(USA TODAY) Johnny Manziel will have to wait to become the 21st starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns since 1999.
The Browns announced Wednesday morning veteran Brian Hoyer will be the team's starting quarterback in the season opener Sept. 7 against Pittsburgh, at least temporarily ending the league's most interesting, if not ugly, quarterback battle.
"He was the clear leader from the beginning," Pettine said in a statement. "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room."
Neither Hoyer nor Manziel looked much like a guy ready to be a starting quarterback in two preseason game's worth of action. But with Pettine wanting to start getting his team ready for the regular season, he went with the safer pick, and that was Hoyer, the player most expected to win the job all along.
Johnny Manziel will begin the season on the bench. When he plays depends on how Hoyer does.
Hoyer, a Cleveland-area native, started three games for the Browns last year -- and the Browns won all three -- before he suffered a torn ACL in October. He was the only one of the Browns quarterbacks from last season to remain on the roster when Pettine's staff arrived. He remained atop the quarterback depth chart all spring and summer, even after the Browns used a first-round pick on Manziel, the enigmatic former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M.
Hoyer's lead on Manziel started as a substantial one, but waned in recent weeks as Manziel grew more familiar with the Browns' offense, one that was so significantly different than what he ran in college.
"He was the clear leader from the beginning," Pettine said. "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room."
Manziel began to cut into Hoyer's first-team snaps by early August and was the better quarterback, though not by much, in the team's first preseason game against Detroit last week.
Still, even after Hoyer went 2-for-6, for just 16 yards Monday in Washington, Pettine decided Hoyer had done nothing to lose the job to Manziel.
"He's certainly made great strides," Pettine said of Manziel. "We are pleased with where he is, and he has shown that he has come a long way in his ability to pick up the playbook, be coachable and lead an offense. We are confident that Johnny is going to have a great future, but we just felt that Brian still had a decided edge on him."
In Hoyer, Pettine picked the more mature player, a guy who earned respect in the locker room during his brief stint as starter last season.
Perhaps Pettine's rush to name a starter comes from the need to settle on a consistent first-team offense in order to start to see some offensive improvement after a pretty dismal August.
The unit has been in flux all preseason, with the two quarterbacks cycling in and out, with No. 1 wide receiver Josh Gordon spending some time with the backups while he awaits a suspension, with tight end Jordan Cameron missing some practice time with a shoulder injury, with veteran receiver Nate Burleson sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury, all while trying to install Kyle Shanahan's new offense
The result has been ugly, no matter which quarterback was playing.
Hoyer and the starters failed to score a touchdown in a scrimmage against the Browns' defense earlier this month, and they were shut out again last week in the preseason opener at Detroit.
Hoyer's only scoring drive of the preseason came Monday in Washington -- but even that was misleading. The Browns defense gave Hoyer the ball at Washington's 15 yard line, but the offense gained only four yards, and Hoyer's third-down throw to the end zone to Andrew Hawkins was off target, and the Browns settled for a 29-yard field goal.
Hoyer has said repeatedly that becoming the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback is his dream job after growing up in North Olmsted, Ohio, and going to Browns games before the team left the city in 1996. Manziel might be the fan favorite, but Hoyer is the hometown boy.
But he'll need to play much better -- and do it soon — for this feel-good story to pan out.
Now Hoyer will have two full weeks to work with the first-team offensive line, to try to improve his timing with Cameron and Hawkins and Miles Austin, as they prepare for weeks (or longer) without Gordon, and should get to play into the third quarter next week against St. Louis.
Clearly, he and the Browns offense need that work.