AFC North: Cleveland Browns
Grossman secured the third spot with the way he played against Chicago.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
It's impossible to ignore the way Crowell ran against the Bears. He looked quick, strong and topped 100 yards. If the Browns released him, they'd never get him back on the practice squad. He earned a spot.
Gray is about as solidly on the bubble as any player on the team. His versatility should have helped him, but he did not play tremendously well in the preseason.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Not exactly a well-stocked group. Gabriel earned a spot with solid play. Snead earns it based on potential, but don't be surprised if his spot goes to someone who was cut by another team. Snead seems more like a practice squad candidate.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
The Browns are well-fortified with the three tight ends they have.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Joe Thomas
- Joel Bitonio
- Alex Mack
- John Greco
- Mitchell Schwartz
- Garrett Gilkey
- Paul McQuistan
- Martin Wallace
- Reid Fragel
A group that seems very settled.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
Another unit that seems pretty well stocked.
The Browns could keep eight here and not keep Snead or Gray, except nobody really jumped out as an active pass-rushing type. So go with these seven.
The Browns will scan the waiver wire here, and may be as active trying to strengthen this spot as they will be at receiver. Depth is needed. Badly.
It's a toss-up for the fourth safety spot between Poyer and Josh Aubrey. I like Aubrey, but he could be practice squad eligible. The coaches also seem to like Poyer.
No need to change anything here, as all were strong and dependable contributors.
“The rules are the rules,” Pettine said after the preseason win over the Bears. “The league has a system that they set up. It was collectively bargained. We respect it.”
“But we move forward,” he said. “How it played out was not ideal circumstances for us, obviously, but that’s behind us. Our full focus now is getting this team ready. You can’t worry about guys you don’t have.”
Andrew Hawkins will get the first chance to start opposite Miles Austin, though Hawkins will move inside to the slot on third downs, with probably Nate Burleson playing outside in three-receiver sets. Pettine said the team will focus on a committee approach to replacing Gordon.
“I’ve said this all along, you don’t replace a Josh Gordon, a top-five NFL receiver, with just one player,” Pettine said. “I think you have to get creative with what you do, and roll some different guys in there, maybe change some personnel groupings and get some different matchups. That’s the challenge that we face.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas spoke to a group of reporters that included 92.3-The Fan in Cleveland, USA Today and the Northeast Ohio Media Group. He lamented what he called a program that doesn’t reflect “the morals of society today.”
“The problem is that now you're sitting in a situation where you have a collective bargaining agreement that lasts 10 years and in the middle of it nobody's going to want to go back to the bargaining table and try to hash out things that may be an issue as they clearly are on a number of different levels, but that are only going to affect a couple of people,” Thomas said.
“I think there's a resistance from management of the NFL and also from the Players Association to do that type of needed updating of the drug policy because obviously there's some oversights when they wrote the program and some cultural changes that have happened that I don't think the program accurately reflects the morals of society today and the NFL and pro sports in general."
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns needed it.
The quarterbacks needed it.
The offense needed it.
Doesn’t matter who it was against, where it was and how it happened. This Browns offense and these quarterbacks finally got some positive things done in the preseason finale, a 33-13 win over the Chicago Bears' third- and fourth-team players.
Brian Hoyer had one drive and scored one touchdown. He was quick in his decisions and accurate on his throws. That was enough for coach Mike Pettine, who put Johnny Manziel in for the rest of the first half and the first drive of the second. Manziel had five drives, scored 13 points and made some nice plays.
It seemed as if both were able to exhale, understand their role and just play, and it seemed to matter. Hoyer got the reps with the starters, prepared with the starters and, unlike last week against the St. Louis Rams, was ready to play with the starters, albeit against backups.
Hoyer went 6-for-8 for 69 yards, and, though he lamented missing a touchdown throw to Jordan Cameron, he did guide the first-team offense on a touchdown drive on the game's first possession.
Manziel finished 6-for-17 and said he didn't throw particularly well. But he did look more comfortable in the pocket, made more decisive reads and did make plays with his feet, running for 55 yards while throwing for 83.
