There are a few traditions that have grown, organically and probably accidentally, from early training camp practices in this new era of the Cleveland Browns. One is that the fans who show up early on camp’s first day start barking — possibly like their fathers and grandfathers did back when camp was held across Cleveland at Lakeland Community College — and before long start those fans start chanting "Super Bowl, Super Bowl."
On that morning, hope springs eternal. And it’s beautiful.
Another is the not-so-memorable and not-so-positive tradition of the quarterback battle, one that’s too often become a battle of attrition rather one that’s crowned a winner who’s gone to win much of anything. When camp ends and the Browns open the 2014 season in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7, they’ll do so with their seventh different opening-day quarterback since 2007.
Come Sept. 7, that quarterback will probably be Brian Hoyer.
But it also just might be Johnny Manziel.
It’s hard to say just how much of a battle Hoyer vs. Manziel will be over the next four-plus weeks given that the team’s plan calls for Hoyer to get the first-team reps — and Manziel may or may not have squeezed in a couple actual football workouts between vacations over the last four weeks, but it’s going to be good.
To watch. To enjoy. To soak up.
In one corner is the hometown kid. Hoyer grew up nearby, played for a championship coach and program in Cleveland city limits as a high schooler, even sat in the stands at the old stadium with his father, a season-ticket holder, and watched those Browns teams.
If there’s one thing Cleveland loves, it’s a chance to talk about old stadiums and old teams that actually won.
In the other corner is one of the most popular young athletes in the world, the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, an A-list celebrity before he ever sniffed the NFL and a player who offers popularity and promise, two things this beaten-down fan base have been craving.
If there’s one thing Cleveland loves more than a chance to talk about the old Browns, it’s a first-round draft pick.
Johnny Football is one of the best nicknames ever. Manziel has been selling himself, officially, since turning pro in January but has really been a phenomenon for 20 months now. Johnny Fever is a real thing; the NFL announced this week that more Manziel jerseys have been sold since last winter than any other jersey of any other player.
And he’s a backup.
At least for now.
This is new territory for both players. Hoyer was a backup in New England who knew injury was his only chance to play for four years before he got cut, spent a season bouncing around and then caught on with the Browns last May, starting third on the depth chart and not going anywhere over his first four months.
Hoyer didn’t get any first-team reps in last year’s camp, at least none the public or media were allowed to see. He was handed the ball after an 0-2 start and won three straight games, leaving the third early with a torn ACL that ended his season.
Last winter the Browns changed everything, again, and the new administration moved on from last year’s other two quarterbacks, held an extra first-round draft pick and has Hoyer under contract for this season. The Browns made three different first-round trades and eventually landed Manziel, but he’s been behind Hoyer since the first spring activities began.
After the first week of those spring activities, Browns general manager told a Cleveland radio station Hoyer was ahead "by a substantial margin."
A few Vegas trips, a rolled up $20 bill and a bunch of Instagram postings later, Browns coach Mike Pettine has said the team needs an answer sooner rather than later — after two preseason games, preferably — and that Hoyer is medically cleared and ready to get the first team reps. Pettine has promised that there will be a competition, though, and Manziel’s makeup and football resume indicate he’ll be ready to compete.
Starting Saturday, the Browns will have more than 4,000 barkers and "Super Bowl" chanters inside their fences for training camp to watch every move.
There will be Hoyer jerseys in the crowd. There will be (more) Manziel jerseys in the crowd. There will be opportunities for both, though it appears Hoyer will get the bulk of the reps with the top line and top receivers. Every throw will be scrutinized publicly; every decision and every meeting will be scrutinized privately.
On the field, the first time Manziel throws a simple pattern for a significant camp gain and makes his signature money sign (or whatever the hell it is) towards the crowd, the crowd will fall over itself trying to make that sign back.
If Hoyer shows up steady, leads the offense and shows Pettine and Farmer he gives the Browns the best chance to win, those barking fans will get behind that, too.
Long gone are the days of Tim Couch vs. Kelly Holcomb, of Trent Dilfer vs. Charlie Frye and of Frye vs. Derek Anderson vs. Brady Quinn. This is solid vs. substance, veteran in new spot vs. kid with entourage.
As Manziel might write on social media, it’s finally "FTBL SZN."
There’s so much buzz surrounding Browns training camp because of Hoyer vs. Manziel.