Neither Brian Hoyer nor Johnny Manziel emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback after disappointing performances on Monday night. But does it really matter who coach Mike Pettine picks? The answer, plus more reader mail
All along, Browns coach Mike Pettine wanted to name a quarterback entering the third week of the preseason. The third game is when all NFL teams play their first units the most all summer. In the case of a new coaching staff such as Cleveland’s, it's the best chance to get a good look at what September will hold.
Not so this preseason. The Browns got poor quarterbacking (9 of 22 combined) from the contenders for the starting job—incumbent vet Brian Hoyer and bird-flipping rookie Johnny Manziel. Coach Mike Pettine told me early this morning he hasn’t made up his mind about his starting quarterback for the Sept. 7 opener at Pittsburgh.
“I don’t know,’’ he said, not long before the Browns boarded their charter to return to Cleveland. “Neither guy really distinguished himself tonight, and we’ll have to go back and study the tape and figure out who to go with. I will lean on [offensive coordinator] Kyle Shanahan and [quarterback coach] Dowell Loggains quite a bit, because they’ve watched them every day.’’
I asked: “Do you have a gut feeling right now?”
“I don’t. I don’t,’’ said Pettine.
Who can blame Pettine? Each quarterback entering Monday night knew the starting job was on the line. Each quarterback had chances, plural, to move the team. Each quarterback was grim in doing so. In the first three quarters, Hoyer, who started, and relief pitcher Manziel had eight possessions, and they ended thusly: punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, fumble, halftime, turnover on downs.
On the ninth possession of the night, Manziel finished a 63-yard drive with a touchdown pass, but that came against the second- and third-teamers of Washington. Not conclusive.
Hoyer did nothing on the first two series of the game, and then Manziel matched that, throwing a low pass that hit the ground in front of tight end Jordan Cameron on the first series and throwing behind wideout Josh Gordon on the next possession. Pettine wanted to come away from the night convinced. Instead, he came away confused. He wouldn’t commit to anything Monday night—not when he would make his pick for starter, or whether each man would go into Week 3 of the preseason still dueling for the job.
Pettine said the two players came into the game “fairly close. Brian probably got more time early in practice with the ones, but Johnny got quite a bit. We’re going to go back and look at that, plus how they did tonight.’’
Now a couple of things about the second-half episode of Manziel flipping his middle finger in anger at the Washington bench. As much as Manziel was under a microscope at Texas A&M on and off the field, he's got to realize it's going to be more intense in the big leagues. He should assume that, when he's outside the tunnel, either on the field or on the bench during an NFL game, there's always going to be a camera focused on what he's doing. Even in the moments a TV camera isn't, a fan's smart phone might well be. So he's got to live his life with that in the back of his mind, to prevent what happened Monday night—and also to prevent one of the classic moments in the brief history of Vine: When Manziel was told by Browns PR aide Rob McBurnett that a camera had caught him making the obscene gesture and it was out there, everywhere, Manziel looked aggrieved, then ran his hand over his face as if to say, “I am such an idiot.’’
Pettine told me what he told the media after the game, that he was “disappointed’’ in Manziel and “that can't happen.’’ But he also made the point that I think is an important one. Paraphrasing: An opponent can't know the quarterback has rabbit ears. And he's right.
“Will this event have anything to do with your decision on the starting quarterback?’’ I asked.
“I wouldn't think so,'' he said. “But it will be dealt with.’’
I could see the Browns going either way, and if they go with Hoyer, they’d have him on a very short leash. I don’t see the danger in going with Manziel if the Browns think he’s ready Sept. 7—for one simple reason: He’s old beyond his years, and he won’t be so cowed by failure that it would set him back on a course to be a good quarterback in the NFL. Hoyer’s a career backup, and it’s unlikely he would be grievously wounded by losing this job.
“It’s a tough call, obviously,’’ said Pettine.
That’s why coaches in the NFL make the big money. But no matter who Pettine chooses, it’s not permanent and it’s not that big of a deal. No fan who has watched the first two preseason games would be upset that the coronation of Manziel would have to wait. The city’s already excited.
Now for your email:
ON THE SIDELINE TABLETS. You wrote, ‘The teams are not allowed to do anything with those tablets other than view still pictures and draw on the screens. No video, no internet connection.’ Without internet, how are they getting the images? I assume the tablets are jailbroken to allow custom settings? Would be quite interesting, especially given the bit of tech talk you introduced in the 49ers stadium discussion.