The best play came when he escaped the pocket, jitterbugged to avoid four or five defenders and ran right and found Nate Burleson for a short completion that Burleson turned into a 27-yard gain.
"That’s who he is," Pettine said. "Somebody said on the sideline, 'There's Johnny being Johnny.' There was one play where it was no, no, no. Yes, yes, yes. It was typical of his playmaking ability that he had a guy open early and didn’t get it to him and he ended up making a play with his feet."
The Browns didn't like the word "relief," but there seemed to be a deep exhale after this game.
"We need that," running back Ben Tate said. "We've been making so many mistakes the last couple games. That's what it's supposed to look like."
It matters because, had it not gone well, the Browns would have been badgered about negativity and "what’s wrong?" questions all week.
It matters that they didn't face any starters, but it matters more that the night went well.
And it matters because, heading into the season opener in Pittsburgh, they can take another deep breath and focus on preparing.
"Whether it was against their backups or whatever it is, momentum is important, and I think our guys will head into next week with a very different mindset," Pettine said. "Just looking back, if it hadn't gone our way tonight, I think it would have been a bit of a shadow cast over us."
Burleson will get his first preseason game action.
The Browns also announced that four cornerbacks are among those who will not play. That list includes DL Desmond Bryant (wrist), DB Pierre Desir (knee), DB Joe Haden (foot), LB Eric Martin (concussion), DB Buster Skrine (thumb) and DB Isaiah Trufant (knee).
First-round draft pick Justin Gilbert and Leon McFadden will start at cornerback.
BEREA, Ohio -- Mike Pettine listed several positions he will be watching with great interest during the preseason finale against Chicago.
Pettine’s philosophy on building a roster is not to lock himself into numbers at each position, but to go in with a minimum needed at each spot, then fill in with the best players.
“What’s the absolute minimum we have to have at this position to function?” Pettine said. “Then, I think that puts you in a position to go ahead and build from there to go ahead and take the best players. You don’t want to cut a guy just because you’re heavy at one position.”
The positions he will be watching shake out this way:
- Wide receiver -- This jumbled mess has to shake out some sort of way. The Browns will get their first look at Nate Burleson, a guy they may need now that they know Josh Gordon will not be around. Anthony Armstrong was waived, indicating Taylor Gabriel’s versatility and play have probably have him competing for a spot. Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Miles Austin are givens. Gabriel seems to have an edge, which leaves Willie Snead and Charles Johnson competing for the fifth and/or sixth spots.
- Inside linebackers -- Chris Kirksey has definitely earned a spot; he has played so well the local media awarded him the Maurice Bassett Award, annually given to the best rookie in training camp. He’ll be joined by Craig Robertson and Karlos Dansby. Darius Eubanks, Eric Martin, Tank Carder and Zac Diles are competing for the other spot or two.
- Defensive line -- It was a bit of a surprise to hear Pettine talk about young linemen because this is a position that seems stocked, with Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Ishmaa'ily Kitchen and John Hughes. This would seem to be a group that would be tough for a young player to crack.
- Safety -- Donte Whitner and the underrated Tashaun Gipson are starters. Pettine favorite Jim Leonhard seems to have an edge as one of the backups, which leaves Josh Aubrey, Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Poyer competing for one or two spots.
- Fullback -- Do the Browns go with the traditional skills that a player like rookie Ray Agnew brings, or they go for the versatility of a MarQueis Gray. Gray has a lot of skills, but his dropped passes and fumble in preseason don’t help him.
Gordon’s “suspension” has been viewed as a one-year ban for one calendar year. By the letter of the law, that means Gordon could not return to the Browns until Aug. 27, 2015.
"Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season."
The release also states that Gordon is being suspended “for the 2014 NFL season,” which is not a calendar year.
This would indicate quite clearly -- imagine the layers of lawyers who went over the statement's two paragraphs -- that Gordon could be reinstated before training camp next summer, and perhaps even for offseason work. His absence then would be more similar to a season-ending injury rather than one that drags into the following season.
Nothing is certain.
Asked to clarify the statement, a league spokesman said the league would not elaborate.
So ... there’s that.
But the fact that that statement is included in the release indicates the league will at least consider the fact that the decision took until just before the final preseason game, and it should not affect 2015.
