The Browns took a leap of faith by choosing veteran Brian Hoyer over rookie Johnny Manziel as their starting quarterback for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh despite the preseason debacle Monday night.
Browns coach Mike Pettine told both of the players Wednesday morning, and the team made an announcement Wednesday in an emailed news release.
“It was exciting when Coach Pettine told me this morning,” Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon following practice. “I’m sure I cracked a smile. You realize all the work I’ve put in. Now here’s my shot and just go out and run with it. All you can ask for is an opportunity and to go out and try to seize it and now that it’s here, now it’s time to work harder.”
Manziel said he was disappointed with the outcome of his battle with Hoyer.
“I feel like if I would have come out and played better, it would have been a different outcome,” Manziel said. “I don’t think I played terrible, but I didn’t do anything to jump off the page. I made strides and got better throughout training camp, and that’s what I wanted to do. Obviously, it’s disappointing, but at the same time I want what’s best for this team moving forward, and I’m going to continue to come out here every day and give it my all and continue to get better as a quarterback. That’s all I can do.”
Hoyer and Manziel struggled so much in the Browns’ second exhibition game, a 24-23 loss to Washington, that Pettine contemplated waiting until next week to name one of them the starter.
But, ultimately, Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains led a committee that met Tuesday night and decided to move forward with Hoyer in hopes he can develop chemistry and cohesion with the supporting cast before they face the Steelers. Hoyer’s most extensive test run of the preseason will come Saturday when the Browns host the St. Louis Rams for the third exhibition game, otherwise known as the “dress rehearsal.”
“We were all disappointed and really embarrassed with the way things came out Monday night,” Hoyer said. “But we watched the film, learn from those mistakes and look forward.”
Hoyer will be the Browns’ 12th opening day starting quarterback since 1999.
“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said in the release distributed by the team. “We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”
Hoyer completed just 2 of 6 passes for 16 yards Monday against Washington. He has completed only 8 of 20 passes (40 percent) for 108 yards this preseason, posting a rating of 57.9.
Nevertheless, Hoyer was declared the victor of his competition against Manziel almost by default. The 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Manziel has struggled to grasp Shanahan’s offense and has taken his lumps in two exhibition games.
The 21-year-old Manziel completed 7 of 16 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown Monday. He has completed 14 of 27 passes (51.9 percent) for 128 yards and a touchdown, posting a rating of 77.4, this preseason.
Has Manziel’s rough start and failure to win the starting job lit a fire?
“I wouldn’t say it say it necessarily lights a fire,” Manziel said. “It’s disappointing. Obviously, I didn’t want this to be an outcome. But at the same time, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was ready, and I felt like there were steps that I needed to take and I need to take to move forward and get better. Down the road as the weeks continue to go on, I think I’ll get better. So does it light a fire? I don’t really know if it does or not.”
Manziel’s persistent partying in the offseason, tardiness to a team meeting Aug. 11 and middle-finger salute aimed at Washington’s bench Monday night certainly didn’t help his cause. Pettine said Tuesday “all things quarterbacks A to Z” would be taken into account when making the decision.
Despite Manziel conceding he doesn’t believe he’s ready to start, he insisted he wouldn’t change anything he did during the offseason.
“I wouldn’t go back from the point after the draft to now and change a single thing,” Manziel said. “I’m going to continue to live my life and the offseason is the offseason. I’m going to travel places. I’m going to go places. I’m going to do things and that’s going to have no affect. Obviously, I need to do it in the proper way, but I’m still going to continue to have fun in my life and continue to live my life, and I don’t think any of that really slowed me in this competition. I think more than anything, if you come out and play well, it makes the decision a lot easier. If you don’t, it clouds it up and what happened, happened.”
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Hoyer has done and said all the right things since the Browns applied tremendous pressure to him by selecting Manziel on May 8.
“I think Brian’s been very poised,” Pettine said. “I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on.”
Hoyer’s resume from last season favored him, too. He went 2-0 as a starter with the Browns before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills, who employed Pettine as their defensive coordinator at the time. Hoyer has earned the respect of Pettine and his staff by relentlessly rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee and preparing for the upcoming season.
“Obviously, it’s very special to me,” Hoyer said. “Did I believe this could happen after I got hurt? There was no doubt in my mind but obviously there were days where rehab sucked and I hated what I was doing. But I knew the feeling I had running out into that stadium or running off the field after we beat Cincinnati. It’s all worth it. It’s amazing how much you appreciate the game when it’s taken away from you. So for me, this is what I put in all those hours of rehab, now being with Kyle learning a new system in the offseason, throwing extra routes with those guys, that’s what you do it for. So it’s an exciting time.”
Pettine thinks Hoyer will continue to progress as his journey on the comeback trail unfolds.
“I think a lot of people discount that,” Pettine said. “Here’s a guy coming off of a season-ending knee injury. Really, these are his first, essentially, 20-25 plays of live work back from it, and he’s only going to get better.”
Hoyer, who spent three of his five NFL seasons backing up New England Patriots star Tom Brady and has made only four career regular-season starts, defied the odds by holding off Manziel. Since 2008, 11 of 16 quarterbacks taken in the first round have started right away.
“He’s certainly made great strides,” Pettine said of Manziel. “We are pleased with where he is, and he has shown that he has come a long way in his ability to pick up the playbook, be coachable and lead an offense. We are confident that Johnny is going to have a great future, but we just felt that Brian still had a decided edge on him.”
Manziel, though, will inevitably be summoned at some point, perhaps sooner than later depending on how Hoyer plays. Pettine has said he won’t commit to the Week 1 starting quarterback for the entire season.
“My entire career has been looking over my shoulder, and the pressure you put on yourself is far greater than anything like that because when you’re a rookie undrafted and you’re trying to come in and make a team, you’re just trying to get on the team,” Hoyer said. “I feel like I’ll carry that chip with me forever. Every day I come out here, I’m just trying not to get cut. I think when you have that mentality, you push yourself to the limit and the pressure you put on yourself is far greater than any pressure the media can put on you or your teammates or coaches can put on you. For me, for most of my career, it was about keeping my career alive and doing anything it took to just make a team. Now that I’m a starter you have to take that mentality and enhance your play as a starter. I think it can only help me.”
But, for now, it’s time for the Browns to get Hoyer ready. The offense has looked dreadful in the preseason, so there’s plenty of ground to gain before the opener.
“I think it’s especially good, as an offensive unit, to go out and play and gain cohesion and chemistry,” Pettine said. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to go ahead and make the decision before this third preseason game so that [Hoyer and the rest of the starting offense] could play as a unit for a good chunk of it.”