I am told that these particular Microsoft Surfaces are exclusive to the sidelines, and the devices operate in a closed system during games that allow photos to be transmitted from inside the stadium to the devices on the sidelines—25 of which are supplied to all NFL teams on game day as part of Microsoft's partnership with the league. As far as how the images are delivered to Surface tablets, each one is equipped solely with a proprietary ‘Sideline Viewing System’ software and connected to a secured stadium network, which allows teams to receive the images in a matter of seconds. Each tablet provides near real-time color images of each series. Compared to the previous system of printed black-and-white photos, these images on the tablets provide enhanced detail as well as the ability to zoom in and out and focus on any area of the picture, making teams more efficient and productive in making adjustments during games. Nothing else other than the photos are allowed.
MARK WANTS A TEAM IN SAN ANTONIO. You wrote: ‘The San Antonio Raiders? Puh-leeze.’ What’s with the slam on San Antonio as a pro football venue? I can tell you as an Austin native that I would LOVE to have a pro team in San Antonio so I could actually go to a game now and then. Houston and Dallas are too far for me to consider without staying the evening somewhere, whilst San Antonio is a 1.5-hour drive with moderate to heavy traffic. San Antonio, Austin, and both of their respective suburb ‘cities’ are growing much faster than Houston or Dallas. There would be more of a market than most appear to think.
It wasn’t a slam on San Antonio, and sorry if it seemed that way. It was more a slam on the ever-itinerant franchise in Oakland. There’s a hole in Los Angeles, and the league wants that hole to be filled, and it just makes the most sense to me that the Raiders fill that hole.
INTERESTING QUESTION. Hey Peter, long-time reader and have a question about something that makes me nervous. Watching preseason games, I noticed that there were advertisements being digitally displayed on the field. After a little googling, turns out this is the result of the NFL selling rights to local television stations, to which the local stations can advertise what they wish. Do you see this as a precursor to what’s coming? Perhaps slower and less obvious, like a "1st and 10" marker with a "Lexus" backing?”
—JT, San Antonio, Texas
Good question, JT. I hadn’t noticed it so far. The way I look at it is this: Does it really bother you, or make the telecast significantly worse, if the first-and-10 line is “sponsored by Lexus?’’ I don’t care, really. Maybe it is creeping commercialism, but the NFL has been a commercial entity for years, and I don’t know how the first-down line, for instance, being sponsored is going to change that appreciably.
THE VALUE OF PRESEASON FOR COACHES. Can you lend some insight into how coaching staff makes decisions on whether second-string and third-string players make the team? They may look great in preseason, but since they're playing against lesser counterparts across the line of scrimmage, it must make the decision more problematic.
—W.M., Iowa City, Iowa
There are some teams that come to training camp with a good idea of the final roster—a good idea, but not set in stone. There are other teams that go to camp with a totally open mind. Tom Coughlin, for instance, usually has some undrafted guys (Victor Cruz) emerge as camp progresses. This year, one of those players is Brock Coyle, an undrafted middle linebacker from Montana in Seattle’s camp. I saw him Monday at practice, and he’s an instinctive, small (listed as 6-2 and 245, but he appears two inches and 15 pounds smaller), intense player. When Pete Carroll says he will let the competition of camp make his roster decisions for him, he’s somewhat right. But Coyle benefits from incumbent Bobby Wagner missing time with a minor injury, and he has made a very good impression; GM John Schneider told me before practice Monday, “Watch this guy.” I did, and he flies around, and if he plays well on special teams this weekend, he’s god a good chance to find a spot on the 53-man roster. The answer to your question is that undrafted guys are at a major disadvantage, and sometimes it takes an injury to have a prayer.
YOU MUST BE LISTENING TO PETE CARROLL. I can appreciate the NFL’s desire to crack down on defensive backs. My problem is that the penalties can be fairly draconian for what may be a ticky-tack call. I think automatic first downs for defensive holding, for example are excessive. If it’s 3rd-and-20, and a minor hold results in a first down that seems like too much of an advantage for the offense. Give them 10 yards and repeat the down. Do you think there will be a move to modify some of these penalties if holding and pass-interference infractions continue at a high rate?
I have wondered this for years, Kevin. I wish the Competition Committee would be willing to change the spot-foul calls. And I wish they would add the monstrous, game-changing pass-interference calls, which, on third-and-long, so often are too advantageous to the offense. Thanks for writing.