Gordon’s apology and statement that he hoped the league would have used better judgment indicated he knows his hopes for playing this season are slim.
But the league’s statement gives a tiny ray of hope for 2015.
He knows things have looked bad and there have been struggles, but he also said after watching the film that there were some good things in the 33-14 loss to St. Louis.
“If we just sucked, then I think we’d be down on ourselves,” Hoyer said Tuesday as the team looks ahead to the preseason finale Thursday against Chicago. “I think we realize what we can be.”
It is preseason, but this also is a team with a new and complex offense learning on the fly -- a team that until a week ago had a quarterback competition, and a team that has lost 10 games in each of the last six seasons.
Even with preseason being about evaluating and assessing players and positions, winning should never be taken for granted when losing has been so pervasive.
Hoyer, though, said the offense is not “down on ourselves.”
“I think the most frustrating part is that we do do some things really well,” he said, “and then we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The first-team offense has scored 16 points in its playing offense -- all on possessions with Hoyer at quarterback. Those 16 points came on 15 possessions. The only touchdown came on a late two-minute drive against the Rams.
There have been turnovers, missed throws and some serious struggles -- with only six passes that gained at least 15 yards. Hoyer said the team runs the play called no matter what the defense is doing, but clearly the Browns would like some better production.
Because they need the time, coach Mike Pettine will play the starters up to a quarter Thursday, a game normally reserved for reserves.
Hoyer, though, is not ready to say he and the starters need a positive experience from the fourth game. Just that they want one.
“I don’t think there will be any kind of hangover, whether it’s positive or negative, going into the regular season,” he said. “I think it’s a whole new ballgame when that comes around.”
That’s not a new statement from a Browns player at this point of preseason.
The hope in Cleveland would simply be that Hoyer is the guy who is finally right about it.
• Most significant move: The release of wide receiver Anthony Armstrong isn't exactly a shock, but it does show where the Browns are when it comes to the wide receiver position as they await word on the suspension of Josh Gordon. Armstrong is a veteran with knowledge of Kyle Shanahan's offense, and he stood out in shorts in the OTAs and minicamp. But in training camp he leveled off, and as time went on it was evident he was not going to be a major contributor. The development of a young player like Taylor Gabriel made this decision easy.
• Running away: Running back Edwin Baker started at the end of the 2013 season, but he didn't make it past the first cuts in Cleveland. That's a sign of the way the Browns viewed the running backs of last season, and of the reality that they have added Terrance West through the draft. Baker's cup of coffee in Cleveland might, though, give him a chance with another team.
• What’s next: The decision on Gordon lingers. The Browns' final two moves took the roster to 76, which indicates the team expects -- or at least hopes -- to hear something before the deadline (a few hours away as of this writing). A suspension of Gordon would take care of that last spot.
• Browns moves: Waived DB Royce Adams, RB Edwin Baker, OL Randall Harris, DB T.J. Heath, DL Cam Henderson, WR Jonathan Krause, OL Ryan Lee, LB Caleb McSurdy, OL Keavon Milton, LB Keith Pough, WR Tim Smith, OL Jeremiah Warren, TE Martell Webb. Contract terminated: WR Anthony Armstrong. Placed on injured reserve: OL Michael Bowie, LB Darius Eubanks.
CLEVELAND -- They were the two most talked about prospects entering the NFL draft -- quarterback Johnny Manziel because of his rock star persona, defensive end Michael Sam because he of his potential to become the first openly gay player in league history. Saturday night they met on the field before the game, and then twice during it, with Sam dropping his former college counterpart twice for sacks.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that when Sam sacked Manziel on Saturday night at an inconsequential point in an inconsequential game -- with just less than 11 minutes to play and the St. Louis leading 26-14 -- it produced more interest than a similar play at a similar moment in another game would produce. How Twitter survived it might make for an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries."
Sam added a second sack of Manziel on the final play of the game. “He’s a talented kid,” Sam said. “He isn’t called Johnny Football for nothing. It was fun getting to play against Manziel in an NFL game. I sacked him as both a junior and senior at Missouri.”
