BEREA, Ohio -- Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan warned everyone not to count out rookie Johnny Manziel in his battle with veteran Brian Hoyer for the team's starting quarterback job.
Although Hoyer has taken all the snaps with the first-team offense through the first five full-squad practices of training camp and Manziel has worked exclusively with the second unit, Shanahan insists the derby is a dead heat. Most observers believe Hoyer is clearly ahead at this point, but Shanahan isn't going along with that narrative.
"I don't think one's any further in front than the other," Shanahan said Thursday during a post-practice news conference. "I think they've both done a good job. As far as these five practices, it's usually one day, one guy's ahead of the other. The next day, the other guy does a better job. I think it's been back and forth.
"It's something that I don't try to evaluate every day. I try to just coach both of them and get them better. Usually in my experience when you've been in a situation like this, it usually plays out. We've been in 1/8camp3/8 a week. Hopefully as these preseason games go, as these practices go, I hope one of them will make the decision easy on us, one will just take off and start playing really well."
The idea that Manziel is not lagging behind Hoyer will become more believable once Manziel receives practice reps with the first-team offense. So far, it hasn't happened, but Shanahan said it will.
"We'll eventually work him in there with the first O-line," Shanahan said. "It's something we discuss every day, and I'm sure you guys will see that sooner than later."
Coach Mike Pettine also said it's a "knee-jerk reaction" to draw any conclusions about the quarterback competition primarily because "we have a long way to go." Pettine is committed to naming a starter before the third exhibition game Aug. 23 against the St. Louis Rams.
Manziel, though, came off as humble when discussing the situation. He's not throwing in the towel by any means, but he does seem mentally prepared to enter the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at the Pittsburgh Steelers as a backup.
"I think I'll play whenever these coaches decide that I'm ready," said Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year's draft. "I don't think that there's any rush. For me, it's whenever Coach Pettine, Coach Shanahan and the staff here decides that. I don't think they want to throw me into a situation that I'm not ready for or something that I can't handle, so I don't know if they drafted me necessarily thinking that I should come in and start Week 1. I think they wanted to see where I'm at and see how I progress, and hopefully they're happy with how I'm progressing. If not, obviously I need to take it upon myself to step my game up and continue to learn the stuff at a more rapid pace."
Manziel isn't getting too worked up about Shanahan's claim that the duel is even because he knows he's enduring rookie growing pains.
"I don't know if it's necessarily encouraging, but I'm not worried about one or the other being ahead," Manziel said. "... That's not really on my mind at all. Right now, it's me versus the playbook, and there's nothing else. I've got to know the stuff to even be able to come out here and execute everything."
Hoyer isn't getting wrapped up in the talk, either.
"I'm just going to do the things I can do to be the best quarterback for this team," Hoyer said. "There isn't a lot of talk about that. Until things are said to me, I approach it the same way."
Manziel conceded the Browns' playbook is much more complex than the one he used at Texas A&M, but Pettine has been impressed with how well the former Heisman Trophy winner has learned.
"He's done a nice job with it," Pettine said. "I would even say that he's slightly ahead of where we thought he would be mentally."
Still, there's no denying the learning curve to which Manziel alluded is a legitimate obstacle.
Shanahan said making pre-snap reads, cycling through progressions and, above all, learning to consistently make plays from the pocket instead of running around and creating something on the fly are the biggest adjustments Manziel is trying to make.
"You never want to take that 1/8improvisational playmaking ability3/8 away from him," Shanahan said. "But you've got to continue to develop as a quarterback because these defenses in this league, especially once you get into the regular season and coaches game-plan for you, if they want to keep you in the pocket, they can. So you've got to be able to do both, and if you can do both, you can be a great one."
Pettine has said Hoyer will likely start the preseason opener Aug. 9 at the Detroit Lions. But Manziel will still have chances to showcase his skills in game-like settings, which could bode well for him.
"Always for me, I've been better in a game situation than I have in practice," Manziel said. "But I have to come out here and get better at the plays and get better at the reps that I'm getting."
However, Manziel might not be quite himself in the preseason because he doesn't expect to be able to lean on his freelancing talents.
"I'm not going to have a lot of freedom," Manziel said. "I think I'm going to go run the plays that are called. We'll have certain checks that we can do that are allowed within our offense and then if something is not there, if something breaks down, then I think I'll be able to ... do what I did in college a little bit and be smart about it. But obviously in preseason games, the goal is move the ball down the field at all costs and obviously try to play within the offense."
Even if Manziel begins his career as a backup, he might play because Shanahan isn't opposed to creating a package for him right off the bat for Week 1.
"I have no problem with that," Shanahan said. "I think that does present some issues 1/8for the defense3/8, but I don't like to ever do something just to do it. There's got to be a reason for it and we think something looks good and it can help our team move the chains and it can be successful, then I would never hesitate to do it."
Hoyer wouldn't protest.
"As long as we're winning games, that's all that matters," Hoyer said. "If it's something that can help the team win, that's what I'm all about."
Either way, Shanahan is eager to get the starting quarterback decision out of the way.
"I wish it could be made tomorrow, but you've got a rookie quarterback and you've got another quarterback who's really only played in three full NFL games, and they're both learning new offenses," Shanahan said. "When one guy has a bad practice, I don't try to say, 'All right, he's back. The other guy's way up.' It's early for both of them. So as small as patience as coaches tend to have, I'm fighting with myself to have more because I know it's going to take time. You don't want to just jump to a conclusion real quick. You've got to give them both a chance to get comfortable and to develop. I really hope we can get it done sooner than later, but it's really going to be up to them."
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