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Browns coach Mike Pettine says Johnny Manziel's battle is against the playbook, not Brian Hoyer

Jul 23, 2014 -- 7:23pm

By Tony Grossi |



Updated at 8:27 p.m.

All eyes are riveted on the quarterback competition as Mike Pettine kicks off his first training camp as coach of the Browns on Saturday.

In an interview on Wednesday with, Pettine said that Johnny Manziel has to catch up to the playbook before he receives reps with the first team, admitted that his accelerated timetable for naming a starter favors veteran Brian Hoyer and would not rule out using a special package for Manziel in conjunction with Hoyer as the starter.

Edited portions of the interview are below.

Q: So how will you manage the quarterback competition?

Pettine: We met this morning on it, actually. Hoyer’s the one. He’ll be with the ones in the beginning. We’re still going to evaluate Johnny just as we’ll evaluate any other player, with his repetitions, so it shouldn’t be misconstrued if he’s not taking early reps with the ones. I think at this point, right now, it’s more Johnny v. the playbook than it is v. Brian. I think he’s got to make sure that continues. He’s well along the path, but that needs to continue. That’s a big part for him, to be able to know the play, execute the play, start the right guy in motion at the right time. So I think there’s a lot of that first. So he needs to make sure that he doesn’t jump ahead and tries to match (Hoyer). It’s certainly more him against the playbook.

Q: Will he get reps with the ones?

A: He will get reps with the ones at some point. But early on … we only talked about how we would handle things very early in camp and then make that assessment after the first off day and then have a plan for the scrimmage (on Aug. 2). We’ll see where he is coming out of the summer.

Q: Do you think he’s put the last month to good use?

A: I hope so.

Q: Do you know, or will you find out?

A: I’ll find out.

Q: You put a lot of trust in Manziel and how he’d handle his weekends during OTAs and minicamp. Do you feel he violated or challenged your trust as the time went on?

A: I don’t.

Q: Were you taken aback by Manziel’s comments during the NFL Symposium when he said he wasn’t going to change for anybody?

A: Yeah, but, I think it still needs to get to a point where if it’s affecting his job, that he’s in a situation where he goes out and has a good time, are there other players in the NFL that do that? Absolutely. But his persona, and it’s a phenomenon, has created something where people seek those photographs and are very eager to put them out. Does he go out more than some guys? Maybe. But he’s young and that’s his lifestyle and it is the offseason. If this is a pattern during the season and it is affecting his work, then that’s much more cause for concern.

Q: And you have spoken to him about the last photo?

A: We did. I had a conversation with him.

Q: And how do you feel now?

A: I felt very positive coming out of the conversation and I’m very confident moving forward, now that it’s 100 percent about football, that it will be much less of an issue.

Q: Do you or anyone in the organization feel he has a drinking problem?

A: I can’t … I mean … I can’t … the league is very sensitive (about talking about that).

To me, his life as an NFL player truly starts now and he’ll be judged on that. And if we get the hint that there’s behaviors affecting his work or there’s criminal activity then absolutely there’s cause for concern.

Q: Nationally there is the perception that the owner and others in business operations would prefer that Manziel wins the starting job and plays immediately. Do you feel that and is that an accurate perception?

A: I don’t think it’s accurate. I think if I’m on the business side, I think it’s human nature for them to want him to be the guy, so that maybe is true. Probably is. It’s easy for me because all my decisions are based purely on football. We’re going to look at Brian Hoyer v. Johnny Manziel and ask the question who gives us the better chance to win a game and that’s what we’re going to base our decision on. The jersey sales stuff and all that, that’s great, but as I said in spring we’re not going to base the depth chart on that.

Q: Even Hoyer’s agent said he expects Hoyer to be on a short leash if he wins the job. You’ve got a tough three games to start the season. What about the leash? Does it depend on record or individual performance?

A: Individual performance. It’s difficult, you get to the point and I’ve seen it happen, where change is made for change’s sake. We’re going to evaluate every player and if we feel they’re not performing and the replacement can be better, then we’ll make a move. I think that’s a tough way to function, knowing that I can’t make a single mistake. We don’t want to put our starting quarterback or any player in that environment where they know there’s going to be some latitude to make mistakes but they still have to be performing at their job effectively. I think that’s tough in any walk of life to function that way.

Q: Why have you set the timetable for naming a starter by the third preseason game?

A: In my mind, I’ve always felt the third preseason game is late. Given our circumstances -- some new pieces on the offensive line, new backfield, receiving corps will be potentially one of a committee approach -- you want some cohesion. You want those guys to play as much together as possible. There’s no substitute for repetitions together. You start going beyond a certain period of time, and given the amount of time we have to practice, you don’t get that many opportunities. So the sooner you make that decision the better off you are.

