Manziel hasn't proven a thing in the NFL. That's something he's admitted himself. Make no mistake, though, the phenomenon that is Johnny Football ought to be leading the Browns into Heinz Field when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1.
Former undrafted free agent Brian Hoyer—he of four total NFL starts, coming off a torn ACL no less—is the only man standing between Manziel and Cleveland's starting quarterback gig. Hoyer is a hometown product, and there's no denying he played well in 2013 at times to justify his status atop the depth chart entering training camp.
Unless New England Patriots legend Tom Brady really did rub off on Hoyer to the point of producing a reminiscent career, there's no stopping the Johnny Football Express from taking Cleveland by storm.
This city has been starved of a competent QB for so long. When Manziel gets his shot, he will be the 21st such starter since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999.
Yes, there is baggage that comes with Manziel and his off-field antics, but his persona has generated the most excitement surrounding this franchise since its revival. His No. 2 jersey is already the No. 1 best-seller.
Head coach Mike Pettine has made it clear that won't help Manziel beat out Hoyer, as told to ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi:
It’s easy for me because all my decisions are based purely on football. We’re going to look at Brian Hoyer v. Johnny Manziel and ask the question who gives us the better chance to win a game and that’s what we’re going to base our decision on. The jersey sales stuff and all that, that’s great, but as I said in spring we’re not going to base the depth chart on that.
Nor will Pettine and his staff cave in to the pressure from fans who may be lobbying for Manziel to take the field, per the Associated Press' Tom Withers:
Pettine said QB battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel will be "decided by football." He will not give in to "external pressure."— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) July 23, 2014
Pettine on Manziel: "I think he knows that in order for him to compete well, he's going to have to probably be more dedicated than ever."— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) July 23, 2014
This is indeed all about football. Hoyer is the reputed blue-collar gym rat who will outwork anyone. Many believe he's being slighted for what he can do on the field.
Pettine says he and Hoyer share similar passion for football. "He loves it. Eats it. Breathes it. Sleeps it." #Browns— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) July 23, 2014
The blown-out-of-proportion lifestyle Manziel has away from the gridiron has distorted and perhaps caused fans to forget how electric he was in college. After becoming the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, concerns about the choices Manziel made in his personal life engulfed him all the way up to his sophomore campaign.
The result? Manziel progressed in a big way as a pocket passer, overcame a putrid defense for much of the year and put his body on the line because he knew he had to score on just about every possession to keep his team close. This was in the SEC, the best conference in the country to boot.
Look no further than this graphic from TexAgs.com to be reminded of Manziel's mad brilliance in college:
Johnny Manziel put up the most single game yards in SEC history. Three times. And it’s not close. pic.twitter.com/56j9WlpsnL— TexAgs (@TexAgs) July 15, 2014
Again, he has not proven himself as a pro yet, but with all the attention he garnered in College Station, Manziel is equipped to be the face of the franchise the Browns desperately need. Manziel is ready to carry that weight—a true star the city of Cleveland can rally behind who isn't afraid of the big stage.
Never before has the white-hot celebrity spotlight been so bright in the modern digital age, particularly with the advent of social media. There are a number of ways to handle such scrutiny. In Manziel's unique, perhaps unprecedented case, he seems to embrace it all head on—much like he's tackled his playbook this offseason leading up to Friday's training camp.
Don't believe that to be true? Not only has Manziel said it, but Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Manziel's ex-Aggies teammate and fellow first-round pick Jake Matthews and even Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins have all praised Manziel's work ethic.
Former Browns general manager Phil Savage highlighted just how dichotomous the pending QB showdown has gotten in the media, citing one hyperbolic example:
On @ESPNNFL Insiders, the Brian Hoyer/Johnny Manziel QB competition was subtitled, "Hometown Blue-Collar Hero" vs. "Las Vegas Party Animal".— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) July 21, 2014
This is a new era for the Browns. Many preceding years have seen them lose to the Steelers—and almost every other team for that matter—time and again. A lack of creativity on offense, a dearth of explosive playmakers and poor quarterback play have been the primary culprits.
Since Cleveland will likely be without superstar receiver Josh Gordon due to a long suspension, the Browns need something fresh to provide a spark. That's not as much of a knock on Hoyer as it is on the unique improvisational ability Manziel possesses.
And to be real for a minute, the impact Hoyer had was evident in 2013, though his statistics weren't anything to suggest he will be the franchise savior. In his first start on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, Hoyer threw three interceptions against what turned out to be the league's 31st-ranked pass defense.
To keep the positive momentum going forward—#BrownsGoodKarma, if you will—Manziel is the young man the Browns need to inject real life into the team. Against the stout defenses of the AFC North and potentially sans Gordon, Manziel has special instincts that Hoyer, no matter how sound with his fundamentals, can't compensate for.
The Steelers defense has gotten faster with first-round pick Ryan Shazier roaming around in the traditionally strong linebacker corps.
A scheme as complex as Dick LeBeau's will be difficult for the inexperienced Hoyer to process, but at least Manziel can emulate his counterpart in Ben Roethlisberger to combat it. Manziel can extend plays with his feet and see the exotic packages LeBeau throws at him break down amid the chaos.
A pure pocket passer like Hoyer won't get the job done given the limited skill players the Browns have. Hoyer needs an established supporting cast in place to thrive, something Cleveland doesn't offer immediately.
The rushing attack, spearheaded by the likes of Ben Tate, Terrance West and others, should be respectable, given the success Shanahan had in Washington and Houston with his zone-blocking tactics. However, as was on display in Robert Griffin III's rookie year, Shanahan's use of the zone read-option added a new dimension.
Even the threat of that play with Manziel in the pistol could lead to Pittsburgh's inexperienced outside linebackers—not to mention Shazier—taking improper pursuit angles. By then, either Manziel or one of his backs will be well up the field, resting a talented Browns defense, the side of the ball Pettine specializes in.
Bleacher Report's Will Carroll is already looking ahead at when Manziel could enter the lineup should Hoyer get the job and falter:
Am I crazy to think that Manziel might start in Week 5, right after the bye? Let Hoyer take on PIT, NO, and BAL?— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) July 18, 2014
On the contrary, what better way would there be to see if Manziel does indeed have the goods than facing tough matchups right out of the gate? To renege after a poor start to the 2014 season under Hoyer would be an aching, familiar feeling for the Dawg Pound.
Who should start at QB for the Browns in Week 1?
There may be some learning on the job, but if Manziel is the proverbial man, there should be enough flashes of brilliance to warrant keeping him atop the depth chart on merit, not fanfare. After all, the bigger the stage and the more criticism he's faced in the past, the better Manziel has performed.
Granted, it does come down to how Manziel and Hoyer perform in training camp. The perception seems to be that Hoyer will blow Manziel out of the water with a superior football IQ.
Yours truly believes Manziel will surprise many with how well he fares, as he's never had a more important stretch of football in his life than right now. Whether that's enough to land the starting gig by Week 1 is unclear, but if it's close—as it should be based on Manziel's unique talents—Pettine needs to play the kid from Kerrville, Texas, not the hometown kid.
The Browns had the guts and vision to draft Manziel. To have their best chance at getting this latest power structure off on the right foot, let's hope Cleveland has the same onions and foresight to play Johnny Football right away.