- Ashley Fox
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ESPN national NFL writer Ashley Fox spent the past two days at Browns camp. Here are her thoughts on the quarterback competition:
BEREA, Ohio – No one with the Cleveland Browns is saying, because honestly, I don’t believe that a decision about who will be the Week 1 starter at quarterback has been made yet. Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel are still competing. Neither has won the job yet, and now Rex Grossman is here holding down the No. 3 spot.
Head coach Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will decide on Thursday, the players’ day off, whether Hoyer, who started the Browns first preseason game against Detroit, or Manziel will start Monday at Washington. Either way, each player should get an equal amount of snaps with the first-team offense, Pettine said on Tuesday. It really should not matter who starts.
But it will -- at least to the outside world. The quarterback competition in Cleveland has been the most watched in the NFL. The topic has dominated talk radio in Cleveland.
On Monday, in a consistent drizzle, Hoyer was the first-team quarterback, and, like Manziel, struggled at times throwing a wet football. On Tuesday, under the threat of rain, Manziel was the first-team quarterback.
With neither Josh Gordon nor Nate Burleson practicing, Manziel made quicker decisions than he did on Monday, when he frequently held onto the ball too long and once uttered an expletive after a play was called dead because he would have been sacked.
On Tuesday, Manziel’s first pass play was to wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, who had the ball ripped away from him by cornerback Joe Haden for an interception. Later off play-action, Manziel threw a pass that bounced off Armstrong’s hands incomplete. He threw another incompletion with pressure in his face, contributed to a turnover with a bad exchange to running back Ben Tate and handed off on a bootleg that the defense stuffed for a fourth-down stop.
Manziel’s best throw of the day was a completion to wide receiver Travis Benjamin over the middle.
Hoyer, meanwhile, looked much sharper than he did on Monday. His best throw of the day was a 20-yarder to rookie wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on the right sideline that fell perfectly in Gabriel’s outstretched hands. He threw another completion to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on a comeback that hit Hawkins in the hands.
Pettine said on Monday that “if you’re going to put a guy in a starting role, that needs to be earned.”
I believe he believes that. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him give Manziel the nod for Monday night.
But after that, I expect Hoyer will be the starter heading into the season. Hoyer has more experience. He has only four career starts –- one in Arizona and three last season in Cleveland -– but Hoyer understands the speed of the NFL. He knows that the windows into which to throw are tiny. He has command of the huddle and the respect of the locker room.
Manziel likely will get there but not right away, not against a schedule that has Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore in the first three weeks.
Pettine said the Browns still are "on schedule" to name a starting quarterback by the third preseason game against St. Louis on Aug. 23. The focus this week has been on which quarterback will start against Washington, but looking at the bigger picture, Hoyer should be the guy.