October 20, 2014

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Mike Pettine says Johnny Manziel winning Browns starting QB job will be ‘tall task’

Cleveland Browns Quarterback Johnny Manziel flips the ball to a receiver at practice on Wednesday. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Cleveland Browns Quarterback Johnny Manziel flips the ball to a receiver at practice in June. The rookie is starting training camp as the backup quarterback, and will have to compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting job. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

BEREA — Johnny Manziel might want to put lifts in his cleats if he hopes to beat out Brian Hoyer and win the starting quarterback job for Week 1 in Pittsburgh.

“I would say it’s a tall task, for a couple reasons,” first-year coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram. “One, he’s a rookie coming in learning the system. It’s not like (Miami’s Ryan) Tannehill, who came in running his college system. He’s learning something that’s completely new to him, so he’s got all new verbiage and reads and that type of thing working against him.

“And then the guy he’s competing with is an NFL veteran who’s learned from one of the best in the game, who’s very prepared, very focused. It’s a very true statement, it will be difficult.”

Manziel, who measures a shade under 6 feet, reported to training camp Wednesday with the rookies, quarterbacks and players coming off injuries. He’ll be the focus of fans and media when practice opens Saturday morning.

But popularity and jersey sales won’t drive Pettine’s decision, which he’d like to make quickly. He said at the end of minicamp in June that Hoyer was clearly ahead but the lead wasn’t “insurmountable.” He seems to have slid in that direction.

“Well, they’re going to compete, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to take equal time with the ones,” Pettine said. “Brian is the starting quarterback right now, we can still evaluate Johnny’s reps regardless of who he’s out there with. I think a lot will be made of, wait a minute, he hasn’t been with the (ones). To me, it’s something that we can still evaluate, give him a specific grade based on his footwork, how he called the play, what he read during that play — all the stuff that’s in his control.

“It doesn’t matter what group he’s with, he’s still getting graded. That’ll be a big part of the evaluation, it won’t be how he did when he was necessarily with a certain group.”

Pettine would prefer to make a decision on a starter sooner rather than later, and set prior to the third preseason game Aug. 23 against St. Louis as a drop-dead date. He could make an announcement earlier.

“I think the third game is late,” he said. “In my opinion, you have to have that chemistry, that cohesion moving forward. I don’t have a date, but it was accurate to say that it will be before the third game.

“A lot of it depends on how it plays out. It could be settled very quickly or it could go on for a period of time. That’s something that will be part of our daily discussion with the offensive staff.”

If Hoyer hasn’t already nailed down the job, there’s a chance Manziel could start one of the first two preseason games.

“We’ve discussed it, but I think we’re a little too far out,” Pettine said. “I think a start would have to be earned, so we don’t have anything clear-cut.

“That’s certainly an option, but we could go either way with that.”

Even if he doesn’t make a start, Manziel is expected to see practice time with the first team. The uncertainty at receiver and the running back competition between Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West will make for fluidity within the starting lineup.

“I think it’s fair to say there’ll be some,” Pettine said of Manziel snaps with the first team. “I can’t say definitively.
There’s a scenario where he wouldn’t, but I don’t see that happening.”

Manziel’s offseason wasn’t as clean as Hoyer’s. Manziel was repeatedly photographed and videotaped partying, including one picture circulated on social media of him apparently rolling a dollar bill in a bathroom.

“We spoke,” Pettine said. “We had a good conversation, I’m not going to go into details of it. But I’m confident moving forward now that we’ve started football it’s all about football.”

What makes Pettine feel that way?

“Knowing him and knowing people that know him,” he said.

Pettine acknowledged a quarterback needs to show better judgment on and off the field than some of his teammates.

“The quarterback is in such a unique position because the guys look to him for leadership,” he said. “I think there’s a little different standard there than for other positions.”

Pettine said the Browns remain in a holding pattern concerning the likely suspension of All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon. Pettine expects resolution from the league within the next two weeks.

“Nothing new. I didn’t think I’d be here today saying no news to report, but really there’s no difference,” Pettine said. “And it’s really not frustrating anymore, it’s just kind of there. We’ve already gone through the gymnastics of, ‘hey, here are the possible outcomes, here’s how we’ll handle it,’ and we’re still just waiting.”

Pettine said Gordon is in town and expected to report today. Pettine was asked if he’s hopeful he’ll have Gordon for at least part of the season.

“I’ve heard so much rumor and innuendo from the different sides as far as what could happen, so nothing would shock me at this
point,” he said.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

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