BEREA — In the Great Quarterback Competition of 2014, every throw is evaluated, every sentence parsed and every action analyzed.
Incumbent Brian Hoyer took all of the first-team repetitions on a rainy Monday after starting the preseason opener Saturday. Rookie coach Mike Pettine answered affirmatively that means Hoyer’s still in front in the battle with rookie Johnny Manziel.
“Yeah. Nothing’s changed,” Pettine said. “If there was a significant change on the depth chart, it would be reflected on the field.”
Hoyer said the same thing he’s been saying since the spring.
“To me, this is my team until someone tells me otherwise. Come out here and just try to be the best quarterback I can,” he said.
That message hasn’t been delivered, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Pettine said Sunday there was no “clear-cut favorite,” and Manziel has been closing fast, including an intriguing debut Saturday against the Lions.
Pettine said Monday both quarterbacks will get practice reps with the first team this week, but he hasn’t decided on a starter for Monday night’s game in Washington and won’t for a few days. A Manziel start would give him game reps with the first team, offering a more even comparison with Hoyer.
That’s not reason enough for Pettine.
“To me, if you’re going to put a guy in a starting role, that needs to be earned,” he said.
What does Manziel have to do in the next few days to earn the start, and give ESPN its desired Manziel-Robert Griffin III matchup?
“Just continue to master his craft,” Pettine said. “Run the offense. Be efficient. I don’t think there’s any one thing, like it’s a tangible thing where you can say if he does this then this will happen.”
Pettine wants to name his starter before the third preseason game so the debate stops and the first unit has time together to prepare for the regular season. That raises the stakes for the next four practices and especially Monday night against the Redskins.
“I’m approaching them the same way,” Manziel said. “I think I need to just continue to learn, continue to absorb everything I can in this short amount of time, and at the end of the day, it’s just play football. Go out and go through your reads and execute and move the ball down the field and score points.
“I think whoever does that the best obviously is going to have a better chance at the end of the day.”
Manziel insisted he isn’t worried about still being on the second team, and said he isn’t even hoping for the start in Washington.
“I hope to do whatever the coaches tell me to do,” he said. “I’m continuing to get the reps that I’m given and go through those and make the most out of every opportunity that I have when I’m in there.”
Neither quarterback had a strong day in the rain. Hoyer went 5-for-15 with a touchdown and two interceptions in team drills, while Manziel couldn’t maintain his momentum with a 4-for-14, one-touchdown, one-fumble, two-sack performance. It was a letdown after what Pettine described as “solid” debuts Saturday.
“I felt like for the most part I went to the right spot with the ball, tried to get to some checkdowns and try and work through my progressions, (which) I’m still getting better at,” said Manziel, who was 7-for-11 for 63 yards and rushed six times for 27 yards versus the Lions. “I thought it was a good starting point and took a lot away from the first game.
“The more and more the clutter gets out, the more and more that I just go out and snap the ball and don’t have to worry about anything, about going through my reads, and being extremely decisive.”
Hoyer was 6-for-14 for 92 yards and knew exactly what he did wrong.
“There are a few reads I’d like to read differently,” he said.
And a couple of high throws he’d like back, including an incompletion for receiver Josh Gordon over the middle.
“He was so open I was trying to really rush it and I rushed into it,” Hoyer said. “I have to be more patient, be more quiet with my feet and just step in and throw it.”
An inevitability of an unsettled situation is questions to teammates about the quarterbacks. Safety Donte Whitner sparked a minor dustup in an answer to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King after the game.
“It’s been fierce,” Whitner said of the competition. “Two guys fighting for their lives. It’s close. I’d say (the locker room) is split about 50-50. We know they both can play.”
Tight end Jordan Cameron was asked about the accuracy of Whitner’s comment.
“Divided might not be the right word,” he said. “That has a negative connotation to me. It’s not a negative thing.
“I don’t worry about what other players really think about the competition. Whoever’s the best player is going to play and that’s all that really matters. Nothing else to say about it.”
Hoyer said he’s not concerned about Whitner’s unscientific poll.
“Because for me, I’m always going out there trying to prove to those guys that I am the guy, so I’ve just got to continue to improve and play better,” he said. “I think you always want to go out and earn your teammates’ respect and I did a little bit of that last year and now I’m just trying to build that back up this year.”
Manziel doesn’t sense a split among teammates.
“I don’t feel any rift like that or anything going on in the locker room,” he said. “I think they see two guys coming out, playing football and competing.”
The opinions of the players don’t matter. Pettine will have the pressure of picking the Week 1 starter, with plenty of input from coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.
“I think it’s important to take their input,” Pettine said. “I’m just not going to make a decision based on what I feel. If it’s unanimous, then that’s easy. But if there’s a tie that has to be broken, I’ll do it.”