Johnny Manziel has plenty to prove in Week 1 of the NFL preseason.
According to The News Herald's Jeff Schudel, head coach Mike Pettine has named Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback for the Browns' preseason opener against the Detroit Lions on August 9.
This is, of course, a potential setback in Johnny Football's quest to become the Week 1 starter for Cleveland, but Hoyer is no slouch, and it is always tough for rookies to gain a stranglehold on the quarterback position when the only game tape they have is from college.
Manziel may not be the starter in Week 1 of the preseason, but the first taste of NFL game action should provide him with a strong opportunity to show off his electrifying scrambling ability.
Once coaches get an up-close look at how Manziel keeps defenses off balance with his penchant for extending plays, it should prove to be the leg up he needs in this quarterback competition.
Manziel made mincemeat of college defenses by improvising on plays and showing an incredible ability to make strong decisions while outside of the pocket. He has work to do when it comes to adjusting to a pro-style offense, but his scrambling and courage can make up for his early deficiencies, especially in live-game action.
NFL Network's Albert Breer did report that the Browns staff has been impressed with Manziel's learning curve:
Fair logic to say Manziel has earned the first team reps he's getting. Browns coaches have been impressed with his aptitude since spring.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 4, 2014
It's not just Manziel's ability to salvage a broken play with his legs that can give him the advantage over Hoyer. The ability to throw on the run is crucial for most NFL quarterbacks, especially one lacking a dominant offense that dissuades aggressive defensive play.
Manziel's success on rollout plays, options or bootlegs could open up the playbook for the Browns and allow offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan some of the flexibility he enjoyed while coaching Robert Griffin III in Washington. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer noted Manziel has looked good throwing on the run in camp:
Both Hoyer and Manziel looking good today. Big plays aplenty. Manziel throwing well on the run again.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 5, 2014
And of course, his college highlights confirm his ability to make plays on designed rollouts, something Hoyer might not be as relatively successful at due to his lack of comparable mobility, especially if the play breaks down and leaves him exposed.
However, Shanahan has been wary of Manziel relying too much on his improvisational acumen. Via ESPN.com's Pat McManamon:
I think guys who are in that situation have done that their whole life. ... That can be your biggest strength, but it can also be your biggest weakness. You never want to take that away from him, but you want to continue to develop him as a quarterback because these defenses in this league, especially once you get into the regular season and coaches game-plan for you, if they want to keep you in the pocket, they can.
Hoyer has shown flashes of potential, but he projects as more of a game-manager type without elite accuracy or arm strength. He played surprisingly well last season before getting injured, but 615 yards and five touchdowns against three interceptions in three games won't blow anyone away, especially when a strong passing game is vital to success in today's NFL.
Head coach Mike Pettine's assessment of Hoyer's place in the pecking order does indeed confirm it is his job to lose.
“That was his job,” Pettine said, via Schudel. “He was the one coming into (training camp). We did want to mix the groups up coming into it, as we did, but he’s done nothing to have that taken away from him, so he’ll be out there with the starters.”
This also seems to suggest that Manziel's reported reps with the first team were more part of a long-term strategy rather than signs of his imminent displacement of Hoyer as the starter. However, it is not a clear-cut vote of confidence for Hoyer, and the position is still up for grabs.
Which aspect of Manziel's game will be most important for him to win the starting role?
It should be noted that Manziel will have limited time to prove these points. According to McManamon, Pettine wants to have his starters in line by the third exhibition game. This gives Manziel just two games to pull ahead of Hoyer for the starting role.
If Hoyer continues to show a strong grasp of Shanahan's offense, it will be difficult to justify Manziel as a starter based on his dual-threat nature. Manziel has to focus on making the throws that count and then let his legs do the talking. Once they see how this can benefit the offense, it will only be a matter of time before Manziel gets the starting shot he covets.