BEREA — Just because Johnny Manziel won’t take the first snap Monday night doesn’t mean he won’t be the starting quarterback when the season opens Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh.
Coach Mike Pettine hasn’t closed the book on the competition that has captivated Cleveland and the NFL, despite naming incumbent Brian Hoyer the starter for Monday in Washington.
“All of our options are still on the table,” Pettine said Friday regarding a Week 1 starter.
Hoyer opened camp No. 1 on the depth chart and started the preseason opener last week in Detroit. He and Manziel have alternated days working with the starting offense for the last two weeks, and Pettine decided to disappoint ESPN by sticking with Hoyer for the start Monday.
The plan is to play both with the first-team offense an equal number of snaps.
Then why not start Manziel, the No. 22 pick in the draft, to even the competition before picking a regular-season starter after the game?
“Because that’s the decision we made,” Pettine said. “We’re making our decisions based on the information we have, based on the body of work.
“There were a lot of factors involved and that’s what ultimately when we hashed it out, that’s the direction we went.”
Pettine wants the incessant stream of quarterback questions to stop. And he’d like the Week 1 starter to have the chance to prepare with the first-team offense and build chemistry and cohesion over the last two weeks of the preseason.
So he remains hopeful he’ll have enough information to name the opening-day starter Tuesday.
“That should be the target date. But something unforeseen could come up,” Pettine said. “But we’re hopeful. Because I want to see if I can cut the quarterback questions down by about 90 percent after next week.
“The chemistry, the continuity, I think that’s important to establish that.”
Pettine’s too smart to believe the quarterback questions will ever stop. Especially after he left the door open for an in-season change.
“I think quarterback is different from other positions, that you do want to make a commitment,” he said. “I don’t know if you can necessarily make a permanent commitment. So much can change over the course of an NFL season, the circumstances.
“But I think that’s the one position where you probably have to have a little bit more patience, maybe than some others. As far as if a guy’s not performing to the level you think he can and you’re not getting the results, then you’d go ahead and make a move. It’s somewhere in between. I don’t want whoever the starter is to feel like, ‘Oh, if I make one mistake, I’m out.’ But I also don’t want him to feel like, ‘Hey, I’ve achieved something, this is my team for the year.’”
The likelihood of an in-season switch seems greater if Hoyer opens the year.
The clamoring for Manziel won’t stop unless Hoyer’s perfect, and the bye arrives in Week 4 after games against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore. If Manziel wins the starting job with a great night in Washington, it would be tougher to bench the rookie who looks like the future and needs the experience.
Pettine believes it’s important to see Manziel against Washington’s first-team defense. The window may be limited, as Jay Gruden only committed to playing his starters “at least a quarter.”
“I know I don’t have control over when their guys are out there, but I’m confident he’ll get some work against their ones,” Pettine said.
How he divides the playing time between Hoyer and Manziel against Washington isn’t set in stone.
“We want to make sure that we get the reps balanced,” Pettine said. “I think it’s hard to go every other series, so we’ll just have a pretty good feel.
“If the first drive is a long one, there’s a chance we could go ahead and make the switch. The goal is at the end of the half we want to have the reps close to equal.”
Pettine insists Manziel’s still in the ballgame, but he doesn’t want him swinging for the fences under the bright lights Monday.
“He just needs to go out and play,” Pettine said. “They both do.
“I’ve met with both of them and discussed the situation and they’re both comfortable with it and they both know that it’s going to be up to them when they’re out there, to just go out and do their job. You never want a guy trying to do too much and come out of structure in order to accomplish something.”
Pettine wouldn’t confirm or deny an ESPN report Manziel was a few minutes late for a meeting Monday.
“That’s internal business,” Pettine said. “Just moving forward, I’m not going to discuss stuff that happens that’s team business. We like to keep stuff in the family.”
Earlier in his news conference, Pettine said off-the-field behavior will be considered when picking the Week 1 starter.
“I don’t know if I can say, ‘Hey, this is the amount.’ But it is,” he said. “You’re looking for the total package, the quarterback who’s best suited to take the field and lead this team to a win against the Steelers. There will be a lot of things that go into it.”
Pettine added that Manziel has been committed to the job.
“I think his play has demonstrated that,” he said. “We feel he’s a little bit ahead of the learning curve as far as being able to call the play, know what the reads are on that play, who’s primary, what’s the defense, where do I go with the ball.”
Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has spent the last few months trying to stop Hoyer and Manziel.
“They’re a lot different,” Dansby said. “One can really get out of the pocket and scramble and run and keep plays alive. The other one can also scramble and then he’s got a strong arm. He’s got the big ball, so you’ve got to stay over the top of the receivers.”
The differing strengths could lead coordinator Kyle Shanahan to unleash a package of plays for Manziel against the Steelers even if Hoyer wins the starting job.
“He’s got so many different things he can do with both of those quarterbacks, so it’s going to be exciting,” Dansby said. “A whole lot of that’s going on. It’s going to be something new.”