Johnny Manziel's NFL tenure hasn't gotten off to an ideal start after an incredible career at Texas A&M. Even so, Johnny Football will turn in his clipboard for a spot in the Cleveland Browns' huddle before long.
After just two preseason games, Browns head coach Mike Pettine decided to name veteran Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback for Cleveland's Week 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers over Manziel, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
#Browns announce Brian Hoyer is their starter over Johnny Manziel.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 20, 2014
Pettine's choice has been debated by observers in recent days, and it is easy to see why. Hoyer is a journeyman who started just three games last season before tearing his ACL. He hasn't looked good during the preseason thus far, and there doesn't seem to be much upside.
Conversely, Manziel is a Heisman Trophy winner who enters the league as a first-round pick. He hasn't exactly torn it up during the preseason either, but he has been statistically superior to Hoyer, as seen in this graphic courtesy of SportsCenter:
Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel have both had a rough preseason. Here's how they compare: pic.twitter.com/4wye2PUO9n— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 20, 2014
Manziel probably gives the Browns a better chance to win in reality due to his mobility and penchant for making big plays out of nothing. Pettine likely feels more comfortable with a veteran under center to open the season, though, due largely to the difficult schedule that awaits the Browns.
Cleveland will face the Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens in the season's first three weeks. All of those teams ranked in the top 13 in total defense, and they are particularly well-known for their ferocity in terms of attacking the quarterback.
The Browns then have a bye in Week 4 before back-to-back meetings with the Tennessee Titans and Steelers. As pointed out by Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network, things get much easier for the Browns on paper after that:
Browns schedule thru Week 6? 8th toughest. After? T-27th. Open w/ aggressive row of DCs: LeBeau, Rob Ryan, Dean Pees, Ray Horton, LeBeau— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 20, 2014
Once the defenses get a bit softer, it might be wise to phase Manziel in provided Hoyer isn't playing well. If things go particularly poorly over the first three weeks, Ben Volin of The Boston Globe believes the bye week could be a good spot to make the switch:
Still think we'll see Manziel earlier rather than later. #Browns schedule sets up well for him to take over after Bye in Week 4— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 20, 2014
Hoyer may be "the guy" for now, but hints have already been dropped that the Browns aren't entirely committed to him in that spot. For starters, wide receiver Nate Burleson essentially gushed about Manziel during the aftermath of Pettine's decision, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Johnny's still the man. He's still a really good quarterback. He's an NFL-quality starting quarterback. ... Johnny being the No. 2, as you want to call it, we got arguably the best No. 2 in the NFL.
Johnny will be successful in this league. He'll have his opportunities. Regardless of how many chances he'll get or waves of opportunities he gets, he's going to take advantage of them. It's not a bad thing for him to be the No. 2 [quarterback] Week 1. He is a rookie, still has a lot to learn and to do as a professional and as a player when it comes to the playbook. He's going to be all right. I'm a Johnny Football fan.
That may simply be a case of Burleson trying to defend his teammate, but it certainly sounds as though he views Manziel as the Browns' true answer at quarterback.
Even Pettine seems to be waffling to some degree. According to The Opening Drive on SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t ESPN.com), Pettine is open to considering the possibility of utilizing both Hoyer and Manziel.
"I think in the NFL that you do yourself a disservice if you don't have two quarterbacks ready," Pettine said. "And people have asked me about potentially a two-quarterback system and having a package for [Manziel]. That is on the table."
When will Manziel take over as the Browns starting QB?
Creating a package for an athletic backup quarterback is something that always sounds good in theory, but it very rarely works out. More often than not, all it does is stir up further controversy.
Pettine has to be well aware of that, so the fact that he is even thinking about doing something like that with Manziel means that he may not be 100 percent sold on Hoyer.
With Manziel lurking on the sidelines, Hoyer's margin for error will be razor thin. Browns fans will call for Johnny Football at the first sign of trouble, and Pettine will only be able to ignore it for so long.
It is tough to imagine Hoyer excelling against three tough defenses to start the season, so expect the Manziel era to officially commence in Week 5.
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