Saturday night featured the highest-rated NFL preseason game of all time, a mildly fierce battle between the Browns and the Lions. It was all about Johnny Manziel who, despite denials from Browns coach Mike Pettine, clearly closed the gap on incumbent starter Brian Hoyer.
Pettine, speaking on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike Wednesday, acknowledged Manziel has "been impressive" and said he's "slightly ahead" of where the Browns expected him to be.
"He's been impressive. He's probably slightly ahead of the learning curve where we figured he would've been," Pettine said. "I think a big part of it for him is it's essentially him getting the playbook and it has been for a while. And I think he's finally starting to settle down with it."
Pettine praised the increase in Manziel's vocabulary and his ability to process more and more information, adding he has to know what other guys on the offense are doing as well.
"It's just a lot of information to process. And he's done a good job of it," Pettine said. "We're very pleased with where he is."
Manziel obviously hasn't progressed far enough for Pettine to do anything crazy like name him the starter. Pettine said all along the plan was for Cleveland to name a starter before Week 3 of the preseason, which means Manziel and Brian Hoyer are in a dead sprint to win the starting job for Week 1.
The process for picking that starter will involve four people in the organization and, potentially, some fierce debate. But no "external pressure," Pettine claims.
"I have two guys that know quarterback play really well in Kyle Shanahan and Dowell Loggains. And we'll sit down, the three of us, probably include Ray Farmer as well so he can hear us debate it back and forth," Pettine said. "It's all going to come down to who can give us the best chance to win a football game. And we're not going to feel pressure -- I know there's the external pressure of a lot of people want to see the rookie out there. We understand that. But we're in the football business here and we have to make the decision we feel is best for the Cleveland Browns.
"I think it's a good problem -- I know it's a good problem to have because we have two quarterbacks we feel are capable enough to make plays to win football games," Pettine said.
Pettine may have put himself in a wee bit of a corner while trying to give himself a little freedom; he used the phrase "week-to-week" when discussing his starting quarterback situation (as well as all his position players).
"When you declare a starter -- this for all positions, not just quarterback -- it's a week-to-week basis," Pettine said. "Our guys have to feel there's competition there. Once they earn a job Week 1, that's not guaranteed through Week 16 or Week 17, let alone Week 2. It's a fine line. You don't want guys thinking 'Hey, if I make one mistake I'm out,' and you might have a little bit more leeway with the quarterback position.
"You name a starter, and I think you have to be very shortsighted with your view that this is for the first game and we'll always be in evaluation mode."
Speaking of evaluating people, Pettine also praised Manziel's work ethic in the film room, training room, etc., saying "you wouldn't know" he has a party "persona" once the season starts.