Browns bobbled Hoyer-Manziel duel

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BEREA, Ohio -- Browns receiver Nate Burleson looked in Brian Hoyer's eyes and saw what he describes as a "want to" and a "need to" from the local boy trying to make good. It happened sometime Wednesday after coach Mike Pettine informed the team that Hoyer would be the starting quarterback for the Sept. 7 season opener at Pittsburgh.

Want to is fine. Need to is even better. But "ability to" is even more important. And through the first two weeks of the preseason, Hoyer has given no indication he's capable of leading the Browns to their first winning season in seven years. Still, he will take the field against the Steelers because rookie first-round pick Johnny Manziel has yet to absorb the offense. His mind is moving faster than his feet, preventing him from playing with decisiveness and confidence.

The image of Hoyer behind center shouldn't be comforting for Browns fans. Coach Mike Pettine said he put the job up for grabs and rotated the quarterbacks with the first team because he wanted to see how they performed in pressure situations. Hoyer completed only 40 percent of his passes and failed to lead a touchdown drive.

We can debate the merits of the selection, but there's no denying the process was handled awkwardly, at best. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising considering it involved a rookie coach, a first-year general manager (Ray Farmer) and a relatively new owner (Jimmy Haslam).

That's not a knock on the men; I truly believe Pettine and Famer have the goods to one day lead the Browns out of the darkness. But growing pains aren't limited to inexperienced players. For all their good intentions, the trio created a circus-like environment that devolved into a worst-case scenario of one quarterback showing he isn't ready to play and the other showing, for the time being, he'll buckle under pressure.

"I know there are a lot of different ways to do it; this is the way that we chose," Pettine said. "Ultimately, we're all judged on wins and losses, but as far as coming up with a plan, formulating the plan, executing it in terms of this is how we want to do it -- I feel confident with it. I'm not going to sit here and say I regret doing it at this point."

There's a saying among veteran coaches that you never make a decision until you have to -- and you definitely don't paint yourself into a corner by announcing a deadline for doing so. By creating the perception that Manziel had closed on Hoyer and legitimately was competing for the No. 1 job early in camp, it excited the fan base and heightened expectations, setting up the lightning-rod rookie for a fall. It also potentially provided critics with the ammunition to accuse Manziel of "failing" -- or at the very least giving them cause to say teams were justified in passing on him in the draft.

The decision to split snaps with the first unit in games and practice also hindered the offense's ability to develop cohesion. The Browns appeared to be trying to run one offense for Hoyer behind center and from the pocket, and another for Manziel from the Pistol, where he could get on the perimeter or slip through creases in passing lanes.

The wiser move would have been to have Hoyer take all the first-team reps while Manziel took all the second-team snaps. If Manziel subsequently showed enough progress or promise to work with the starters, then give him a limited number of reps with the ones. However, it was clear, even to the untrained eye, that Manziel was struggling to handle the verbiage, read progressions and protection calls in games, none of which should come as a surprise considering they're so different from his college experience.

Bottom line, drama was created unnecessarily. And Browns fans are left with a starting quarterback who's the lesser of two evils.

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