AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Johnny Manziel will start Cleveland’s exhibition opener on the sideline.
Browns coach Mike Pettine chose Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback for Saturday’s game in Detroit, giving the veteran the first chance to impress before Manziel takes the field.
Pettine said the decision to start Hoyer over Manziel was based on the veteran’s performance so far in training camp.
“That was his job,” Pettine said. “He was the one coming into it. We did want to mix the groups up coming into it, as we did, but he’s done nothing to have that taken away from him, so he’ll be out there with the starters.”
Manziel has steadily improved, closing the gap on Hoyer in recent days as the rookie becomes more comfortable with the Browns’ playbook and offense. The former Heisman Trophy winner took his first practice snaps with the first-team offense earlier this week and he could get some playing time with Cleveland’s starters against the Lions.
Manziel said the Xs and Os aren’t as jumbled in his mind as they were even a few days ago.
“You just get out there with a lot less clutter,” he said. “We’re in to a couple weeks now, and it feels a lot more comfortable for me. There’s still a long ways to go for me obviously, and like I said a week ago, I felt like if I kept working on this stuff and got more and more familiar with a certain play call, a certain formation, a certain concept, then in due time I would get better at certain concepts and there’s still a lot more for me to go.”
The competition between Hoyer and Manziel appears to have tightened, and Pettine said both QBs have made progress during the first two weeks of camp.
“They’ve both made improvement, and I think they’re both doing a great job of playing to their skill sets,” Pettine said. “It’s obviously very different, what they bring to the table. I think Brian’s starting to feel very comfortable in the pocket.”
As he works toward naming a starter for the Sept. 7 opener at Pittsburgh, Pettine said more weight will be placed on how Hoyer and Manziel do in the first two preseason games. Pettine would like to have the QB competition — and all positional battles — decided before the third exhibition.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I’ve always been a part of, and more than likely will be here, resting most of the guys in the fourth game, so that third game is critical to get that chemistry and cohesion. We’ve mixed the lineups a lot, which is good because you’re getting guys exposure. They’re in with the twos. They’re in with the ones. They’re going against the ones, going against the twos. At some point, you’ve got to settle down and develop that chemistry, that cohesion.”
Hoyer got a jolt on Tuesday when his surgically repaired right knee got hit during practice. Hoyer said linebacker Paul Kruger banged into his knee but that it held up fine.
“It was more scary than anything else,” he said. “I kind of went down and waited for there to be some pain and there wasn’t, so it was actually kind of good to have some confidence going into Saturday knowing I’ve actually taken a hit and the brace withstood the hit and the brace felt good.
“I was scared for about two seconds and realized there was no pain and got up and went on to the next play.”
Hoyer hasn’t considered taking a day off to rest his knee.
“I can’t afford it,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for is to play football. I really don’t think I need it. I feel fine.”
At least outwardly, Hoyer isn’t showing any fear of Manziel gaining on him. The six-year veteran remains focused on getting better, leading his teammates and earning the trust of his coaches. He’s been prepared, meticulous and unshaken despite having the popular Manziel breathing down his neck.
Hoyer knows he needs to play well, but he’s not feeling any more pressure than he’s already putting on himself.
“The way I look at it is I feel like I’m the starter until someone tells me otherwise and that’s how I prepare,” he said. “Even if I weren’t, I’d prepare to be prepared regardless of the situation. You never know when your name is going to get called. That’s how my whole career has been. You kind of have to approach it the same way.”
NOTES: Browns Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron remains sidelined with a shoulder injury and will not play this weekend. … As he awaits word from the NFL on his appeal of a possible suspension, WR Josh Gordon will be mixed in with the starter and backups vs. the Lions. … S Tashaun Gipson returned to practice after being out with a sprained knee and is expected to play.
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