Q: It would appear a shorter timetable favors Hoyer.

A: Uh, yeah, given those circumstances, I’d agree with that statement.

Q: Each will get a start in preseason the first two games?

A: I haven’t made that decision. That will have to be earned. Brian will start the first preseason game if nothing else changes. There’s plenty of time in there, daily updates staff-wise, to decide then how we want to (proceed). There’s a lot of different ways it can play out.

Q: Do you feel the need to play your first teams longer than the norm in preseason?

A: Our guys will play longer than (the norm). There are certain guys, like Ray Lewis for us in Baltimore, if they have a track record … But for the most part, there is no substitute for game reps against somebody else. We will probably take more reps than the average team in the preseason.

Q: Can you say first teamers would play at least a half the first game?

A: That’s TBD, but I would say closer to a half than a quarter. We need to play. I know what the norms are, what the traditions have been. We need to play.

Q: At which point do you talk about a specific package to get both quarterbacks in a game?

A: We’ve already talked about it. We’ve already installed elements of it in the spring. We ran some of the zone-read stuff in practice and Kyle (Shanahan) incorporated some of the mobile quarterback elements of what he did in Washington. We’re still going to go back to the beginning in pads, but as we get going, some of the stuff that’s more game plan-specific that we don’t want to show, we might work on in our walk-throughs as opposed to a public practice.

Q: Is it a way of easing Johnny into a game that way?

A: I think all options are open. I’ve seen that work, so I’m not close-minded to that. That’s how Colin Kaepernick got his start in the NFL, as a package quarterback. On the other side of the ball, I’ve seen that give defenses some trouble. I think there’s positives and negatives to it. You’re taking your starter off the field. You have his rhythm and continuity to take into account, but at the same time defensively you’re now forcing a team to basically come up with two game plans. I mean, there are pluses and minuses to it and it’s something I’m sure will be discussed at some point. I’m willing to say that the starter will be against it and the backup will be for it.

Q: You expect Josh Gordon to report on Friday. Any chance of him playing some this year, after all?

A: I’ve heard everything. I’m not even frustrated even more. That’s past. We’ve known what the possible outcomes have been and the responses to them. Just patiently waiting.

Q: Anything happen to change the timetable?

A: I’m not sure what it is.

Q: Going forward, will the team be more proactive with Gordon in giving him whatever care he needs?

A: Yeah, that’s a sensitive subject to talk about because the league’s very strict about anytime the subject of substance abuse comes up. But I think the structure is here to provide help. There’s what the league has and what the teams can do as well. Hypothetically, if and when something does occur, we’ll work in conjunction with the league to help Josh out or any other Cleveland Brown, for that matter.

Q: How do you overcome the receiver situation without him?

A: You don’t try to replace him with one guy. He’s one of the best receivers in the NFL. You don’t pop one guy in there and say he’s going to replace him. But we’re confident in what we’re doing schematically and the guys we have here. The nice thing about it, the number of quality guys we have here, we’re going to compete. Those guys know those jobs are open. We’re going to get their best.

Q: The day you were introduced, you told some of us in the media you weren’t going to be the typical defensive head coach who just tries to possess the ball on offense by handing off. And yet it looks like that’s where you’re heading.

A: I think it’s important that you build your team around the lines. I’ve always thought that. Offensive line, to me, is probably the most critical unit. Because if you have a good offensive line, that means you can run the ball and protect your quarterback. When you’re running effectively, that makes your passing game that much more effective. You can now have more downs where you’re less predictable.

I think when you get so one-dimensional and all you can do is throw, that puts a lot on your quarterback, puts a lot on some factors that you might not have control over – is it windy, is it rainy. We’re in Northeast Ohio. We want to be an all-weather offense and I think that starts with running the football.

But I’m not looking to turn the clock back and go two tight ends, and go foot to foot inside, and just wedge the ball and play that way. But we’re going to run the ball. Kyle’s offense has put up big numbers in the pass game because they’ve run the ball well and they had a good offensive line. My formula is something that’s tried and true. We bring up the Seattle model a lot – they ran the ball and played great defense. I believe in it. It got us with a rookie quarterback in New York to within a game of the Super Bowl. It got us with a rookie quarterback in Baltimore to within a game of the Super Bowl. It’s won Super Bowls. Baltimore’s won two Super Bowls in that fashion. I think for long-term, sustained success, unless you have that guy that’s a top five quarterback, I think you want to minimize his importance and put him in situations where he’s not going to have to be down two scores. Your circumstances will make your quarterback better statistically.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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