Brian Hoyer didn’t win the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback job. Johnny Manziel lost it.
But Coach Mike Pettine’s announcement Wednesday that Hoyer, not Manziel, will open the regular season as the Browns’ starter doesn’t mean that Manziel won’t get his chance at some point during his rookie year. Far from it. Manziel almost certainly will be given a shot to start, probably not too deep into the Browns’ schedule.
“The fact that they were entertaining it [opening the season with Manziel as the starter] with how he was doing, that means they’re dying to get him out there,” former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said Wednesday. “Brian is going to struggle at some point. All quarterbacks struggle. And the cry to see Manziel will be so loud, I don’t think you’ll be able to avoid it. If he doesn’t play by the fourth week, I’d be surprised. In my estimation, he’ll make his first start by Week 7.”
That, quite simply, is how it works in the NFL. Manziel is a first-round draft pick, the would-be franchise quarterback of the future, already one of the league’s most closely watched players. He will get his opportunity when he demonstrates that he is ready for it, and perhaps well before that.
But talk to people who know quarterbacking, people like Hasselbeck, and it is clear that what Manziel put on display in the Browns’ two preseason games shows that he is a long, long way from being ready at this point.
“Looking at him in college, my biggest issue was there wasn’t any consistency from a progression standpoint,” Hasselbeck, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, said by telephone. “They could run the same play twice and get the same coverage, and he’d do two different things…. You would want to talk to him and find out what he was seeing. I know how things are taught in Cleveland. It’s staples of, really, how everyone is doing it in the NFL. He definitely is not diagnosing things from a pre-snap standpoint. And post-snap, I don’t think he’s understanding it. He looks at one place and if it’s not open, he takes off and runs.”
Manziel had a 16-yard scramble during the Browns’ preseason opener at Detroit that made every set of television highlight packages. But, according to Hasselbeck, Manziel did the wrong thing on the play.
“The long run against Detroit, he starts looking to the right,” Hasselbeck said. “He shouldn’t be looking there. [The coverage is] as plain as day. You’ve got to come off of it. He has his guy open on an ‘in’ cut for probably a 20-, 25-yard gain. Everyone says, ‘Look at the run,’ and it’s good to make something out of nothing. But it was a mistake.”
Hasselbeck also points to a play during Monday’s second preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in which the Redskins defense tipped its hand early about a blitz.
“Washington lines up in it,” Hasselbeck said. “There’s no disguise. They walked up into it. The corners are playing inside leverage. Everyone was off their guy and inside. So as a quarterback, you don’t have time to hold on to the football, and you want an out-breaking route. If he throws it to the corner and throws it right, that’s probably a touchdown. And he throws it to the in-breaking route. I don’t think he’s seeing it. And I’ll tell you this: They wanted him to have this job.
“Missing an all-out blitz — if that was a regular season game, you have to hit that. To have it happen in a preseason game is not that big a deal. But if you’re talking about your starter Week 1, division opponent, giving you any chance to win — it’s all moving pretty quickly for him.”
So Hoyer gets the starting nod for the Browns’ Sept. 7 opener at Pittsburgh. The Browns play at home in Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints and against the Baltimore Ravens, again in Cleveland, in Week 3 before having an early bye week. That bye provides a window of opportunity for Manziel potentially to take over as the starter for an Oct. 5 game at Tennessee.
Hoyer is on his fourth NFL team after stints with the New England Patriots, Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. He is a mostly unproven NFL commodity who gets the starting job — over a highly celebrated first-round draft choice — after failing to lead a touchdown drive in two preseason games. He gets the job two days after the high points of his performance against the Redskins were two completions, a four-yard field goal drive and, unlike Manziel, not making an obscene gesture toward the opponent’s sideline.
“He got lucky,” Hasselbeck said. “I like Brian. I feel good for him. [But] normally if you’re someone in his position, you have to play your butt off.”
Manziel didn’t struggle only with his play Monday night when he was given his chance to split snaps with Hoyer with the Browns’ starting offense against the Redskins. He also struggled with his self-control, raising a middle finger in the direction of the Redskins’ bench following a third-quarter play.
“Leadership is a big part of this position,” Hasselbeck said. “It seems like he needs to be led. I would feel like I’d need to assign someone to him. It doesn’t work that way in the NFL.”