Every indication throughout Cleveland Browns training camp has pointed toward Brian Hoyer having the edge over rookie Johnny Manziel in the starting quarterback battle. Unless Hoyer is unquestionably better, however, Johnny Football belongs in the driver's seat.
Hoyer is a capable veteran who can step in when needed, but he isn't a quality starter in the NFL. His supporters point to a 3-0 record last season prior to tearing his ACL, but he threw just five touchdowns to three interceptions and completed less than 60 percent of his passes.
If head coach Mike Pettine decides to start Hoyer when the regular season commences, it will essentially be an acceptance of mediocrity. Browns fans have dealt with that for far too many years and they are searching for a spark.
Manziel is one of the most exciting players in the history of college football, and his dual-threat nature brings a dynamic dimension to the table. Hoyer is a game manager, while Manziel is a game-breaker.
It is difficult to learn much from training camp, which is why this battle will be decided in the preseason. According to NFL on ESPN, Hoyer will start Saturday against the Detroit Lions, which suggests that he maintains the inside track:
As training camp has progressed, Manziel has seemingly gained some ground on Hoyer. Per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, Johnny Football has apparently "narrowed the gap."
That would seem to suggest that Manziel is starting to make some significant strides. In addition to that, the slight majority of fans who voted in a recent SportsCenter poll believe the Heisman Trophy winner is the better choice:
Despite the outside pressure, Pettine has insisted Hoyer is still the leader in the clubhouse. According to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, the Browns head coach is a fan of the incumbent veteran's anticipation.
"Where Hoyer is ahead is his ability to throw a ball before a guy breaks open," Pettine said. "But we certainly see Johnny making strides in that direction."
It looks as though Pettine and Co. will take at least a couple preseason games to evaluate the situation and name a starter. If Hoyer plays great and outshines Manziel, then it would be tough to argue with naming him the starter initially.
If things are anywhere close to even, though, there is no reason to not pick Manziel. Some people may not like his brash attitude and controversial lifestyle, but it comes down to who can perform better on the field.
Cleveland's offense could really struggle this season if wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire year or at least a significant part of it. That will make life difficult for the quarterback, but Manziel is better equipped to handle it.
If pass-catchers can't get open, then Hoyer won't have success. Manziel, on the other hand, can improvise and make things happen with his legs. Many of Manziel's greatest highlights in college were on broken plays, and that type of suddenness is what keeps defenses on their heels.
The Browns are in the midst of an 11-year playoff drought, and sticking with the status quo hasn't worked. There is a certain degree of risk in starting Manziel since it remains to be seen if he can adapt to the NFL style over the long haul, but Cleveland needs to take some chances.
Hoyer may be a good teammate; however, the Browns need someone with an elite skill set under center. Johnny Football is that guy.
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