"The guy goes through a lot of stuff, so he gets heckled by everybody I’m sure, so he came up to me and said hello,” Manziel said of the pregame meeting. "It was a brief interaction. I thought he played pretty well.”
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns appeared to get out of their preseason home opener with no major injuries. So much for the good news.
Everything else was pretty much a dud for the starters, as the St. Louis Rams dominated en route to a 33-14 victory in FirstEnergy Stadium.
All was not lost, though. The return game had flashes of brilliance and Johnny Manziel excited the crowd of 61,663 by scrambling for a 7-yard score and flashing the money sign.
Other observations of the 0-3 Browns:
- In his first outing since being named the starter, QB Brian Hoyer improved on his previous two outings, but that amounts to damning with faint praise. With the exception of a touchdown drive against backups to end the first half, Hoyer was largely dismal. He threw an interception on a short crossing route to a linebacker standing ... directly ... in ... front ... of ... him. How he didn’t see Alec Ogletree is one of the great mysteries, since Hoyer basically stared at him the entire route. He came back to throw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Hawkins, but instead of coach Mike Pettine ending his starter’s evening on a high note, he sent Hoyer out to start the second half. And Hoyer promptly was sacked from behind and fumbled away the football. He finished the evening 10 of 16 passing for 84 yards, a touchdown and two turnovers. “I think we’re all just trying to come along together,” said Hoyer, who finished 10 of 16 passing for 84 yards, a touchdown and two turnovers. “As an offense, you have to be on teh same page, and there obviously were some plays out there where we weren’t. It’s going to come. That’s what the preseason is for, to work out those kinks. We will get better. I don’t doubt that.”
- Manziel, in his first outing as the official backup, came on midway through the third quarter and converted a takeaway into a four-play, 14-yard drive that culminated with him scrambling the final 7 yards for the score. He finished 10-of-15 passing for 85 yards and no turnovers. He was sacked twice by Michael Sam.Asked about the possibility of a two-quarterback system this year -- something Pettine admitted is a possibility -- Manziel said: “I feel like any way I can help contribute to this team, whether it’s looking at a certain coverage, looking at something during the game, or getting in and having a certain package during the game, just anything that I can do to help this offense to win games -- that’s the position I’m in and that’s all I really want to do.”
- The starting defense -- which was without two potential starting cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, as well as end Desmond Bryant -- struggled to get off the field on third down, allowing the Rams to convert on 7 of 10 opportunities in the first half alone. Rookie corner Justin Gilbert had a rough night, the lows including chunk gains allowed to Kenny Britt and Brian Quick and a missed tackle on Chris Givens that turned an underneath route into a 75-yard score. “I went for a strip and I didn’t get it,” he said. “I should’ve wrapped up and tackled him instead of trying to strip him.”
One high was he knocked the ball from Stedman Bailey’s hands on what appeared to be a sure touchdown in the end zone.
Overall, the defensive performance was disappointing because Pettine had talked during the week about giving the Dawg Pound something to get excited about. But the unit struggled to stop third-string QB Austin Davis, who took over roughly four minutes into the second quarter and played the rest of the way -- after starter Sam Bradford suffered a left knee injury in the opening quarter and backup Shaun Hill was pulled after two series presumably to avoid the risk of injury.
“Third-and-long, that should be something where a good defense will dominate, and that’s where we took a step backwards tonight,” Pettine said. “I thought in other games we’ve been better on third down and we just couldn’t make a play on third down to get off the field. They did a good job of executing, but we were poor. We weren’t very smart. There were a couple of times where we didn’t play more to the sticks, didn’t play the situation very well, and we let them make a play and we didn’t. It was frustrating.”
- Standout wideout Josh Gordon was scratched from the starting lineup so the team could work other players in case Gordon loses his appeal of a one-year suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. The plan was to work him in later, but Gordon didn’t take a snap because “he was dealing with something medically,” Pettine said. “As the game went on he probably felt like he was tightening up a little bit, so we decided not to put him out there.”
- The return game was a bright spot for the Browns, who got a 45-yard kickoff return from Marlon Moore and a 37-yarder from Taylor Gabriel. Both showed good speed, vision and decisiveness.
