Browns QB battle: Manziel making strides, gaining on Hoyer
BEREA, Ohio -- Monday was another day the defense dominated in Cleveland Browns training camp.
What that means for the quarterback competition is that it continues -- and it's certainly waiting to be won.
"Nothing has changed," Browns coach Mike Pettine said after Monday's practice.
He was talking about the depth chart -- Brian Hoyer remains the No. 1 guy and took all the No. 1 snaps Monday -- but he might also be talking about what he's seen on the field.
On a rainy Monday morning, Hoyer's first pass of the day was intercepted and returned for a touchdown after the intended receiver slipped. Johnny Manziel fumbled his first snap. Both recovered and had positive moments, but the ball was on the ground or back in a defender's hand an awful lot.
Time is getting short. Pettine has reiterated that it's best for the team to have a starter in place before the Aug. 23 third preseason game. The Browns play again next Monday, Aug. 18, at Washington, and have three more full practices left before then.
Pettine has said he'll mix the units and that Manziel will get chances with the No. 1 offense this week. If these three practices and one game are essentially what's left of the competition, now would be a good time for one or the other to step up and grab the job.
"I don't change my approach at all," Hoyer said Monday. "To me, this is my team until someone tells me otherwise."
Pettine has said he's constantly talking with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains about what they're seeing, how the reps are being are distributed and the overall evaluation of each quarterback. Pettine hasn't swayed from his initial thought that the team simply wants the best guy and wants every opportunity to decide who that best guy is.
"I don't look at it that way, that I'm on the line (as the head coach)," Pettine said. "I'm not making decisions based on being on the line. I'm making decisions based on what's best for the football team and what gives us the best opportunity to win.
"Those guys (Shanahan and Loggains) are right there in the front lines with them working with them every day. I think it's important to take their input. I'm just not going to make a decision based on what I feel. If it's unanimous then that's easy, but if there's a tie that has to be broken, I'll do it."
The Browns didn't score an offensive touchdown in an 80-play intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 2-- though one might have been awarded via replay review in a real game -- or their first preseason game. Over the last week-plus of camp, they haven't even scored many touchdowns in practice. Miles Austin wasn't whistled down on a slip screen play late in Monday's practice, then Manziel threw a fade for a touchdown to Charles Johnson in a first and goal at the 2-yard line situation.
Whichever quarterback can keep the team moving and start putting the offense in the end zone can make a strong statement.
"I think I need to just continue to learn, continue to absorb everything I can in this short amount of time, and then go out -- and at the end of the day it's just football," Manziel said. "Go out and go through your reads and execute and move the ball down the field and score points. I think whoever does that the best, obviously, is going to have a better chance at the end of the day."
A recap of where both quarterbacks and the competition stand...
Hoyer: After a very strong start to camp, Hoyer hasn't really put two good days together throwing the ball. Monday was like most of his days, which have generally been pretty average.
Hoyer said he saw positives out of his three series in the preseason opener at Detroit, which included two field-goal drives. He said he wishes he could have a couple throws back but, as he's done throughout camp, has downplayed the competition part of camp or the uncertainty that's come with it.
"You just ignore all of the noise and the hype and worry about what goes on in that building and what I can control," Hoyer said. "For me that's coming out here and practicing the best that I can and when I get a chance to play, playing the best that I can."
Manziel: His answers about the competition and the chance to start in Washington have been measured, too.
"I hope to do what the coaches tell me to do," Manziel said.
Meanwhile, Monday brought a pretty new experience with the wet ball and slick conditions. The rainy practice could potentially be more valuable for Manziel than Hoyer as the furthest north Manziel played in college was Missouri last November. In November and December this year, the Browns play in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Baltimore.
Manziel wants to be the starter then. He wants to be the starter sooner rather than later. But he sounds like a guy who knows there's a long way to go.
"I think (the mental side of the game) is getting better and better each day," Manziel said. "The more I can tell the more and more the clutter gets out, the more and more that I just go out and snap the ball and don't have to worry about anything about going through my reads and being extremely decisive. I think that's the main part, to go through my reads, see what's going on within the defense and then execute and be decisive on that. I think that's when IÃve been my best, and day by day I think I'm getting more comfortable with that."
Pettine: "To me, if you're going to put a guy in a starting role, that needs to be earned."
Where's Johnny? He's still in a stalking position, but he'd be wise to really have a good day in one of the next two practices when he gets a chance to operate the No. 1 offense. It makes sense to start Manziel in the next preseason game, but it's not a certainty because the Browns need to pick the best guy -- and all involved are very much on the clock.
It's fairly obvious that Manziel has made strides in several areas since the beginning of camp. He brings excitement and a different element to the offense with his mobility. But the Browns have made him no promises and will play the best guy.
"I don't expect anything," Manziel said Monday when asked if he expected to start the Washington game. "I expect to get reps and work hard."
If he wants to start next Monday, a big couple days lie ahead.