Johnny Manziel doesn’t lack confidence, that much we know.
But what we still don’t know is how he will perform against starting-caliber talent in the NFL, and whether that confidence will translate to a successful career. For most of training camp and in the Cleveland Browns’ first preseason game last Saturday, the rookie quarterback has been playing with the second-teamers.
That could change come next Monday, when the Browns visit Washington to take on the Redskins, the former team of new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. According to head coach Mike Pettine, Manziel will, at the very least, get to prove himself with the first-team offense in practice this week.
“We will mix the reps this week,” Pettine said after a rain-soaked practice Monday morning. “But as far as starting the game, we’ll make that decision as a committee, but it will be based on several factors.”
That is to say the quarterback competition in Cleveland is as muddy as ever. Brian Hoyer is the incumbent starter and has been treated as such, spending most of his time with the first-team offense. But there is no denying that Manziel is nipping at Hoyer’s heels.
That comes partly from an impressive preseason debut by Manziel against the Lions last Saturday. Sure, it was against the second-team defense throwing a vanilla look at him, but Manziel completed 7 of 11 passes for 63 yards, adding 27 rushing yards on six carries and bringing some life to the offense. It was enough to certainly keep him in the conversation for the starting job, or at least a chance to prove he deserves it against another team’s starters.
All of this also comes from the fact that Hoyer hasn’t necessarily done much to put distance between himself and Manziel. Despite being plagued by a few drops against the Lions, Hoyer was efficient in the Browns’ first preseason game, but will that be enough to stop Manziel?
That’s pretty much what Hoyer has been through camp: not terribly exciting, but mostly efficient. He’s had his struggles as well in the new offense, but there’s no denying that Hoyer is a confident guy, too, and that he certainly has command of the huddle and the respect of his teammates. He won’t be giving up his job without a fight.
“To me, this is my team until someone else tells me otherwise,” Hoyer said. And as long as he takes care of business, it should continue to be Hoyer’s team.
But who knows what could happen if Johnny Manziel does take advantage of any opportunities presented to him within the next week. It could either muddy up this competition even further, or it could finally bring some clarity to it. Without doing anything spectacular thus far in training camp, Hoyer has left himself open to the debate, allowing Manziel to work out his own early kinks and become a little more comfortable with the playbook.
So is there any chance that Manziel ends up as the Browns’ starter when it’s all said and done? Is there any way he can overtake Hoyer in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner?
The fact that Pettine is even considering starting Manziel next week shows that the possibility is still very much there. If he plays especially well in the starting role next Monday, should he get it, it’s hard to imagine him relinquishing it when the games start counting.
In that regard, the shift towards Johnny Manziel the starter rather than Johnny Manziel the backup could begin as early as this week. Of course, if he doesn’t play all that well against Washington, and Hoyer still doesn’t do enough to truly separate himself, then the Browns are navigating through a full-blown controversy without much time left to figure it all out.
Both guys want it. Neither are making huge impressions, but there is still time for that. A lot about the future of this competition will be decided this week, but there’s one other thing working in Hoyer’s favor. He is still very much an unproven commodity, though he showed flashes of solid potential last season before tearing his ACL. The Browns would also be smart to truly figure out what they have in Hoyer before simply handing the keys over to Manziel.
And Pettine isn’t about to just let the job come easy to anybody. To him, it has to be earned, and Manziel isn’t there yet. Maybe the biggest case in point is still simply the evidence on the field. Until Manziel gets regular time with the first-team offense, there might not be much of a controversy at all.
“Nothing’s changed. If there was a significant change on the depth chart, it would be reflected on the field,” Pettine said.