Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine said late last week that a committee comprised of himself, quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and general manager Ray Farmer hopes to finalize its decision on the team's starting quarterback for Week 1 on the heels of the team's second preseason game.
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel has yet to look comfortable with his offense in live-game situations, often looking for his first read and deciding to scramble if it's not there.
Unless something shocking happens in that meeting room on Tuesday, it looks like the Browns have no better option than veteran Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer, in his limited starts for the Browns, looked good in 2013. The Browns won all three games he started. Before suffering a torn ACL in October, he completed 57 of his 96 pass attempts (59.4 percent) for 615 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions, averaging 6.41 yards per attempt.
However, Hoyer has struggled in the preseason thus far.
He completed six of his 14 pass attempts for 92 yards and no touchdowns or turnovers against the Detroit Lions last week. He had just two completions on seven attempts, netting 16 yards and a sack, on Monday night against Washington.
Manziel, in contrast, had seven completions on 11 attempts for 63 yards as well as six rushes for 27 yards against Detroit. He played better against Washington, especially in the second half, completing seven of 16 attempts for 65 yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked three times and rushed for negative-one yards.
That's not to say that Manziel has significantly outplayed Hoyer thus far in the preseason or given a strong argument for why he should beat out Hoyer for the Week 1 starting job.
However, Manziel has done just enough—and Hoyer has done so little—that Hoyer will be forced to look over his shoulder should he win the starting nod in Week 1.
His job will never feel safe.
|Hoyer vs. Manziel in the Preseason|
|Player/Game||Atts.||Comp.||Comp.%||Pass Yds||Pass TD||INT||Sack||Rush Att.||Rush Yds.|
|Hoyer vs. DET||14||6||42.9%||92||0||0||0||0||0|
|Manziel vs. DET||11||7||63.6%||63||0||0||0||6||27|
|Hoyer vs. WAS||6||2||30.0%||16||0||0||1||0||0|
|Manziel vs. WAS||16||7||43.8%||65||1||0||3||1||-1|
No incumbent quarterback should ever feel completely comfortable when his team selects a quarterback in the first round of the draft, especially not one such as Hoyer who has a new coaching staff and system to contend with as well.
But Hoyer, who hasn't been a starter for long and has seen playing time in just 18 games over five seasons, has even more reason to be nervous.
He could have alleviated this pressure on himself by playing well in the first two preseason games and separating himself significantly from Manziel. However, his struggles—the overthrows, the timing and footwork issues—have outshone the fact that he seemed to give his offense a spark last year.
Though it makes sense that Hoyer should get the starting job, now it seems quite possible he will struggle to hold onto it.
If he's unable to build an offensive rhythm entering the regular season, benching him is a very real possibility—especially considering the Browns' brutal schedule to open the season and their Week 4 bye.
Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore are three defenses the Browns would be wise not to throw Manziel to immediately. But those same three defenses could wreak havoc on Hoyer and result in Manziel getting a shot at the starting job after just one month.
Even if it doesn't happen then, it could happen at any time.
Pettine said so himself last week:
I think quarterback is different from other positions, that you do want to make a commitment. I don't know if you can necessarily make a permanent commitment. So much can change over the course of an NFL season, the circumstances, but I think that's the one position where you probably have to have a little bit more patience maybe than some others. As far as if a guy's not performing to the level you think he can and you're not getting the results, then you'd go ahead and make a move. It's somewhere in between. I don't want whoever the starter is to feel like, "Oh, if I make one mistake, I'm out." But I also don’t want him to feel like, "Hey, I've achieved something. This is my team for the year."
The comments seem to indicate that if Hoyer is indeed named the Week 1 starter as expected, he'll be on a leash. They also indicate that the leash isn't going to be extremely short. Hoyer can play himself into keeping the job just as he can play himself out of it.
It's just that Hoyer has done more to play himself out of being the starter somewhere down the line, based on how he's looked through two preseason games.
Manziel might just be a rookie with an "it" factor, but if Hoyer shows he's nothing more than a mildly experienced veteran with an "ick" factor, his job security will be in ever-increasing jeopardy.
Hoyer needed this preseason to prove that he's worthy of being the Browns' starter for the entire regular season. Now, nothing beyond the first month seems guaranteed to him. Manziel still looms, just over his shoulder.