BEREA, Ohio — Brian Hoyer barely held on to the starting job.
Johnny Manziel may have let it slip off his finger.
Hoyer will open the season as Cleveland’s starting quarterback after winning his summer competition over Manziel, the hotshot rookie and social media sensation whose NFL career is off to a shaky start.
Browns coach Mike Pettine picked Hoyer over Manziel to start the Sept. 7 at Pittsburgh, finally ending a competition that dragged through the summer. Hoyer is the choice for now, but the real test for him will be how long he keeps it from Manziel.
Pettine met with his coaching staff Tuesday night and announced in a release before practice Wednesday that he’ll go with Hoyer, who made three starts in 2013 before sustaining a season-ending injury. The decision ends weeks of competition and analysis, and the Browns are hoping it will allow Hoyer to relax and build some chemistry with Cleveland’s struggling offense before they meet the dreaded Steelers, their long-time rivals.
In the end, Hoyer’s experience – however limited – gave him the nod over Manziel.
“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said of Hoyer. “We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”
Pettine delayed his decision after both Hoyer and Manziel played poorly in a 24-23 exhibition loss at Washington on Monday. During that game, Manziel gave the finger to the Redskins sideline, an act Pettine said would be factored into the decision. Manziel will likely be fined by the league for his gesture.
Hoyer didn’t win the job over Manziel as much as he clung to it after beginning training camp as the No. 1 quarterback. Both QBs have struggled to learn Cleveland’s offense. Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had hoped one of the quarterbacks would separate from the other, but it never happened.
Hoyer showed glimpses of developing into a quality starter in 2013 before getting hurt while sliding at the end of a run against Buffalo. The Cleveland native worked hard to get back on the field to keep alive his boyhood dream of being the Browns’ quarterback.
Hoyer, who is in the final year of his contract, only completed 2 of 6 passes for 16 yards in Monday’s game and the Browns’ first-team offense was out of sync with him on the field. However, Pettine said in looking at Hoyer’s entire body of work that he deserved the starting gig.
“I think Brian’s been very poised,” Pettine said. “I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on. Here’s a guy coming off of a season-ending knee injury. Really, these are his first, essentially, 20-25 plays of live work back from it, and he’s only going to get better.”
Pettine felt it was vital to have Cleveland’s QB situation settled before Saturday’s home exhibition against St. Louis.
“I think it’s especially good, as an offensive unit, to go out and play and gain cohesion and chemistry,” Pettine said. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to go ahead and make the decision before this third preseason game so that (Hoyer and the rest of the starting offense) could play as a unit for a good chunk of it.”
Manziel’s offseason behavior didn’t help his cause. He was criticized for spending his weekends away from Cleveland’s facility partying before training camp. Manziel has shown flashes of his Johnny Football form in practices, but he’s still struggling with an offense that’s much more complex than the one he ran at Texas A&M.
“He’s certainly made great strides,” Pettine said. “We are pleased with where he is, and he has shown that he has come a long way in his ability to pick up the playbook, be coachable and lead an offense. We are confident that Johnny is going to have a great future, but we just felt that Brian still had a decided edge on him.”