Stop me if you’ve seen this story before, but there might be some quarterback controversy brewing in Cleveland. Brian Hoyer, the incumbent, has been firmly atop the depth chart since Johnny Manziel, the challenger, was drafted. Even as the career backup was recovering from ACL surgery, he was considered the man to beat. That continued into Training Camp as the hometown kid took all the snaps with the first-team offense. That was, until today, the Monday before the Browns’ first pre-season game against the Detroit Lions when Johnny Manziel took snaps with the ones.
It’s all anyone can talk about and it’s shielding the Browns organization from a whole host of other questions so far in camp. Now that Manziel is getting starter’s reps in practice, if the smokescreen wasn’t in full effect for the Browns before, it’s getting pretty thick now.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Browns are intentionally doing anything but run camp to the best of their ability. At the same time, I see how things are going and it makes me wonder what it all would look like if Rob Chudzinski (Joe Banner) or Pat Shurmur were running the show with quarterbacks not named Manziel.
After Monday’s practice, Mike Pettine played off Manziel’s starter’s reps like it was just a part of the plan. It was always in the plan to give Johnny some run with the ones. When asked who would start against the Lions, Pettine initially tried to play it close to the vest before a reporter reminded him that he said earlier in camp that Hoyer would start that game. Pettine handled it reasonably well, considering he was caught not remembering what he’d said in the past. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit all over the place.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense either. I get switching it up and giving each QB a look with the best personnel group, but shouldn’t it align with the upcoming game? If I’m Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan and I’m preparing this team to get ready to play each week, I wouldn’t necessarily think rotating the quarterbacks to Johnny Manziel on Monday if I’ve been on record saying that Brian Hoyer is going to start on Saturday and that’s my plan.
It’s not just providing cover for the Browns at quarterback. After Josh Gordon, the Browns have giant question marks at receiver. They’ve got some young intriguing guys and some older oft-injured guys, but it’s hard to have much more confidence in this crew than even a year ago with Greg Little and Davone Bess on the team. I don’t say that to slight the guys here, but none of them are a sure thing and Gordon’s status in the NFL’s substance program makes him the ultimate question mark.
Never mind that, though! All the clamoring to see Johnny Football on the field has seemed to keep much of that talk at bay. There’s a realistic chance that your starting wide receivers out of camp this year could be some combination of Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins. You can hope for the best with that, but let’s just say those guys aren’t going to rock most of your fantasy league drafts.
Simultaneously, I don’t see a ton of people discussing the Browns running backs and just how much the team might run the ball this year. As reporters and fans count the passes and completions, I’m trying to guess just how many carries the Browns might dole out to Ben Tate and Terrance West this season. This isn’t even to mention Dion Lewis coming off his broken leg or Edwin Baker, Isaiah Crowell or even “fullback” Chris Ogbonnaya. For all the question marks around the Browns wide receivers, there’s legitimate, quality competition at running back, which could be far more important to the Browns’ offense.
These are all just examples, of course. I find myself being distracted by the aura of Johnny Manziel too, getting obsessed with offense and the quarterback position, so I’m not claiming my walls aren’t also glass. I find it interesting though. I’ve probably been a bit naive, but heaven help these guys if they come out of the gate and lose their first three. No smokescreen is thick enough to shield the Browns from that.
(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)