Games matter most to Hoyer, Manziel

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
3:21
PM ET
BEREA, Ohio -- Brian Hoyer may get the first chance at the Cleveland Browns' quarterback spot, but Johnny Manziel is coming on.

[+] EnlargeManziel/Hoyer
AP Photo/Aaron JosefczykJohnny Manziel has been nipping on Brian Hoyer's heels lately in the Browns' arms race.
Manziel had one of his best days of camp so far Wednesday, then admitted (candidly) that things are going "better" for him.

"Just get out there with a lot less clutter," Manziel said. "We're in here for a couple weeks now. It feels just a lot more comfortable."

For his part, Hoyer said he believes he's playing at a high level as he heads toward the starting spot in Saturday's preseason opener in Detroit.

"You always have room to get better," Hoyer said.

The importance of the game: Coach Mike Pettine said he wants to know and name the starter before the third preseason game, and the decision on the starter will be judged most heavily on how the two play against Detroit and Washington.

In typical NFL fashion, both have practiced and worked for months, but their fates reside in 25 or so plays in two practice games.

To be clear, Hoyer has done nothing wrong. He had one of his best days of practice Tuesday and survived the first real shot to his surgically repaired knee. He has been meticulous, prepared, thorough and has not even pondered taking a day off to rest his knee.

"Can't afford it," Hoyer said. "That's what we're here for, to play football. I really don't feel like I need [a day off]. I feel fine."

Hoyer has been a pro's pro, but he's trying to stave off a guy who has gotten better as practice has gone on, one who is markedly more comfortable than he was in the OTAs and offseason work.

"The more time I'm in this and the more I'm going through all this stuff, the better it is for me," Manziel said.

Manziel had some good throws Wednesday, including one to Andrew Hawkins on the sideline that rivaled his touchdown throw (that was not called) in the scrimmage to Gary Barnidge. Manziel dropped this throw over the safety and in front of the corner right at the sidelines.

"I definitely feel my comfort level out on the field growing day by day," Manziel said.

It's evident that Manziel can dissect his game and play well, that when he's not being asked about social media photos or floating swans he can analyze himself.

He said he's still angry about the way he started Saturday's scrimmage and admitted he told offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan it was his fault the last pass in Wednesday's goal-line situation was his fault (broken up by Chris Kirksey).

But even the raw data backs up his claim that things are going better.

Jason Gibbs of ESPN Cleveland 850 has charted and kept numbers on every one of Manziel's throws. On Wednesday, he went 18-for-26. The past two days, he was 33-for-53 (all stats include all throws when there are defenders, from 11-on-11 to five-on-five). In his first eight practices, Manziel was below 50 percent (74-for-157); the last two he's been at 62.3 percent.

That's still not good enough given some of the throws are without a rush and that it's a practice, but the improvement is clear. Whether that translates to games, when teams will be going fullspeed with guys trying to win their own roster spots, is the next great question to be answered.

Hoyer will not surrender the job without a fight. He is bright, engaging and a great story in his own right as he tries to quarterback the team he grew up watching. Joe Thomas even compared Hoyer's competitive attitude to Tom Brady's, which is telling.

What's evident at this point of camp is the importance of the two games. Because the Browns have a quarterback fight on their hands.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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