Orbiting Cleveland: It’s Manziel or bust for the Browns

Orbiting

That didn’t take long.

We heard the whispers during the week. Then we watched the performance Saturday night.

Now, what many of us believed to be one day inevitable, is a reality.

Buckle up. Things have suddenly become very interesting.

The Cleveland.com report should not come as much of a surprise. As training camp has progressed, it’s been clear that Johnny Manziel has slowly closed the gap to Brian Hoyer and his hold on the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback job.

A handful of reporters noted that point during this past week’s training camp scrimmages, and it was clear on Saturday night in the Browns’ preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. Manziel’s overall line looks somewhat pedestrian as he completed 7-of-11 passes for 63 yards (64%) in four series of work.

However, it was evident that the former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner got better and more confident as the game went on. He also added 27 yards on six carries, which led the team.

1407650615000-USP-NFL-Preseason-Cleveland-Browns-at-Detroit-Lio-006In comparison, incumbent Hoyer completed 6-of-14 passes for 92 yards. Hoyer’s stats look a tad worse due to dropped passes from Miles Austin and Marquis Gray, but he also had two poor overthrows on third down.

Following the game, an NFL Network report stated that Manziel is slated to start the Browns’ second preseason game August 18 against the Washington Redskins, but Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine stopped short of confirming this.

During a conference call on Sunday, Pettine also refuted the report that Manziel had passed Hoyer, but then who is Mary Kay Cabot’s and ESPN’s Bob Holtzman’s team source? There’s usually smoke where there’s fire, and we’ll probably see Pettine confirm Manziel as the Browns’ starter against the Redskins sometime this week.

While we’ve known that Hoyer was merely delaying the inevitable, did anyone expect Manziel to overtake Hoyer so early into the season? If the report is true, there is no going back.

Even if Manziel and Hoyer have identical performances for the remainder of the preseason, there is no way the Browns cannot start Manziel on September 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Barring an absolute collapse or injury, the job is Manziel’s for the foreseeable future.

Nice knowing you Brian. You’re a professional and your contributions were appreciated, but the town and, more importantly, team now belongs to Johnny Football.

Already awarding the team to Manziel might seem a tad premature, but it’s fair in this case. The Browns have never had a player like Manziel  since returning to the league. Hell, some might say they’ve never had a player like Manziel in the history of the entire franchise.

The NFL’s increasing popularity and the digital world have just changed the way the league is covered. Years ago, Manziel’s antics might have gone unnoticed. Now, they make him a superstar.

Thankfully, it does not seem to have affected him on the football field. Manziel seems to get better each day, and he has the ability, athleticism and intelligence (scored a 32 on the Wonderlic) to start in the NFL from day one.

The Browns could still backtrack as Pettine attempted to do on Sunday, but what difference will it make? The media is now on the Manziel bandwagon. The fans aren’t far behind.

That’s the double-edged sword that a team must deal with when they chose a player like Manziel. ESPN’s John Clayton touched on that with me in an interview earlier this summer.

“Well, there’s still Tebow Mania, and he’s not even in football anymore, so of course (Manziel Mania) won’t stop. That’s not going to stop, and nor should it stop… When you take a guy that’s named Johnny Football, he comes to an organization with a brand, he comes with an interesting reputation, both on and off the field.”

The Browns obviously realize that, or why would a team source leak that Manziel had passed Hoyer to begin with? More than likely, this Browns’ source does know what comes from leaking such news.

By allowing it to go public, the Browns have opened themselves up to all kinds if skepticism and criticism if it backfires. In other words, they’re betting on Johnny “Money” Manziel.

How can you blame them?

Manziel is a superior athlete to Hoyer.

Manziel has a higher ceiling than Hoyer.

Manziel outperformed Hoyer in the first preseason contest while playing with an inferior offense.

Translation?

Manziel gives the Browns the best chance to win. That’s true now, and it will be true in the future.

Don’t mistake this as a bashing on Brian Hoyer. The St. Ignatius graduate performed admirably last season, and he’s an easy person to root for, but let’s consider the facts.

Hoyer is now 28-years-old.

He has started four games in five seasons.

He is fresh off a torn ACL.

Yes, he showed promise last season, but does anyone really believe that Hoyer is a franchise quarterback? It’s more probable that Hoyer has the makeup of an ideal NFL backup rather than a NFL starter.

That’s not a knock against him either. A quality NFL backup is hard to find in this league, and that’s a role that Hoyer could fill perfectly.

The book on a good NFL backup quarterback is that he can come in and win a team three games. It’s ironic because that’s exactly what Hoyer happened to do last season. Manziel’s playing style will likely always make him susceptible to injuries, so it’s important that the Browns have a guy like Hoyer in the fray.

On Saturday night, Manziel’s potential was probably most evident during a 16-yard scramble on 3rd down and 8 that was vintage Johnny Football.

As the pocket collapsed, Manziel kept his composure. He escaped four would-be tacklers and ran full-steam ahead before sliding like a pro. It was a beautiful thing.

It used to be unreasonable to expect a rookie quarterback to have immediate success, but not anymore.

Remember, that the NFL game is drastically different from even 10 years ago. In 2003, we saw two 4,000-yard passers (Trent Green, Peyton Manning). Last year? Nine.

The implementation of the illegal contact rule has changed the game forever, but it’s also made the transition for rookie quarterbacks easier. Just think of all of the recent examples.

Andrew Luck. Robert Griffin III. Russell Wilson. Cam Newton. Joe Flacco — the list goes on.

It’s no longer the exception for a highly-touted rookie quarterback to have immediate success in the NFL — it’s closer to the rule.

Could Johnny Manziel be the next rookie quarterback to follow in the footsteps of the names listed above?

The fact that a team source leaked that he’s already ahead of Hoyer on the depth chart seems to prove that the Browns believe just that.

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