of him.
The result of the play was a 39-yard gain on a drive that Hoyer capped off by tossing a two-yard touchdown pass to Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron. Although the play itself wasn't a highlight reel, perfectly placed 50-yard deep ball, it nonetheless showed the value Hoyer brings to this team.
From start to finish in his three-game stint last year as Cleveland's starting quarterback, Hoyer was fluid and efficient in all facets of the game. For the first time in his career, it looked like he had finally embraced the role of being a starting signal-caller.
Instead of finishing a storybook season, Hoyer's run as the team's signal-caller came to an abrupt end when he tore his ACL against the Buffalo Bills in Week 5.
Even with changes in the front office and on the coaching staff, the Browns still feel strongly about Hoyer based on what he did last season.
That support starts at the top with Farmer. "I want the best quarterback to start. Who is the best quarterback? Brian Hoyer," the Browns GM said during an interview on 92.3 The Fan.
Coach Pettine has been an advocate of Hoyer dating back to January. Discussing his feelings on Hoyer as a quarterback, Pettine told Cabot of The Plain Dealer:
I think the intangibles with Brian are off the charts. I think he's a football junky and I think you can tell he loves the game. He came from a system where he learned from the best in the game and that showed on the field. A lot of people, based on his background, kind of fall asleep on him a little bit. I think he's a winning quarterback in this league.
Hoyer fully understands the magnitude of this moment.
He's a 28-year-old veteran who has traveled this league in search of a home. Of all places, Cleveland looks like it may be the last place for him to give this whole starting quarterback thing a whirl.
"I don’t think we’re in [the quarterbacks room] not being friendly. But when you’re gunning for the same job, there is a little bit of an edge to it," Hoyer explained, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal when talking about his relationship with Manziel.
The hometown guy is going to be in for a battle. The Browns took Manziel with the 22nd overall pick in the draft, and the aura of Johnny Football has already cast a spell over this fanbase.
Manziel's arrival in Cleveland has given these fans something to cheer for once again at the quarterback position. Even though the failures of Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn still resonate, Manziel is cut from a different cloth than either of those two former first-round picks.
Hailing from Tyler, Texas, Johnny Football was just a 3-star recruit out of high school.
Playing for Tivy High School in Kerryville, Texas, at the time, Manziel fielded offers from big-time programs such as Baylor and Oregon before committing to play at Texas A&M, per Rivals.com.
Once Manziel got the chance to start for the Aggies, the rest was history. The first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, Manziel carried the program to heights it hadn't enjoyed in the modern era of college football.
Out of all the magic he displayed on the field, it was Manziel's two games against Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide that stand head and shoulders above the rest.
During his first game against Alabama, Manziel completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 92 yards rushing, dancing around and making people miss for good measure.
The Aggies walked away with a historic win that set the whole Manziel legend into motion.
For an encore performance in 2013, Johnny Football put in work. With the matchup held at College Station, Manziel dazzled in defeat, throwing for 458 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
You could point out any number of plays during that second Alabama game that showed Manziel at his best. But the one that translates best to the next level is the 35-yard pass he threw to wide receiver Mike Evans early in the first quarter.
Once the ball is snapped, Manziel quickly scans the left side of the field. Realizing his initial read isn't open, he glances over at Evans running down the sideline.
Within seconds, he sees one-on-one coverage and hurls the football downfield to his 6'5" target.
The result was near perfection. Manziel hit Evans in stride, dropping the football in perfectly over the trailing cornerback.
Sitting in the pocket and making that throw proves that Manziel’s game isn't just glitz, glamour and luck.
His unique skill set and sheer competitiveness are things the Browns clearly were enthralled with when they decided to trade up and go after this young man during the draft.
The one thing Manziel and Hoyer have in common is that they both enter training camp looking to emerge as the team's No. 1 player under center.
But who will walk away with that title?
Despite all of the front office's chatter about Hoyer, Manziel still has to be the favorite right now. He's a first-round pick in an era when sitting a young quarterback really isn't much of an option anymore.
Ross Tucker of Sporting News weighed in on that subject:
If you don't think a quarterback is "ready" to play and you would ideally like him to sit on the bench and "learn", what does that really tell you about him as a prospect?
It says you have legitimate concerns about him as a player right now and you think he needs some time to develop in certain areas before being thrust into the spotlight of being a starting quarterback in the NFL.
You invest resources and time into these players, which eventually makes them must-starts.
Another advantage Manziel has over Hoyer could actually come down to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He isn't saying much now, but if you take what Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com said before the draft into consideration, things look good for Manziel.
"Shanahan will have a big say in drafting a QB," Jones opened with.
Talking to Shanahan in detail about Manziel, the Browns play-caller told Jones, "It’s obvious how good of a player he is, how fun he is to watch. I think it does translate to the NFL."
It's important to note that Shanahan did praise Hoyer as well, calling him a player he "admired." Still, if Shanahan really did have something to do with Manziel coming to Cleveland, that doesn't bode well for Hoyer’s chances.
Hoyer may have more NFL experience in the world, but he’s still the odd man out when it comes to the future of this franchise. Manziel is the guy who’s going to be responsible for carrying the Browns into the battle. It’s not just about him being a first-round pick. He represents hope for a downtrodden franchise.
And the one thing this city and fanbase needs more than anything else is hope.
That’s why Manziel should supplant Hoyer as the Browns starting quarterback by the time September gets here.
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