BEREA, Ohio – What figures to be the final act of the Cleveland Browns quarterback battle plays out Monday night when the Browns play their second preseason game at Washington.
Based on what head coach Mike Pettine has said throughout camp, a winner in the Brian Hoyer-Johnny Manziel battle will be named in the 36 or so hours following that game as the Browns point towards their Aug. 23 third preseason game and the Sept. 7 season opener at Pittsburgh.
Hoyer gets his second preseason start Monday, but Pettine has said nothing has been decided and that all involved have work to do in the three weeks between now and the season opener.
Manziel isn’t afraid to admit that.
"I’m not ready for Pittsburgh," Manziel said Saturday. "I’m not. I’ve only played one game, but the more and more you see it, the more you get familiar with it, I think the better it will be."
That’s pretty much the quote of training camp, and the savvy Manziel knew it. He clarified that he didn’t want it to be "taken out of context" or to be any kind of concession.
"I’m not saying that I’m not ready or that I won’t be ready," Manziel said. "It’s just right now, it’s the second preseason game. I’m not ready to go out and start Week One because there’s a lot of time left until that point. For me, there are plenty of weeks left for me to learn, (play) preseason games, get adapted to the speed. If I was the starter for Pittsburgh for Week One, then you have to be ready. You have to be ready for Week One. It’s the opening week of the season. It’s a big game."
Monday’s is a really big game, too, considering it will bring Manziel’s first live reps with the Browns No. 1 offense. He got four days with the No. 1 offense over the course of camp.
Manziel has said throughout camp that he’s not concerned with any sort of timeline or outside pressure. He said he’s been in the playbook and the meetings trying to improve his comfort level with the offense and his new surroundings.
"I don’t look at (like) as I was drafted to come in Day One and save the franchise," he said. "I think when I got drafted from the top, from (general manager) Ray Farmer and everybody that’s involved in this organization, that they had a plan for me and they want me to be successful," Manziel said. "Whenever that is, I feel that my future is here and they brought me in to hopefully be the future down the road one day. For me, there’s no pressure, there’s no timetable. (My goal) is to continue to develop as a football player, get smarter, get better, and whenever that time is, I’ll go out there and play football like I’ve been doing for the past years of my life."
Hoyer said earlier this week that he’s operating like it’s "my team until someone tells me differently" and said Saturday he’s not putting any extra pressure on himself because Pettine’s deadline day is coming. Asked about "the inevitability" that the Browns will play Manziel, sooner or later, Hoyer confidently said he hadn’t heard about that.
"I just want to be the starting quarterback of this team, whatever the situation is," Hoyer said.
Pettine has said the Browns will try to make sure Hoyer and Manziel get equal reps with the No. 1 offensive unit Monday and wouldn’t commit to a number of drives or a certain rotation. A national television audience will be watching; ESPN has advertised the game as a matchup of native Texan Heisman Trophy winners in Manziel vs. Robert Griffin III.
"I don’t watch ESPN," Hoyer said, adding that no outside opinion matters in his quest to improve and ultimately help the Browns win.
This battle has been not just the story of Browns camp but maybe the most-watched camp battle across the NFL this month. Browns-Redskins is the only game Monday night; a large audience will be watching. Manziel said he’s used to "the chaos…the talk, the hype, the overreaction, the over-analysis…from the day that I won the Heisman" and that none of that has fazed him in this camp.
"Overanalysis," Manziel said, "has been the one constant in my life."
It all shapes up for one final, highly-scrutinized audition Monday.
Plenty of people will have their popcorn and opinions ready.