BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Johnny Manziel’s No. 2 jersey has double meaning.
He’s behind Brian Hoyer.
Browns coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer is “securely ahead” in the competition to be Cleveland’s starting quarterback this season, but his lead over Manziel isn’t “insurmountable.”
After the Browns ended their three-day mandatory minicamp Thursday, Pettine sized up the battle as a friendly fight that will heat up when the team opens training camp late in July.
Pettine said Hoyer, who is recovering from knee surgery and has been limited during practices, still has a grip on the starting job — for now.
“It’s been hard to evaluate because Brian hasn’t been able to take the 11-on-11 reps, but when we put the depth chart together, Brian will be No. 1,” he said.
Pettine agrees with Browns general manager Ray Farmer’s evaluation that Manziel, the wildly popular 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick from Texas A&M, has some catching up to do.
Manziel is trailing Hoyer, but maybe not by much.
“I don’t think it’s insurmountable,” Pettine said. “Brian is securely ahead of him right now, but we will compete and we will decide. The issue for us as a staff is finding the right time to name a starter. If you wait too late, then nobody’s ready for the opener, if you do it too soon, then it wasn’t a true competition.
“That will be part of our discussions as well as far as OK, here’s the plan, here’s a date that we want to go ahead and name him.”
During recent workouts open to the media, Manziel has shown some of the flashes that earned him the Johnny Football nickname in college. But there have also been moments where he looked like another lost rookie.
Pettine made it clear the Browns have not made any decisions and the competition is still in its infancy.
“We haven’t really been in the mode of thinking, `He’s this far ahead today. How much was the gap closed?”‘ Pettine said. “They’re still learning the basics of the offense. The rookies haven’t been here very long. They’re playing catch-up from a playbook standpoint. So at this point, we really weren’t keeping score. “
Pettine kept Hoyer and Manziel off limits to reporters this week, hoping to contain a story that’s expected to only grow.
In the next few weeks, Pettine and his staff will decide how to best divide the snaps between Hoyer and Manziel. Pettine said it’s safe to assume the duties will be shared.
“I don’t know how even we’ll get it, but there will definitely be times when Johnny will be with the ones (starters),” Pettine said. “It would be hard to evaluate if we didn’t that. If there wasn’t a competition, then it would just be strictly ones and ones, twos and twos. We haven’t met to go over that.”
Pettine also plans to play Manziel with Cleveland’s starting offense in exhibition games.
“If a guy has a chance to be a starter, I would think that you’d want to expose him to a starting defense if he was going to be the guy opening day,” said Pettine.
Manziel has made some headlines with his off-the-field antics in recent weeks. He partied poolside in Las Vegas with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and was filmed spraying champagne on patrons in a nightclub. Last weekend, he was in Austin, Texas, where he was photographed lying on an inflatable swan raft in a pool, drinking champagne.
Pettine won’t micromanage Manziel or any of his players as long as they’re not involved in anything that’s criminal or affects their jobs. But with a long break coming up, he’s hoping all the Browns steer clear of danger.
“It’s nervous any time your entire team is dismissed,” he said. “As a coach, you hear your phone ring and you kind of look at it with one eye, hoping it’s not an issue coming up. We talked to them about it. We wanted to make sure that they handled themselves well. The advice was: Learn the system, stay in shape, stay out of trouble.”
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