AKRON — The highly anticipated quarterback competition between incumbent Brian Hoyer and rookie first-round draft choice Johnny Manziel promises to be hotly contested.
Just like Browns coach Mike Pettine wants it.
“They’re ultra-competitors,” he said Monday. “We don’t want guys who are going to be warm and fuzzy. They’re fighting for a job. It’s somebody you’re going to be working with. It’s a unique situation where you’re competitive, you want that job.
“They’re going to be friendly to each other, but it’s not going to be this warm and fuzzy. That to me is how you want your quarterback to be. The Peyton Mannings and the Tom Bradys probably aren’t the warmest and the nicest to the guys who are coming in trying to take their jobs.”
Pettine vows it will be a fair fight. He met with coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains on Monday to discuss a plan to ensure the playing field is level.
“You have to plan it very well,” Pettine said before speaking to a group of about 300 fans at the Akron Browns Backers banquet. “They’re going to get ahead and chart it, who’s getting reps with this offensive line, with these tight ends, with these receivers, just to make sure that we’re getting a level evaluation on it.”
The battle will continue through the offseason, into training camp and likely into the preseason. It will be the focus of the media and fans.
Pettine isn’t trying to deflect the attention. But he did add a touch of humor.
“I don’t know if they’re going to be sending each other Christmas cards anytime soon,” Pettine told a few reporters in the morning after appearing with Indians manager Terry Francona at a Positive Coaching Alliance breakfast at FirstEnergy Stadium. “But they both know they’re in it together and they’re going to compete. I think they both feel comfortable that, as a staff, the best quarterback that puts us in position to win games, we’re going to put him out there.”
Growing up in North Olmsted, Hoyer dreamed about being the Browns quarterback. When the dream was interrupted after three starts last year by a torn anterior cruciate ligament, he vowed to continue it this year.
That didn’t change with the addition of Manziel. In fact, Hoyer told general manager Ray Farmer and Pettine he welcomed the competition.
As the veteran, Hoyer opens in front. Pettine said before the draft he’d prefer not to start a rookie quarterback because most struggle and hurt the team’s chances to win.
“Right now, Brian Hoyer is the starter,” Pettine said. “It’s his job for somebody to take.”
That somebody would be Manziel, the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 22 pick on May 8. He participated in rookie minicamp over the weekend and will join the veterans for organized team activities this week.
“It was a good start for him,” Pettine said of rookie camp. “We weren’t that concerned about the execution of plays. It was very difficult with a pieced-together offensive line and receiving corps, guys who were learning the offense, too. I thought he did a good job handling himself in the huddle and making the call and the pre-snap communication, knowing where to go with the ball.
“It was a good learning process for him. I think it was a positive thing.”
Manziel also impressed Pettine with his off-the-field demeanor — among teammates and in an interview with local reporters. As the Browns organization tries to get a handle on how it will deal with the newfound attention, Manziel already has a grip on his hype.
“He said all the right things,” Pettine said. “That’s one of the reasons we drafted him because we knew he could handle it. He knew he was going to have to take a step back. He was going to have to kind of check his ego at the door and earn that nickname (Johnny Football) again.
“He knows that he has to earn the trust and respect of his teammates, that they can look at him and know, ‘We understand you did it in college, let’s see you do it in the NFL.’ He’s going to get every opportunity to do that.”
Pettine said Manziel’s been “quiet, humble, fun to be around and very serious about football.” He thinks Manziel’s football IQ has been underrated.
“He’s well-prepped mentally for the NFL game,” Pettine said.
Manziel could get an early jump in the competition because the Browns are being careful with Hoyer’s surgically repaired right knee. They don’t want to expose him to inadvertent contact in 11-on-11 drills in the 10 OTA practices that precede a mandatory minicamp June 10-12. Hoyer wants the restrictions removed now, but that likely won’t happen until minicamp or training camp in July.
“We’re going to try to simulate 11-on-11 for him, have the D-linemen take a couple of steps and stop so he gets the feel of the huddle, calling it to all 11, running the play but not having the potential of bodies flying around him,” Pettine said.
Gordon still working
Receiver Josh Gordon continues to train with the team and is expected to participate in the OTAs, Petttine said. Gordon’s status for the season remains unclear after ESPN reported he failed a marijuana test and could face an indefinite suspension. It’s under appeal, and the Browns are uncertain when they will have resolution.
“We haven’t heard anything from the league, so there’s nothing to act on,” Pettine said. “He’s been showing up at the facility and working out. He’s out there with everybody else.”
Receiver Greg Little is one guy who’s not out there with Gordon. The second-round pick in 2011 was released last week despite Gordon’s uncertain status.
“We evaluate each slot on that roster individually and it was a decision we made as an organization,” Pettine said. “While Greg Little might be talented enough to play in the NFL, we didn’t feel it was a situation that was best for the Cleveland Browns.”
Little was claimed off waivers Monday by Oakland. He quickly took to Twitter.
“Wearing all black Oakland Raider!” he wrote, followed by. “October 26, 2014 is definitely circled beleedat!”
That’s the date Oakland visits the Browns.
The Browns signed seven players that participated in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis: receiver Anthony Armstrong, running back Jourdan Brooks, receiver Taylor Gabriel, offensive lineman Randall Harris, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel, defensive back Robert Nelson and tight end James Oboh.
Armstrong (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is officially entering his fourth NFL season. He has appeared in 35 games with 13 starts, totaling 54 catches for 986 yards and five touchdowns.
The Browns waived eight players: receivers Josh Cooper and Tori Gurley, fullback Chris Pressley, running back Jamaine Cook, offensive lineman Anthony Dima, defensive lineman Elhadji Ndiaye, offensive lineman Michael Philipp and tight end Andre Smith.
Pressley was a surprise cut after being signed as a free agent. Shanahan said recently his system uses a fullback extensively.
“We have a couple of guys we’re going to look at converting,” Pettine said. “But that’s something that is important to the offense. We will be a decent amount of two-backs. You can get creative with that with second and third tight ends doing those jobs as well.”
Hitting the road?
Pettine said moving training camp away from the team facility in Berea is a possibility in the future. Doing it in his first season would be too difficult logistically.
“I think there are benefits to going away,” he said. “I was always a part of a team that went away. You put the players in a setting where maybe it requires a little more focus. You take the players away from their comforts of home and get them away from their families. They’re concentrated completely on football.”
Pettine would also like to practice against another team next year. He tried the Redskins for this year but said they’d committed to working with the Patriots.
After giving rookie minicamp access to local media only, the Browns will allow national media into OTAs on Wednesday. The entire practice will be open to reporters, after only 15 minutes Saturday for Manziel’s debut.
“I think that was overblown a little bit,” Pettine said. “It was more rewarding the local media than it was punishing. The words ban and punishing, to me that was nonsense.
“Whether we have some national people that are upset with us, so be it. We’re going to undersell and overproduce.”