Hoyer to start but all eyes on Manziel in Browns' preseason opener

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

And so it begins: Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel? (USATSI)
And so it begins: Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel? (USATSI)

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A year ago, Brandon Weeden was blowing the doors off the preseason, looking every bit the franchise quarterback the Browns have been so desperately searching for. And then, once the regular-season begin, the ginger turned to pumpkin and Cleveland stumbled to four wins.

The faces have changed but the the storylines remain, start ing with the Browns' quarterback situation. Veteran Brian Hoyer gets the nod against the Lions Saturday night, but to keep the job beyond the preseason he'll need to be pretty much flawless. Because every mistake, no matter how innocuous, will be used against him in the case of Hoyer v. Public Opinion in the matter of whether Johnny Manziel should be the starter now ... or at some point in the near future.

By all accounts, Hoyer is the consummate professional; Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas has compared him to Tom Brady. And owner Jimmy Haslam called him "a quality guy and a class act."

Laudatory observations aside, this is about winning. It's why the Browns traded up in the first round to take Manziel. And despite all the off-field nonsense ("Grown man doesn't break law, does grown man things"), Manziel is the future. The only question is when.

Hoyer looked every bit the legit NFL quarterback in three starts last season before suffering an ACL injury. But with Manziel on the roster, Hoyer's days are numbered. Partly because of Manziel's draft pedigree but also due to the Browns' brutal schedule to begin the season.

As we've mentioned at various points in recent weeks, wherever you come down on the "start him or sit him" debate, this is a near certainty: Should the Browns stumble out of the gate -- they face the Steelers, Saints and Ravens to open the season before a Week 4 bye -- it's fair to think that Manziel will be the under center when the team returns to action in Week 5. And that assumes it doesn't happen before then.

If Manziel holds his own against the Lions and shows improvement against the Redskins next week (coach Mike Pettine hinted that Manziel might start), that gives Hoyer one last shot to secure the job, assuming Pettine wants to name a starter before the final preseason game.

"They're both doing a great job of playing to their skill sets,'' the coach said this week. "It's obviously very different, what they bring to the table. I think Brian's starting to feel very comfortable in the pocket. ...and then, I think we all see what Manziel can do. He makes plays with his feet, but he's been probably better than we thought from in the pocket as well.''

Despite what Manziel may do on his off time, reports out of training camp peg him as quiet and studious. Whether that translates into a starting gig is another matter but Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau, who has spent more than a half-century in the NFL, expects the rookie to be on the field when Pittsburgh and Cleveland meet on Sept. 7.

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