July 31, 2014

The space between: How far is the gap between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel

Manziel Ogbonnaya

Johnny Manziel earned his first promotion faster than most 20-somethings find a summer job. In the blink of an eye, Manziel bypassed Tyler Thigpen for the second quarterback spot during organized team actives last month. The Browns want to foster an atmosphere where rookies earn roles, and it didn’t take long for Manziel to show how he stacks up against a journeyman, such as Thigpen.

Now there’s just one man standing in front of Manziel and a starting job in the NFL. We’ve been told Brian Hoyer and Manziel will compete for the job, and with training camp just around the corner, it’s fair to wonder, just how close is the gap between Hoyer and Manziel?

Browns head coach Mike Pettine shed some light on what is sure to be the most watched competition of the summer during his post mini-camp press conference June 10. Pettine was asked about whether Hoyer gets rid of the quicker than Manziel.

The first-year Browns coach confirmed what we saw in two games last year: Hoyer anticipates throws and gets rid of the ball in a hurry.

“I think Brian anticipates very well, and I think that’s one of the bigger differences between college football and the NFL,” Pettine said. “College quarterbacks, at times, sometimes based on their system, too, they wait until guys get open to throw the ball. That’s a very common thing. It’s rare to have a guy coming out of college who can anticipate the break, whereas Brian understands the windows are a lot smaller in the NFL. I think the younger quarterbacks are kind of finding out how tight the windows are in the NFL. Anytime you can throw it before a receiver’s open and have it arrive as he’s getting open, that’s the way to go for sure.”

This is a very telling statement. After the draft concluded, I made the case for Manziel to start,  if he’s ready. Right now that doesn’t appear to be the case. I’m also left wondering how much Manziel will be able to improve on these facets of the game without facing a real pass rush as he sits back in the pocket donning the bright red don’t-touch-me jersey.

Hoyer is still limited in practice as he works back from his ACL injury, but with three months to go until the season kicks off is Pittsburgh, it’s probably safe to say the job is his to lose, save for something wild and crazy happening.

And while Manziel isn’t game-ready yet, he is showing the coaches something that doesn’t include an inflatable swan. Pettine said he thinks Manziel is getting more comfortable in the huddle, as offensive coordinator Kyle Shannahan adds plays that are suited to Johnny Football’s strengths—several accounts have described a bevy of rollout plays being executed by all three quarterbacks.

“I think he has a very nice touch with the deep ball, and he shows that we’ve added some of the zone-read stuff that Kyle had run with RG3 (Redskins QB Robert Griffin III) in Washington,” said the head coach. “He’s done a nice job handling that. He makes improvements every day, and that’s all that we ask of him.”