There have been dropped passes, routes ran at the wrong depth, cuts made at improper angles and, in the case of Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon last Monday, an apparent lack of interest and effort in the game.
The play of the wideouts will be a focal point Saturday night when the Browns (0-2) meet the St. Louis Rams (0-2) in their exhibition home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium. Coach Mike Pettine wants to see more urgency and greater efficiency from a group that remains a major question mark as the season approaches.
With the quarterback position resolved, wide receiver is now the most unsettled position on the team. Gordon, who led the NFL in yards receiving last season, is appealing a year-long suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, but it's likely that he won’t be available, at least in the early part of the season. Veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson were signed in the offseason, but Burleson has yet to play because of a strained hamstring and the team has been limiting Austin’s snaps in hopes of keeping him healthy after hamstring injuries slowed the former Dallas Cowboy in two of the past three seasons.
Andrew Hawkins, a free-agent signee from Cincinnati, has been able to create separation from the slot, but timing has been an issue between himself and the quarterbacks. Then there are several youngsters fighting for spots, including rookie free agent Taylor Gabriel, who leads the Browns with six catches in the preseason.
Excluding Gordon, Austin and Hawkins, the battle for playing time -- and, presumably roster spots -- is “wide open,” according to Pettine. The Browns plan to build the offense around the running game, which means it’s imperative for the receivers to deliver when their number is called.
There’s a strong likelihood that the Browns' receivers will see a lot of one-on-one coverage because defenses figure to move a safety near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. At that point it comes down to execution and chemistry, which is why these final two exhibition games are so important for Cleveland.
Neither Austin nor Burleson would use the quarterback rotation between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel as an excuse for the receivers’ struggles to date -- “We still have to get to the same spot, regardless of who’s throwing the ball,” Austin said -- but they acknowledged there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of hearing the same voice calling a play, barking the cadence and delivering the football.
Austin doesn’t try to run from the reality that this is a big season for him. Since back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009-10, he has struggled with injuries. He had only 579 receiving yards in 2011, then after a bounce-back 2012 season with 943, he had only 244 receiving yards in 11 games last year.
“Every year is a big year, but 100 (percent) this one is,” he said. “One, it’s important for me to stay healthy. Thankfully I’ve been feeling good and running well. Now I’m trying to get the offense. Hearing it called in the huddle is a lot different from the terms that we used in Dallas. Routes are slightly different that I ran. My own assessment of myself is that I need to play faster and feel more comfortable hearing the call and jumping out to any position. I understand what my job is, but I’m not yet comfortable with what the full range of options is. I mean, I know where the holes are in the defense, but do you get to the hole now or are we waiting a little while to hit it? Small details like that and getting down the playbook are things I continue to work on.”
Burleson, a 12-year veteran, isn’t prepared to overreact to the passing game’s slow start.
“I’ve been in preseasons where I played terrible and thought to myself: ‘This might not be my year,’ and I balled out (during the regular season),” he said. “Then I’ve been in preseasons where I was ‘The Man.’ I’m thinking I’m the next Randy Moss, leading the league in all kinds of categories. Then we start the season and I’m terrible. As long as you’re building to something, which is creating team chemistry and getting everybody on the same page, preseason will be quickly wiped from people’s memories.”
BEREA, Ohio -- This was not exactly a quarterback competition that inspired belief.
But at least it's over. That alone is a positive step for the Cleveland Browns.
Naming Brian Hoyer the Browns' starter Wednesday heading into the regular season fills three large needs:
- It allows Hoyer to concentrate on preparing, which is what he does best. He can focus on the regular season, prepare to play and forget the competition.
- It allows Johnny Manziel to take a step back, assess where he is and concentrate on learning the nuances and finer points of an NFL offense. Rex Grossman is there to help.
- It ends this competition that seemed to be strangling the life out of both players. Coach Mike Pettine had good and logical reasons for doing things the way he did, but in the end, this one was turning south in a hurry. It needed to end.
Naming Hoyer the starter makes sense. He didn't play great in either preseason game, but he did have some good practices when more often than not he seemed better prepared and suited than Manziel to run this offense. That would seem to indicate he was pressing in games.
