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Wednesday, October 01, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 9/3/2014 - Updated: 3 weeks ago

COMMENTARY: Mediocre Browns will show more of the same

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Brian Hoyer did just enough to win Cleveland’s quarterback job, but it probably won’t be long before rookie Johnny Manziel takes the reins. Brian Hoyer did just enough to win Cleveland’s quarterback job, but it probably won’t be long before rookie Johnny Manziel takes the reins.
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In the first 24 hours after making Johnny Manziel the 22nd overall pick in the NFL Draft this past spring, the Cleveland Browns sold season tickets at the rate of 100 per hour.

It was a Johnny Football Frenzy as a hungry, desperate fan base fell quickly in love with the brash Heisman-winning, party-hopping, finger-rubbing (and gesturing) quarterback who is perhaps equally the most popular and most polarizing rookie in the National Football League.

Now, a few months and four preseason games later, the Browns have realized a worst-case scenario at quarterback. With the opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers just days away, they have no one ready to open.

The starter will be Brian Hoyer, despite his giving no recent indication that he can lead Cleveland’s offense to anything other than typical mediocrity.

Manziel has yet to absorb the offense — so different from his college experience that he seems a round peg trying to squeeze into a square NFL hole.

Blame head coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose preseason quarterback derby actually might have hindered both quarterbacks, not to mention the entire offense, from progressing.

Worse, it didn’t produce anything near a clear-cut starter.

The Browns, who have defined starting over during the 15 years since their return to the NFL in 1999, are starting over again.

Consider the first three games before the Browns’ scheduled bye week.

Cleveland travels to Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger starts his 11th season at quarterback. The New Orleans Saints come marching in for week two with Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton in sync for their ninth season. Then Baltimore visits and, believe it or not, Joe Flacco and coach John Harbaugh are poised for their seventh season together.

They are examples of continuity with entrenched offensive philosophies. All of those quarterbacks have led their teams to Super Bowl victories.

Cleveland is an example of anything but continuity. Pettine is the third head coach in as many years. Given time, he and new general manager Ray Farmer might right this floundering ship, but it isn’t going to happen right away.

So the Browns figure to be 0-3, and maybe that bye week will be when Manziel is ready to be handed the controls. Or maybe it will happen, ready or not, in the second quarter of the Steelers game. Who knows? Such is the state of indecision in Cleveland.

Hoyer, 28, will become the 14th different opening-day starter for the Browns since 1999, despite putting up poor numbers in the preseason, completing 54.5 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown pass and one interception.

Hoyer is the hometown hero who prepped at Cleveland St. Ignatius. He was a feel-good story last season when he stepped in for injured starter Brandon Weeden and led the Browns to wins over Minnesota and Cincinnati to even their record at 2-2. But in the first quarter of the ensuing game against Buffalo, he suffered an ACL injury in his right knee.

He worked hard to rehab the knee after surgery and became the presumptive starter after Weeden was released during the off-season. But then he, like the rest of the Browns’ world, went topsy-turvy with Manziel Mania following draft day.

While the preseason plan for the two quarterbacks to split first-team snaps might have been good for Johnny Football — his college experience was no-huddle, no-playbook, all-shotgun, spread, up-tempo — it probably was not for Hoyer.

And whose idea was that? You think the front office got involved as tickets and Manziel merchandise were snapped up faster than the shelves could be stocked?

Whatever, the result is that there was no result. And the situation is exacerbated by a receiving corps that, minus Josh Gordon, suspended by the NFL for the season, isn’t scaring opposing secondaries. Former Toledo Rocket Andrew Hawkins, working out of the slot, might prove to be one of the few sparks in the passing game.

It is a lot to ask either of the quarterbacks — the journeyman or the rookie — to do much with this supporting cast.

Unless Hoyer manages something spectacular, like winning one of the first three games, the job will likely go to Manziel in the near future.

If the season heads south, and it is looking very much like a generous over-under for wins would be six, it makes sense to throw Johnny Football into the fire and start developing some continuity that might pay off down the road.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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