Today is the day we begin our annual training camp positional previews for the Cleveland Browns! Following our schedule, we will be focusing on quarterbacks for the next couple of days before moving on to the running backs/fullbacks.
Things were drastically different at the quarterback position in last year's training camp preview, which led with the headline that Brandon Weeden was the team's clear cut No. 1 quarterback, and Brian Hoyer being a third-string quarterback. Heading into this year's training camp, Weeden is playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Hoyer is the favorite to be the starter in Cleveland, and the Browns have one of the most buzz-worthy players in the NFL on their roster in rookie Johnny Manziel.
1. BRIAN HOYER - STARTING QUARTERBACK
The story of QB Brian Hoyer is an interesting one. How could a guy with just four career starts, including three starts with the Browns in 2013, be the favorite to start under center in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Hoyer's record as a starter last year goes down in the record books as him being 3-0, even though he was really only able to play in two of those games before tearing his ACL in the first quarter of the third game.
Hoyer did something that no other Browns quarterback has been able to do with regularity since returning to the league in 1999: he came through in the closing moments of the game. Against the Vikings, it was a game-winning touchdown pass to TE Jordan Cameron with under a minute to go. Against the Bengals, it was a game-sealing touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that lasted nearly seven minutes. Hoyer clearly made some mistakes, but he was also able to get inspired play from the teammates around him. People believed in him, and Hoyer presented a skill set that allowed the offense to open up the playbook. His mobility is a major asset as well.
One thing that Hoyer has in his favor is the fact that he was supposed to play a full game against the Buffalo Bills, the team that Mike Pettine was the defensive coordinator of. That means that Pettine prepared for Hoyer, and potentially had it etched in his mind just how much of a difference Hoyer made to Cleveland's offense compared to the other quarterbacks when studying film. If Hoyer ends up not being the same quarterback due to his injury, then the Browns have a very compelling quarterback waiting in the wings.
I don't expect Hoyer and Manziel to be friends -- Hoyer knows he has the opportunity of a life time at stake. An ACL injury almost derailed the dream of starting for his hometown team, but he's put in an extraordinary amount of work and preparation to get back to where he was. While the team quickly parted ways with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell this offseason, they stuck by Hoyer's side, and that was before they had drafted Manziel. My prediction is that if Hoyer is healthy, he will start the entire 2014 season.
Job Security: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. JOHNNY MANZIEL - BACKUP QUARTERBACK
I could not be happier with the effect that Johnny Manziel has had on the city of Cleveland so far. The attention that he has brought to the organization has been uplifting, especially at a time when the Josh Gordon situation is a depressing thing to think about.
Taking all of the side shows out of the equation, the only thing that will continue to make Manziel relevant long-term is if he shows he can be a damn good quarterback, and not the next Brady Quinn or Brandon Weeden disappointment (both of whom are very different players than Manziel, but were also taken in the first round at No. 22 overall).
There have been plenty of stories about the Browns' handling of Manziel and whether it's wrong to not anoint him as the starter right away, but I don't have any problem with how the organization has handled him thus far. You can either throw a quarterback into the fire right away, or let him learn for a bit before turning the reigns over. I love how the San Francisco 49ers handled Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. In terms of a playing time distribution and substitution packages, I think the Browns could handle it similarly, and it's something that the team hasn't ruled out.
Hoyer and his agent have indicated that they understand that Manziel will be "the guy" some day, and that when that happens, if other starting opportunities don't exist around the league, Hoyer would love to stay in Cleveland as the backup. There will likely be a transitional period over the next year or two. Ideally, the team will be winning during that stretch too, but die-hard Manziel fans will need to be patient and let the transition unfold in a manner that's productive for everybody -- for Manziel, his teammates, the offensive line, and the coaching staff.
Is there a chance that the transition occurs quicker than expected, meaning to start the season? Yes, but for that to happen, Manziel would have to progress so quick this training camp that he picks up the offense better than Hoyer, and Hoyer would probably also have to show a setback in mobility after his knee surgery. The odds of that happening, given what the team has already conveyed through minicamps and OTA's, is unlikely.
Job Security: A+ (at a minimum, he'll be the No. 2 quarterback)
Final Roster Odds: 100%
We are splitting up our quarterback preview into two parts -- today covered Hoyer and Manziel, and tomorrow will cover Tyler Thigpen and Connor Shaw.
Feel free to discuss your thoughts on the Browns' quarterbacks below. Our poll asks who you want to be the team's starting quarterback heading into Week 1 against the Steelers.