BEREA, Ohio — It’s time for football, Johnny.
After months of having his off-field behavior analyzed, scrutinized and criticized, Johnny Manziel will again be the center of attention.
This time, though, it won’t be for swigging champagne on an inflatable swan, but during his first NFL training camp as he and Brian Hoyer battle for the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback job.
The Hoyer-Manziel showdown will dominate camp until someone is named the winner, and that decision from first-year coach Mike Pettine will not come until the third exhibition game (Aug. 23).
Manziel earned his “Johnny Football” nickname during a stellar career at Texas A&M, where his daring, dazzling scrambles and improvisational skills made him a college star. It’s probably not going to be nearly as easy for him at this level.
The Browns drafted Manziel in the first round, selecting him to hopefully end a decade-plus problem at the game’s most vital position. It may be only a matter of time before Manziel unseats Hoyer, a career backup who started three games last season before tearing his right knee ligament.
Hoyer enters camp with a slight lead in the starter’s competition. It’s up to him to keep it.
Hoyer, a lifelong Browns fan, has full medical clearance. The pressure will be immense as every pass, incompletion, interception, and touchdown will be viewed and examined by media and thousands of fans, who had to register online just to be able to watch practices this summer.
Cleveland fans appear divided over Hoyer, the hometown hero, and Manziel, the fun-loving curiosity.
The Browns, too, will feel some heat — from fans, TV networks, advertisers — to push Manziel along.
Here are other things to watch as the Browns, who haven’t won more than five games since 2007, open a highly anticipated camp:
PETTINE’S PATIENCE: The team’s third coach in three years, Pettine, who spent last season as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, is doing all he can to change Cleveland’s culture. Pettine has come across as pragmatic, insightful, and passionate. Players seem to be buying in, but until the Browns start winning games, all the positive talk is just talk. One of Pettine’s early challenges will be managing the hype around the Hoyer-Manziel competition.
RUNNING AMOK: After they traded running back Trent Richardson last season, the Browns’ running game shifted into reverse. Cleveland tied for 27th overall in yards rushing, a sad statistic for a franchise renowned for running backs such as Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan learned the Xs and Os of a sound running game from his father, Mike, who turned unknown backs into Pro Bowlers in Denver. With a new zone-blocking scheme and Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack up front, the Browns should open holes for Ben Tate (free agent) and rookie Terrance West.
SACK ATTACK: Pettine wants an aggressive defense, and he’s identified DE Jabaal Sheard as a player who could make a major impact this season. Sheard was moved to outside linebacker last season, and while he did an admirable job in coverage, he recorded just 5½ sacks, a career-low. The Browns are expected to turn Sheard loose, and Cleveland’s defensive front needs more production from Paul Kruger (4½ sacks) and Barkevious Mingo (five sacks). Sheard, too, is in the final year of his contract.
PRIMARY TARGET: Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron had a breakout season with 80 catches for 917 yards and seven TDs last year. Cameron is in the final year of his contract and would like an extension, but he’ll have a tough time matching his ’13 stats if Josh Gordon isn’t around to stretch the field and tie up defenders.
Gordon to havehearing on Aug. 1
CLEVELAND — The Browns may soon learn whether they’ll have Josh Gordon this season.
The Pro Bowl wide receiver will have an appeal hearing with NFL officials in New York on Aug. 1, a person with knowledge of the meeting told the Associated Press on Thursday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
The game-breaking playmaker is facing a possible one-year ban for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for at least the third time. Gordon, who was suspended for the first two games last season, still led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving.
The 23-year-old is expected to report to training camp today, and he’ll be on the field Saturday as the Browns have their first practice under Pettine.
The Browns have been waiting for a resolution on Gordon’s playing status, and his uncertain future has left a cloud over the team. The Browns first learned of a potential extended suspension on the second day of the NFL draft in May.
On Wednesday, Pettine told the AP he’s not consumed with worry about whether he’ll have Gordon.
“The frustration has really faded,” Pettine said. “It’s just something that’s there. It’s equivalent of having that file folder with all the answers in it and it’s sitting there ready to go. It’s just got a lot of dust.
“We’re just waiting to hear from the league and we’ll act accordingly.”
If Gordon loses his appeal, he could be banned by Commissioner Roger Goodell for a minimum of one year. He would then have to apply for re-instatement.
Pettine said the Browns have no plans to release Gordon.