BEREA, Ohio -- Veteran Brian Hoyer has maintained his early lead over Johnny Manziel in the Browns' quarterback derby, but there's still hope for the rookie.
As the Browns wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp Thursday, coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer would enter training camp in late July as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. But Pettine also made it clear that there's plenty of time left for Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year's draft, to catch up before the Sept. 7 season opener at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Brian had been here for those seven, eight weeks before the draft even started. That was essentially a head start, and I don't think it's insurmountable," Pettine said. "Brian is securely ahead of (Manziel) right now, but we will compete and we will decide.
"The issue for us as a staff is finding the right time to name a starter. If you wait too late, then nobody's ready for the opener. If you do it too soon, then it wasn't a true competition."
Hoyer was limited to a simulated version of 11-on-11 drills throughout spring practices because the organization wanted to prevent a teammate from accidentally running into the surgically repaired right knee in which he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last October. So when Hoyer sat out team drills, Manziel took his place with the starters.
"It's been hard to evaluate because Brian hasn't been able to take the 11-on-11 reps," Pettine said. "But when we put the depth chart together (before training camp), Brian will be No. 1.
"We haven't really been in the mode of thinking, '(Hoyer is) this far ahead today. How much was the gap closed?' They're still learning the basics of the offense. The rookies haven't been here very long. They're playing catch-up from a playbook standpoint. So at this point, we really weren't keeping score. We'll be much more apt to do that once we get to training camp."
Veterans will report to training camp July 25. When it rolls around, Hoyer will be fully cleared for 11-on-11 drills, and the coaches will give him the reins of the first-team offense. Still, that won't keep them from giving Manziel some reps with the starters as well. The division of first-team work has yet to be figured out.
"I don't know how even we'll get it (in terms of the number of reps), but there will definitely be times when Johnny will be with the ones," Pettine said. "It would be hard to evaluate if we didn't do that. If there wasn't a competition, then it would just be strictly (Hoyer with the first-team offense and Manziel with the second unit). We haven't met to go over that. (Offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan), (quarterbacks coach) Dowell (Loggains) and I are going to all think of it over the summer and as we get closer, probably at some point get together and figure out how we want to do it."
Pettine also said fans can expect to watch both Hoyer and Manziel play with the starters when preseason games begin in August.
"If a guy has a chance to be a starter, I would think that you'd want to expose him to a starting defense if he was going to be the guy opening day," Pettine said.
In organized team activities and minicamp, Manziel flashed the playmaking ability that helped him become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. But he also displayed inconsistent mechanics and made ill-advised throws at times.
Hoyer, who led the Browns to back-to-back wins last September before his season-ending injury devastated the franchise, operated the offense with greater efficiency than Manziel. His ability to quickly read defenses and cycle through progressions allowed him to get rid of the ball sooner more times than not.
So Manziel's best chance to catch Hoyer lies in studying the playbook and watching film of practice and games.
"He shouldn't concern himself so much with where Brian is but where he is," Pettine said. "He's going to have plenty of tape to study, his own work, what the rest of the offense has done, even the time before he got here, the work that we were able to do on the field, start to study some opponent tape. ... The more he just familiarizes himself with that, the better off he'll be."
In other words, Manziel should be wise about how he spends his downtime.
Pettine has said he isn't worried about Manziel's persistent partying, but the coaches will certainly pay attention to off-field behavior as the players take a long break until training camp starts. Rookies, though, have a different schedule than veterans. They'll stay with the Browns next week and then attend the NFL Rookie Symposium the following week in Aurora.
"It's nervous anytime your entire team is dismissed," Pettine said. "As a coach, you hear your phone ring and you kind of look at it with one eye, hoping it's not an issue coming up. We talked to them about it. We wanted to make sure that they handled themselves well. The advice was learn the system, stay in shape, stay out of trouble."
If Manziel enters training camp armed with a stronger knowledge of Shanahan's scheme, he could be on Hoyer's heels in a hurry.
"You can tell every week he's improving," running back Ben Tate said of Manziel. "He's improving. You can definitely tell he's in the playbook, so that's important. It's just about how much he can learn from now to training camp to bridge that gap that he does have between him and Brian. I'm excited to see the competition. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."
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