The most intriguing positional battle as training camp turns into the 2014 NFL preseason has been on the Cleveland Browns roster between incumbent starting quarterback Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel.
Hoyer tore his ACL early in the 2013 season and was replaced by the tandem of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. Weeden and Campbell are no longer with Cleveland, but the six-year veteran is far from a lock as the starter after Manziel was drafted in the first round of this year's draft.
Manziel was selected No. 22 overall to challenge Hoyer and eventually develop into the team’s No. 1.
There have been questions about Manziel’s off-field actions, but with a Heisman Trophy to his name and the college stats to prove he was worth the investment, the popular rookie is now beginning to translate his talents to the field in the NFL.
After Hoyer began training camp working out with the first-string players, Manziel started taking reps with the starters in both individual and group practice on Monday, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
#Browns rookie QB Johnny Manziel taking first reps in individual drills for first time.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 4, 2014
#Browns rookie QB Johnny Manziel taking reps now with first-team offense in team drills for first time.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 4, 2014
Letting a player showcase his skill and correcting his weaknesses in practice is a pivotal part of the learning process, but working out in a scrimmage game against fellow teammates is a better test of how an athlete can perform under pressure.
Cleveland had an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, and Mike Pettine reacted to the results, via NFL Around the League’s Twitter account, Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer and 92.3 The Fan’s Daryl Ruiter:
Pettine: Manziel's first-team reps part of the plan, not a result of Saturday's scrimmage.— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 4, 2014
#browns Pettine said still more than reasonable chance that Hoyer will start vs. Detroit Saturday but "not 100%"— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 4, 2014
"That'll be a committee decision; I'm not an expert" - Pettine on making starting QB decision before opener v Steelers— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) August 4, 2014
When asked about how Saturday’s live action helped him learn on the job, Manziel told Pat McManamon of ESPN.com, “For me, it gets better every day. That's really the story of my life right now. I have to get better. Learn the stuff, continue to get more and more familiar with every single play in our offense, and today helped.”
Even ESPN’s Chris Mortensen was impressed by Manziel’s performance in the scrimmage:
Watched Browns scrimmage today. Just a scrimmage but easy to see Manziel is closing gap & will start getting some one reps next week.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 2, 2014
Regardless of who starts in Week 1 of the regular season, Pettine is creating a genuine position battle that will force both players to step up their games. Both men are competitive and want to be the starter for the Browns this season.
Cleveland just wants to see which guy is willing to work harder for the opportunity.
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Learning the NFL style and terminology will be a big test for Manziel and could ultimately be the reason he doesn’t win the starting job right away.
If the rookie continues to learn his playbook and become fluent in the Browns offense, though, his talents will eventually outweigh Hoyer’s and he will take the starting job.
In the meantime, the Browns will continue to push both players and let them challenge each other to be better. In the case of Hoyer vs. Manziel, the entire organization will benefit from this positional battle.
*Stats via NFL.com.