Johnny Manziel will win the starting quarterback job during the preseason.
In fact, his performance on Monday against Washington will leave Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine no other choice but to choose Johnny Football as the man under center when the regular season begins on September 7.
Gaining Momentum in Motown
After a strong debut on the road against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night, Manziel showed flashes of the leadership and playmaking ability that made him such an effective player in college.
Manziel completed seven of 11 pass attempts for 63 yards, and he led the Browns in rushing with 27 yards. At one point, he took off for a 16-yard scramble and ended it appropriately with a baseball slide.
Granted, he had taken an unnecessary hit on an earlier play, but he quickly learned from his mistake. Learning quickly is something that he has done throughout training camp and one preseason game.
During a Browns conference call, Pettine said this about his rookie quarterback, per Jim Corbett of USA Today:
The reviews of him (Manziel) in the pocket have been positive, that he has a good sense of the pocket; that he feels the rush without looking at it. A lot of quarterbacks have an issue with that. They're more looking at the rush than feeling it. He's definitely a work in progress with that. But he's shown solid improvement.
It had appeared that veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer would keep the job warm for Manziel early on, but there's reason to believe Manziel will be ready sooner than later. Sports Illustrated's Peter King made this observation: "This looked clearly to be Hoyer’s gig, at least to start the season. Not anymore. The gap has closed significantly, and Saturday night was Exhibit A why."
While Saturday's performance was not perfect by any stretch, Manziel still showed that he could be dangerous yet controlled, and he didn't appear to be the least bit overwhelmed.
After the game was over, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), Manziel sounded pleased but not satisfied with his performance. "It was a good start," he said. "You have to start somewhere and set a foundation. I got my feet wet and got my first preseason game under my belt."
That's exactly the attitude he should have after a promising start to his NFL career.
National Televised Game, Near the Nation's Capital...No Problem
When Manziel takes on the Washington defense at FedEx Field on Monday, it will be in front of a nationally televised ESPN audience. Last week's game was broadcast on NFL Network, and it was a pretty big deal.
According to TV Media Insights, the preseason clash was the second-most viewed sporting event of the week and garnered the most-relevant tweets of any sports-related broadcast.
As big as Manziel's debut was on television and social media, his second game could and should be even bigger. Per Corbett: "[Johnny] Manziel's too-close-to-call battle with incumbent [Brian] Hoyer to open the season as the Browns' quarterback Sept. 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers likely will come down to how both perform in next Monday night's preseason meeting with the Washington Redskins."
That places enormous stakes on a game being played by the hottest name in the sport today. Ladies and gentlemen, that is what creates compelling television in this country.
In similar situations, Manziel has always risen to the occasion. Though it was in college, anyone remotely familiar with Manziel's career remembers his performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2012.
Manziel guided his Texas A&M Aggies into Tuscaloosa and handed the defending and eventual national champion Crimson Tide their only loss of the season.
This was just a college game, but it's relevant because of the pressure involved in playing Bama on the road and the media attention the game drew due to the opponent and Manziel's Heisman Trophy campaign. It's also noteworthy because of the number of NFL-caliber athletes the Tide had on their defense.
The Baltimore Ravens' C.J. Mosley, Green Bay Packers' Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, New York Jets' Dee Milliner and others did their best to stop Manziel on that Saturday afternoon. Yet Johnny Football still managed 345 total yards (253 passing and 92 rushing) and two touchdowns en route to the 29-24 victory.
The debut against the Lions was simply another example of Manziel raising his level of play to fit the situation. As his knowledge of the game grows, his abilities and confidence become more aligned. While the game against Bama may seem small now, it was the pinnacle for Manziel at the time.
He's a better quarterback now than he was then, and this preseason game represents the next big challenge for him.
The Competition Isn't All That Strong
If Manziel were trying to pry the starting job from a more established veteran with a greater history of success who wasn't coming off a torn ACL, the chances that Johnny Football would win the starting job wouldn't be as high.
As it is, Hoyer has started a grand total of four games in his career. He was 3-0 as a starter for the Browns last season before he got hurt, but that simply isn't a strong enough body of work to provide the traction to hold off Manziel.
Ever the competitor, Hoyer said this, per Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com: “To me, this is my team until someone else tells me otherwise."
He'll likely be told "otherwise" during the middle of next week.
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