BEREA — The starting quarterback job for the season opener in Pittsburgh will be on the line Monday night in Washington.
The combatants are approaching the nationally televised game in opposite ways that seem fitting for their personalities.
Manziel, the carefree rookie, said Saturday he isn’t ready “right now” to face Pittsburgh on Sept. 7. He added there’s no timetable for him to become the starter.
“I think it’s just go out and play football,” he said of Monday night, “like we’ve been doing our entire lives.”
Hoyer, the thoughtful veteran fighting desperately to win his dream job, stressed how “crucial” every preseason game is, how he considers himself the starter and doesn’t plan on giving up the title.
“I’m looking forward to being the starting quarterback here,” he said.
Opening day is three weeks away, and Manziel isn’t comfortable with the idea of facing the Steelers, legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his zone blitz scheme.
“I don’t think I’m ready for Pittsburgh right now,” he said. “I’ve only played one game, but the more and more you see it, the more you get familiar with it, the better it will be.”
Manziel quickly clarified himself.
“That’s not saying I’m not ready or I won’t be ready,” he said. “I don’t want that taken out of context. It’s just right now in my second preseason game, I’m not ready to go out and start Week 1 because there’s a lot of time left until that point.
“For me, there’s plenty of weeks left to learn, to get adapted to the speed and then if I was the starter for Pittsburgh in Week 1 you have to be ready. It’s Week 1, it’s the opening week of the season and it’s a big game.”
Rookie coach Mike Pettine plans to make the decision on a Week 1 starter Tuesday. He’s seen an entire offseason of practice, three weeks of training camp and the preseason opener in Detroit, but hasn’t picked a starter and said the decision will likely come down to the performances Monday night.
“From what Coach Pettine and everybody has stated from the beginning, they said it was an equal and open competition and I don’t think that has changed,” Manziel said.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure for me. I’m still learning. I’m still growing.
“This is my second game, my expectations aren’t through the roof. It’s go out and compete extremely hard and be a leader for those guys, whatever group I’m with, and we’ll see what happens.”
Hoyer will get the start in Washington, though Manziel is slated to get an equal number of snaps with the first team. Pettine said he’d call Washington coach Jay Gruden to find out his substitution plan, and may put Manziel in earlier than planned to guarantee he faces the first-team defense.
Hoyer was one of a small group not surprised he got his second straight starting nod.
“That’s what I’ve expected all along,” he said. “And really it wouldn’t have changed my approach either way.”
The game will be televised by ESPN, which hasn’t let the fact Hoyer’s starting keep it from promoting Manziel vs. Robert Griffin III in a battle of Heisman Trophy winners.
“I don’t watch ESPN, so until you told me that I didn’t know,” Hoyer said. “It doesn’t matter, because what matters is what Coach Pettine thinks and what Kyle (Shanahan, coordinator) thinks. The media can make any story they want. I avoid all of that. When it comes down to it, they’re not the ones making the decisions.”
Hoyer, an undrafted journeyman with four career starts, can’t afford to be nonchalant about anything. Manziel, the No. 22 pick and national celebrity, has chosen to take the long-term view.
“I don’t look at it as though I was drafted to come in Day 1 and save the franchise,” he said. “I think when I got drafted, from the top, from (general manager) Ray Farmer to everybody that’s involved in this organization, that they had a plan for me and that they want me to be successful whenever that is. I feel like my future is here and they brought me in to hopefully be the future down the road one day, so for me there’s no pressure, there’s no timetable, it’s continue to develop as a football player, get smarter, get better.”
Hoyer isn’t willing to concede the future to Manziel. He was asked if it’s hard to deal with the seeming inevitability that Manziel will be the starter at some point.
“I haven’t heard that,” Hoyer said. “So, no, not really.”
He also wasn’t listening this week when talk radio was abuzz with speculation he could be traded after veteran Rex Grossman signed Tuesday.
“I was told about it later,” Hoyer said. “I guess people were trying to connect the dots and that’s your job to do that. For me I’m not concerned about anything like that.”
Pettine left open the door for an in-season switch when he said Friday he wouldn’t make a permanent commitment to whomever he names the Week 1 starter. Hoyer doesn’t care.
“I think the best quarterback should play regardless of the situation,” he said. “I just want to be the starting quarterback of this team whatever the situation is.”
Hoyer avoided the question when asked if he’s been the best quarterback.
“I think I’ve played well. I think I can play a lot better,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Saturday was the last practice before the team breaks training camp. Every throw has been critiqued, every quote analyzed and movement scrutinized.
“The chaos, everything that’s been going on, the talk, the hype, the overreaction, the over-analysis has been from the day that I won the Heisman when I was a freshman to that spring, to that fall, to the draft, to now,” Manziel said. “It’s been a constant in my life. It’s been the one thing that’s been the most constant in my life for the past two years.
“So I don’t even pay attention to it any more, I don’t ever really see it, it never really even fazes me.”
The craziness could subside next week when Pettine’s expected to make his pick.
“I think it’ll help them have mental peace,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “Just be able to take the reins fully. As a quarterback, as any player, you don’t want to look over your shoulder. You don’t want to think somebody’s replacing you. It gives you more confidence when you just know you’re the guy.”