The Browns have seemingly validated theories about veteran Brian Hoyer being a slight front-runner in his battle against rookie Johnny Manziel for the team's starting quarterback job.
Although Browns coach Mike Pettine revealed earlier in the week his plan to give Hoyer and Manziel about the same amount of snaps with the starters Monday night in the team's second preseason game of the year at Washington, one of the two quarterbacks had to be chosen to take the first turn.
And Hoyer received the nod.
In a news release distributed to the media Thursday afternoon, Pettine announced Hoyer will start over Manziel on ESPN's Monday Night Football at FedExField.
"It's just something right now where we are comfortable with Brian going out there to start the game," Pettine said in the release. "I think it's a little overblown as to who the starter is going to be. The key component, as I've stated earlier this week, is that we are going to balance the reps. We will play it a little by ear as it goes on. We haven't truly decided as far as the rotation, but the goal is, for when we look at the stat sheet at halftime, that they both have the same amount of repetitions, and hopefully they both get a good amount of work."
ESPN's Chris Mortensen followed the news with a report about Manziel and a couple of other Browns rookies being a few minutes late for a team meeting Monday. Mortensen cited Browns sources who insisted Manziel's tardiness was not a factor in the decision to start Hoyer in the second exhibition game.
Mortensen also reported the sources told him Manziel and the other rookies apparently misread a schedule for a brief five-minute meeting to start the week. Pettine handled the matter internally, according to the report, which suggests fines might have been issued.
Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year's draft, spent about four hours at the team's facility Sunday during an off day and made bed check at the team's hotel that night, Mortensen reported. A source told Mortensen it would be "very unfair and inaccurate" to link Manziel's tardiness to his reputation for partying.
Regardless, Hoyer will start Monday and Manziel will follow.
The starters are expected to play about a half in what should be the final audition for Hoyer and Manziel before Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains choose the starter for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh. Pettine has said all along he wants to name a Week 1 starter before the third preseason game Aug. 23 against St. Louis. He revealed the call will probably be made Tuesday.
"I'm sure we'll sit down at some point next week, more than likely later in the day on Tuesday, and get our heads together and see what we come up with," Pettine said Thursday on his radio show that airs on WKNR and 92.3 The Fan.
The decision to go with Hoyer first on Monday raises some eyebrows because Manziel won't start a game before Pettine and Co. meet to pick their No. 1 quarterback against the Steelers. But if Manziel prevails over Hoyer, he would get a start under his belt in the "dress rehearsal" against the Rams.
"He would go ahead and start that third game if that were the case," Pettine said on his radio show.
Hoyer started the Browns' preseason opener Saturday and worked exclusively with the first-team offense in the 13-12 loss to the Detroit Lions. Manziel spent the night with the second unit, including a backup offensive line that struggled.
Hoyer completed 6-of-14 passes for 92 yards in three series, posting a passer rating of 65.2. Manziel finished 7-of-11 passing for 63 yards in four series, tallying a passer rating of 79. He also ran six times for 27 yards (4.5 average).
ProFootballFocus.com, which grades the performance of each player, gave Hoyer an edge over Manziel. But neither player orchestrated a touchdown drive.
"The bottom line is we want to see who leads the team and gets us in the end zone the most," Loggains said Tuesday. "Both of those guys have done a really good job, and I'm excited to see the process as it goes on."
Hoyer and Manziel have taken turns working with the starters in practices this week and last. Still, two facts appear to favor Hoyer: He remains No. 1 on the depth chart, and he'll start both preseason games before the coaches choose a starting quarterback to prepare for the Steelers.
Loggains, however, stressed "there's not a leader" in the quarterback derby.
Fans and media will debate the claim, but this much is clear: The duel between Hoyer and Manziel has yet to reach its climax. Monday night's game will be crucial, even though Loggains insisted it wouldn't be the only deciding factor when it comes to naming a starter for Week 1.
"I don't think we'll make the decision based on that," Loggains said. "It's the body of work they're accumulating, putting together and that's how we'll make the decision."
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