Freed from the weight of trying to win a job and instead playing just to win a game, Hoyer can relax and -- the Browns hope -- revert to the form he showed last season.
Hoyer's play against Washington was, by his own admission, embarrassing.
He needs to be better, not miss an open receiver in the end zone, not force throws and not rush them. He's at his best when he's prepared, on time and decisive.
It's up to him to live up to the faith and belief Pettine has shown in him. It's up to him to play well.
Manziel brings the hype and the attitude and the did-he-really-do-that college stats. But he was behind in grasping the offense. And it showed in practice, it showed in Washington and -- despite some illogical praise that came his way after the game -- it showed in Detroit.
He's at the point where he makes one read and runs.
If the Browns wanted to run a fast-paced offense like Manziel ran at Texas A&M, he might be ready to play. Instead, the Browns are running a verbiage-heavy, structured system.
Debate all you want whether that takes away Manziel's strengths. It's what the Browns are doing.
Kyle Shanahan repeatedly has said NFL defenses quickly will realize what a quarterback does well and take that away. Shanahan also said Manziel's strength -- his elusiveness -- could become his greatest weakness.
Manziel no doubt finds himself in an uncomfortable spot being the backup. It's understandable. But it also allows him the chance to grow and learn and get better while he waits. It's a chance too many Browns quarterbacks before him didn't have, and they suffered because of it.
Hoyer had done so much right as he came back from his knee injury. He attacked his rehab, begged to be let loose in the offseason and studied the new playbook like mad.
But the drafting of Manziel was a game-changer for him, and he showed he felt the pressure that goes with being the guy who has to hold off the phenom. It's a tough spot, especially for someone trying to lead his hometown team. He didn't exactly thrive in the fishbowl, but he has survived.
Theoretically, the Browns now could have the best of two worlds.
If Hoyer can channel what Tom Brady taught him and win one or two or three games before the bye, the outcry for Manziel will cease. The team will be able to just go play, Hoyer will be able to relax, Manziel can soak in knowledge and the team will be winning.
If Hoyer doesn't get things together and the Browns don't win, well, Manziel is there, ready and waiting and, hopefully by the time he plays, able.
The best-case scenario for the Browns? That the 22nd name in the draft isn't added to that quarterback jersey in Tennessee the week after the team's bye.
It’s not fair to make too much out of Johnny Manziel’s gesture to the Washington Redskins' bench.
But it is fair to say it matters, and it should matter. The Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback did what he did in a nationally televised game with many watching to see how he played. Coach Mike Pettine explained why it matters to him.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Pettine said. “We talk about ‘Play like a Brown.’ We want our guys to act like a Brown. We want to be a first-class organization. We have hundreds, thousands of kids who have come to our training camp practices. That type of behavior is unacceptable.”
Pettine then added something that is obvious about the camera-ready Manziel: “He should know more than anyone that all eyes are on him.”
Manziel will be fined and life will go on. His teammates will rally around him.
But it matters.
And here’s why.
Manziel plays in a city that raised Jesse Owens, who went on to win gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler.
He plays in a city that was home to Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League who dealt with constant and bitter racism.
He plays in a city that was home to Jim Brown, who overcame racism and spoke out against it throughout his career.
All of them dealt with far more than Manziel does on the field, and they handled it with dignity and pride, not with a junior high gesture.
Manziel is friends with LeBron James, who competes as hard as anyone and has never done anything like that on the basketball court.
Finally, Manziel is teammates with Joe Thomas, who has played every down of every game since he was drafted and made the Pro Bowl every year. He has lived through all the 10-loss seasons, yet he has shown up every season committed and dedicated to the team. He never complains, never makes a show of himself -- despite living through annual shenanigans year after year after year.
Manziel's gesture matters because he couldn’t get through his second preseason game without a classless act. He’s competitive. He has done and said a lot right since he started camp. But that gesture will be among the more remembered things of his first training camp. He can absolutely put it behind him with how he acts in the future, and he deserves that chance.
But it’s not exactly the best way to start a career.
Nor is it the best way to follow those who paved the way for him.
