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Browns trending upward, but Manziel or Hoyer must take the reins at QB

Browns trending upward, but Manziel or Hoyer must take the reins at QB Photo:

DETROIT -- This was only the beginning.

More than 50,000 fans, a noticeable smattering of them sporting "MANZIEL" apparel, filed into Ford Field on Saturday night and a national-TV audience tuned in elsewhere. They wanted Johnny Football. They wanted to see what the Browns' enigmatic and exciting rookie quarterback could do in an NFL offense, after months of speculating.  

He finally got his shot midway through the second quarter, in relief of starter Brian Hoyer

At times, he was quite good. At others, he looked off his game. What comes next is anyone's guess -- after his team's 13-12 loss, Cleveland coach Mike Pettine would not even confirm that Manziel will start next week against Washington, as had been reported earlier. 

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This was but the first tiny step in Manziel's career arc. And he has a long way to go.

"It's all about getting better," Manziel said. "If I'm the guy who puts this team in the best position to win, then we'll see what happens. At the end of the day, I want to do what's best for the Cleveland Browns."

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What is best for the Browns depends on who is best for the Browns at the quarterback position. Hoyer entered the game with at least a slight edge in the race, hence his start, but he completed just 6-of-14 passes and committed a couple of unforced errors. Manziel was more efficient yet less productive through the air, at 7-of-11 for 63 yards (Hoyer finished with 92), but also led the Browns in rushing with 27 yards.

So which guy is ahead in the race to be Cleveland's Week 1 starter?

"I can't speak on that until we watch the tape," Pettine said.

Perhaps he will see something during that replay to separate Hoyer from Manziel or vice versa. On the surface, it was difficult to determine a winner in Round 1 of this QB battle. 

In his first game back since his 2013 season ended with an unfortunate knee injury, Hoyer appeared comfortable rolling out of the pocket and looking downfield. He was less effective when he actually set to fire, sailing an early pass over the head of Josh Gordon and then repeating his mistake later to Andrew Hawkins.

"There were a few I'd like to have back," Hoyer said later. "But I don't chalk that up to nerves or anything like that. My footwork was off on a couple of throws."

A so-so showing from Hoyer may be all it takes in the end to push Manziel fully into the limelight, whether he is all the way ready or not. Manziel's night began in less than fortuitous fashion as well, a decision to keep the ball on a 3rd-and-1 backfiring when the Lions swarmed him for no gain. Later, he converted a 4th-and-1 by juking a defender after a play-action bootleg, though he also appeared to miss a wide open receiver beyond the marker.

"I want to move the ball down the field," Manziel explained when asked why he ran as much as he did. "It was a good start. You have to start somewhere and set a foundation."

Right, that's it. You have to start somewhere. You cannot jump right to the finish line without running the race. The Browns are just getting onto the track. 

They set the wheels in motion on what they believe will be a new and more successful era by clearing house after the 2013 season, hiring Pettine as their new head coach, then drafting Manziel and CB Justin Gilbert (who sat out Saturday) in Round 1 of the draft. Still, no one believes that this is an overnight fix. Pettine even expressed a little frustration Saturday that he feels a little behind schedule, due to injuries and other factors.

Settling the quarterback position would help push this project forward.

"I think a lot of guys are getting different looks, even through practice," Manziel said. "Whether it's with the ones, the twos, whatever ... I think guys are doing a good job and continuing to get more and more comfortable as the weeks go on."

Pettine has said that he wants his starting QB in place before the third preseason game, leaving less than two weeks to make that call. Without question, the Browns would have been thrilled to see either Hoyer or Manziel deliver a gem in Detroit, throwing down the proverbial gauntlet and staking claim to the gig.

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Neither really did.

But this was Hoyer's first game back on the field and Manziel's first NFL game, period. It was the first time offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has called plays for those two in a live game, and the first chance for Pettine to establish his style as a head coach. 

There are going to be growing pains, perhaps even a lot of them. Job one is picking a quarterback, then trying to build from there.

This was only the beginning. 

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