When Mike Pettine announced his decision regarding the Cleveland Browns' quarterback competition Wednesday morning, I was surprised to see the first-year coach name Brian Hoyer the starter. Although I anticipated the veteran having the first crack at the job, I certainly don't think he's outplayed his rookie counterpart during the preseason, and it's tough for me to understand why the Browns are opting to trot Hoyer out with the "1s" heading into the regular season.
1) Johnny Football gives the Browns the best chance to win this season.
For all of the conversation about Hoyer's experience purportedly giving the team the best opportunity to win, the Browns lack the playmakers on the perimeter to succeed consistently in the NFL while running a conventional offense. The team might end up playing without receiver Josh Gordon, who is still facing a possible suspension, for a significant chunk of the season, which would leave Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron as the only credible threat in the passing game. Sure, Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins are established veterans with solid resumes, but defensive coordinators definitely don't fear their collective big-play potential at this point. Hoyer does not have the arm talent to throw his receivers open against elite defenses, meaning the trio's inability to create separation could limit the Browns' aerial attack.
Thus, Cleveland should've opted to put Manziel -- a more dynamic weapon -- in the lineup. Although he doesn't have a complete command of the offense right now, the first-round pick's improvisational skills and athleticism would alter the way defensive coordinators approach the Browns. Instead of sitting back in traditional zone defenses, opponents would need to use more eight-man fronts with man coverage to defend the read-option from the Pistol formation. Single-high-safety coverage would also create one-on-one matchups on the outside, leading to easier completions.
In addition, Manziel's elusiveness and scrambling ability would offset some issues on the offensive line while creating big-play opportunities on second-reaction plays. Given the lack of playmakers on the perimeter, Manziel's ability to turn the game into sandlot football would enhance the Browns' chances of putting points on the board.
2) Playing Manziel as a rookie would pay huge dividends down the road.
The only way to truly prepare a young player for success in the NFL is to allow him to learn from his mistakes in games. The speed, tempo and intensity of a pro game cannot be replicated on the practice field, which is why it is imperative for young quarterbacks to get game repetitions as soon as possible, to accelerate their growth as playmakers. That's the approach the Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck), Carolina Panthers (Cam Newton), Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III) and Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson) recently took with their young quarterbacks, and it certainly has paid dividends for those squads. Each of those teams has reached the postseason behind the leadership of its young franchise quarterback.
Of course, I certainly understand the need to have an imposing defense and stout running game in place to alleviate the pressure on a young signal-caller -- but then, that's exactly what the Browns have. The defense has the potential to be a top-five unit, and the Ben Tate-Terrance West combination at running back should give Cleveland a potent ground attack. Consequently, Manziel simply would need to manage the game, avoid making the big mistake and produce an explosive play on occasion.
3) This competition's result will prompt quizzical looks in the locker room.
Whenever there's an open competition for the starting quarterback job, guys on the team want to see one of the competitors claim the spot with exceptional performances and production in games.
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That certainly hasn't been the case with Hoyer through two preseason contests, though. Not to say Manziel has played like gangbusters himself, but the numbers lean in his favor -- and the team has shown more energy when the rookie has been on the field. Now, I know that some of that can be attributed to Manziel having moderate success against backup defenders, but the offense simply has struggled with Hoyer under center. Despite the five-year veteran having four NFL starts under his belt, he's failed to make the key plays in critical moments, which is essential to winning the confidence of the locker room.
While I certainly respect Hoyer's leadership, grit and resiliency, the guys in the locker room want to follow a man who can get it done on the field. And I just don't believe he has the tools to be a quality starter in this league. Manziel has yet to prove he can consistently make plays at the NFL level, but I'd be willing to gamble on the young, athletic QB with more upside and long-term potential at this stage of the game.