No coach should face a crisis midway through the preseason, but Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine has one with the team's quarterback position. He must take decisive action, starting with these 10 suggestions:
- End this competition nonsense immediately. The incessant attention to every throw, the nonsensical sharing of snaps, the inability of Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel to take the job ... it's all hurting the team. Continuing the silliness might lead to one guy playing well in one quarter of the preseason, but more likely it would lead to more struggles and a schism on the team. What's happening now isn't helping Hoyer or Manziel. End it.
- Make Hoyer the starter. Tell him it's his job. Tell him to stop thinking it might not be his job. It's his, and he's the guy. Not because he earned it; he didn't. But he at least has a two-game track record from last season to lean on, has some experience in an NFL offense and understands what it takes to play and act professionally. Let the team start to coalesce behind him and step toward unity. And let the team take a breath and find itself with one quarterback in charge.
- Show that Manziel isn't ready. He's especially not ready for Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, the first three teams the Browns face. The Browns' system is too cumbersome for a guy to learn quickly. Manziel has moved from a spread college system based on speed and running plays quickly to one with play calls longer than the Gettysburg Address. If the Browns wanted Manziel to start immediately, they needed to tailor the offense to him, not fit the proverbial square Manziel peg into the hexagonal Kyle Shanahan/Dowell Loggains hole. Manziel gives every indication that this offense is that complex to him.
- Sit Manziel down and talk to him about what it means to be a professional. This isn't a game anymore. Teammates have their livelihoods depending on how he plays and acts. Wagging a middle finger at the Redskins' bench might seem funny to him, but it's not. He might seem like the feisty competitor, but he's not. It's a sign of concern, and Pettine should be credited for not sugarcoating that reality. At this point, Manziel's signature moment with the Browns is an obscene gesture on national TV. Isn't that wonderful?[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Evan VucciNaming Brian Hoyer as the Browns' starter could help the team get behind one quarterback in preparation for the season opener.
- Explain to Manziel that he's not in College Station anymore. The NFL is full of loud, nasty, belligerent guys who are eager to get under someone's skin and throw him off his game. Manziel's celebrity appearances on the party circuit make him a target of every barb known to the sports world. If he thought Monday night was bad or if he thought other experiences were bad before Monday, what's ahead will be worse. Washington proved it could get into his head.
- Stand up and say that the way things have progressed is Pettine's fault. Much as it's the quarterback's job to accept blame and spread credit, it's the same for the head coach. Hindsight says it might have been wiser to name Hoyer the starter heading into camp. There's the assumption that it would have helped him just play and not play like he's wearing a straitjacket. It might help the entire team if the coach simply said he made a mistake, he let the scrutiny get into people's heads and it's his fault.
- Then, channel his inner Blunt Force Trauma (his nickname) in a sit-down with Hoyer. Tell Hoyer he wants him to be the guy. Tell Hoyer he's rooting for him. Tell Hoyer he learned behind Tom Brady, for crying out loud. But add that Hoyer must back up his coach and go play. Stop worrying. Just play the way he did last season. If Pettine wants to be touchy-feely, he can remind Hoyer of the note he wrote him after his injury in 2013. Then he can call Hoyer's high school coach, Chuck Kyle of St. Ignatius, and ask Kyle to have the sympathetic father talk with Hoyer.
- Don't let a decision be made on anything other than football. Manziel is not a read-option quarterback to be experimented with; he can make plays with his feet and throw on the move. Move the pocket. Roll out. Forget the pistol and forget the other nonsense until Manziel proves he understands the game. If the Browns want to make it simple for Manziel as he learns, have at it. What's being thrown at him right now is too much, and it shows.
- Don't say the decision is not for the long haul -- something Pettine said last week. Pettine has been wonderful to deal with, but that slip was a head-scratcher. Former Browns general manager Phil Savage used to say that every person in the building had to be on board with the quarterback decision. When the coach says he doesn't want the starter to believe it's his team because he's starting the first game, the quarterback himself can't believe.
- Meet with the offense and channel his father, the original Blunt Force Trauma. The message: Take your heads out of the sand and start to play football because we're all in this together. Josh Gordon, you barely look interested on the field. Are you? The other receivers, who were brought here to help. Are you ready? Hoyer is the quarterback. The decision is made. Put your heads into the fresh air, breathe deep and play football.