It finally looks like the Browns have a real quarterback competition.
Rookie Johnny Manziel practiced with the starting offense Monday for the first time since the Browns drafted him 22nd overall on May 8. Manziel was exclusively with the first-team offense, and veteran Brian Hoyer spent the entire practice with the second unit.
But coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer will likely start Saturday night in the preseason opener at Detroit.
"I would still say that’s true [that Hoyer will start], but I can’t say it’s 100 percent at this point," Pettine said. "But I would still say there’s a more than reasonable chance he’ll be the starter against Detroit. That had been the plan. I just want to confirm with [quarterbacks coach] Dowell [Loggains] and [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] and see where they are with it."
The Browns plan to place Hoyer back with the first-team offense at some point this week before the exhibition opener.
"Probably more day to day at this point," Pettine said of Manziel taking reps with the starters. "I don't think we'll do this for the entire week, and then we'll meet at some point midweek to discuss how we want to handle the reps in the Detroit game."
So who'll take the snaps with the starters Tuesday?
"I’m not sure," Pettine said. "[The offensive coaches] wrote it out on their board. I’m not sure how they’re planning on doing it. I do know it’ll be a mix this week."
Pettine said giving Manziel first-team reps was in the works all along.
“It’s just part of our plan,” Pettine said. “We said we were going to allow the quarterbacks to compete. At some point, you’ve got to mix up the supporting cast a little bit. It’s all part of it.”
Pettine declined to evaluate the performances of Manziel and Hoyer in Monday's practice because he wanted to watch the film first.
Manziel completed 6-of-17 passes with one interception in team drills, according to the Beacon Journal's unofficial account. Two of Manziel's passes were dropped by his targets and another two were broken up by defenders.
Hoyer completed 11-of-22 passes, including a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown by undrafted rookie receiver Willie Snead. One of Hoyer's passes was dropped by his intended receiver and four were broken up be defenders.
Hoyer had the better day Monday, but Manziel had the upper hand Saturday in the Family Day scrimmage at the University of Akron.
Excluding red-zone drills, Manziel completed 3-of-7 passes for 14 yards with runs of 9 and 5 yards in 11-on-11 sessions. Those numbers aren't impressive and both of Manziel's series were against the second-team defense, but he did throw two passes that should've gone for touchdowns.
On first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Manziel threw a dart to receiver Charles Johnson in the front of the end zone, but he dropped the ball when rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert ran into him. Earlier, on first-and-goal from the 9, Manziel rolled to his right and connected with tight end Gary Barnidge in the back right corner of the end zone, but the officials ruled Barnidge caught the pass out of bounds.
Upon further review, Pettine said it should've been a touchdown.
"We would've thrown the [challenge] flag on the one Barnidge catch, and I think somebody had video from the stands that confirmed that he had two feet in when he caught the ball," Pettine said. "That was pointed out to me by our offensive guys yesterday."
On the other hand, Hoyer completed 7-of-11 passes for 56 yards in team drills other than the red-zone periods during the scrimmage. He faced the first-team defense in two series and the second unit in another series.
But Pettine said Manziel didn't earn the starting reps with his performance in the scrimmage.
"We had talked about [giving him reps with the starters] beforehand, but didn't really put it in stone," Pettine said. "It was not a result of anything that happened in the scrimmage."
"I think both quarterbacks took steps [in the scrimmage]. I thought they both played to their skill set. I thought Johnny did a good job making some plays with his feet, keeping plays alive, and Brian I thought showed some poise in the pocket and stepped into some throws. Let's not forget, that he's a guy coming off of a [torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right] knee, and that was really the first true live work that he had gotten. So I thought that was good work for him as well."
Pettine insisted Manziel's first-string reps are not a reflection on anything Hoyer has or hasn't done since training camp opened July 26.
"No, not at all," Pettine said. "It's just something we wanted to work them both in, and it's part of our process."
Still, there's no doubt the Browns have seen Manziel progress since camp began.
"The playbook stuff, the repetition, calling the plays in the huddle," Pettine said of the areas in which Manziel has improved. "And then not just being able to call the play, but understanding what his reads are, where to go with the ball."
Pettine has committed to naming a starting quarterback before the third preseason game Aug. 23 against St. Louis. He'll lean on the expertise of Loggains and Shanahan when making the call.
"Yeah, absolutely, that will be a committee decision," Pettine said. "We’ll meet together. I’m not an expert [on quarterbacks], but I also feel like I’m in charge of the big picture. We’ll formulate a plan, not just with quarterback, but with all positions, that we feel gives us the best chance to win."
So far, neither Manziel nor Hoyer has seized control and ran away with the starting job, and Pettine said he's not disappointed about it, either.
"They’re both competing and they’re both doing what they’re supposed to be doing," Pettine said. "It would be hard for there to be a clear-cut guy ahead anyway, when they’re both being efficient in their play when they’re in there."