AFC North: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns announced prior to Thursday night's preseason finale that Andrew Hawkins will start at the receiver spot vacated by the suspension of Josh Gordon. Hawkins joins Miles Austin in the starting lineup. When Hawkins was signed, it was projected he'd be the third receiver and usually line up in the slot to take advantage of matchups. But with Nate Burleson sidelined for so much of the preseason, Hawkins gets the start against the Chicago Bears.

Burleson will get his first preseason game action.

The Browns also announced that four cornerbacks are among those who will not play. That list includes DL Desmond Bryant (wrist), DB Pierre Desir (knee), DB Joe Haden (foot), LB Eric Martin (concussion), DB Buster Skrine (thumb) and DB Isaiah Trufant (knee).

First-round draft pick Justin Gilbert and Leon McFadden will start at cornerback.

BEREA, Ohio -- Mike Pettine listed several positions he will be watching with great interest during the preseason finale against Chicago.

Pettine’s philosophy on building a roster is not to lock himself into numbers at each position, but to go in with a minimum needed at each spot, then fill in with the best players.

“What’s the absolute minimum we have to have at this position to function?” Pettine said. “Then, I think that puts you in a position to go ahead and build from there to go ahead and take the best players. You don’t want to cut a guy just because you’re heavy at one position.”

The positions he will be watching shake out this way:

The last part of the NFL’s statement on the suspension of Josh Gordon provides a glimmer of hope that the Cleveland Browns' super-talented wide receiver might not miss the 2015 training camp.

Gordon’s “suspension” has been viewed as a one-year ban for one calendar year. By the letter of the law, that means Gordon could not return to the Browns until Aug. 27, 2015.

Gordon
Gordon
However, the league provided a tiny shred of hope to Gordon and his future with the Browns by stating the following in its release:

"Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season."

The release also states that Gordon is being suspended “for the 2014 NFL season,” which is not a calendar year.

This would indicate quite clearly -- imagine the layers of lawyers who went over the statement's two paragraphs -- that Gordon could be reinstated before training camp next summer, and perhaps even for offseason work. His absence then would be more similar to a season-ending injury rather than one that drags into the following season.

Nothing is certain.

Asked to clarify the statement, a league spokesman said the league would not elaborate.

So ... there’s that.

But the fact that that statement is included in the release indicates the league will at least consider the fact that the decision took until just before the final preseason game, and it should not affect 2015.

Gordon’s apology and statement that he hoped the league would have used better judgment indicated he knows his hopes for playing this season are slim.

But the league’s statement gives a tiny ray of hope for 2015.


BEREA, Ohio -- Brian Hoyer insists there is not great cause for concern with the Cleveland Browns' offense.

He knows things have looked bad and there have been struggles, but he also said after watching the film that there were some good things in the 33-14 loss to St. Louis.

“If we just sucked, then I think we’d be down on ourselves,” Hoyer said Tuesday as the team looks ahead to the preseason finale Thursday against Chicago. “I think we realize what we can be.”

Hoyer
Problem is, it hasn't been seen yet. The first team has one touchdown in three games, and the Browns have been outscored 70-49 in three losses.

It is preseason, but this also is a team with a new and complex offense learning on the fly -- a team that until a week ago had a quarterback competition, and a team that has lost 10 games in each of the last six seasons.

Even with preseason being about evaluating and assessing players and positions, winning should never be taken for granted when losing has been so pervasive.

Hoyer, though, said the offense is not “down on ourselves.”

“I think the most frustrating part is that we do do some things really well,” he said, “and then we shoot ourselves in the foot.”

The first-team offense has scored 16 points in its playing offense -- all on possessions with Hoyer at quarterback. Those 16 points came on 15 possessions. The only touchdown came on a late two-minute drive against the Rams.

There have been turnovers, missed throws and some serious struggles -- with only six passes that gained at least 15 yards. Hoyer said the team runs the play called no matter what the defense is doing, but clearly the Browns would like some better production.

Because they need the time, coach Mike Pettine will play the starters up to a quarter Thursday, a game normally reserved for reserves.

Hoyer, though, is not ready to say he and the starters need a positive experience from the fourth game. Just that they want one.

“I don’t think there will be any kind of hangover, whether it’s positive or negative, going into the regular season,” he said. “I think it’s a whole new ballgame when that comes around.”

That’s not a new statement from a Browns player at this point of preseason.

The hope in Cleveland would simply be that Hoyer is the guy who is finally right about it.
The Cleveland Browns trimmed their roster to 76 players on Tuesday. Teams have to get down to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Most significant move: The release of wide receiver Anthony Armstrong isn't exactly a shock, but it does show where the Browns are when it comes to the wide receiver position as they await word on the suspension of Josh Gordon. Armstrong is a veteran with knowledge of Kyle Shanahan's offense, and he stood out in shorts in the OTAs and minicamp. But in training camp he leveled off, and as time went on it was evident he was not going to be a major contributor. The development of a young player like Taylor Gabriel made this decision easy.

Running away: Running back Edwin Baker started at the end of the 2013 season, but he didn't make it past the first cuts in Cleveland. That's a sign of the way the Browns viewed the running backs of last season, and of the reality that they have added Terrance West through the draft. Baker's cup of coffee in Cleveland might, though, give him a chance with another team.

What’s next: The decision on Gordon lingers. The Browns' final two moves took the roster to 76, which indicates the team expects -- or at least hopes -- to hear something before the deadline (a few hours away as of this writing). A suspension of Gordon would take care of that last spot.

Browns moves: Waived DB Royce Adams, RB Edwin Baker, OL Randall Harris, DB T.J. Heath, DL Cam Henderson, WR Jonathan Krause, OL Ryan Lee, LB Caleb McSurdy, OL Keavon Milton, LB Keith Pough, WR Tim Smith, OL Jeremiah Warren, TE Martell Webb. Contract terminated: WR Anthony Armstrong. Placed on injured reserve: OL Michael Bowie, LB Darius Eubanks.

CLEVELAND -- They were the two most talked about prospects entering the NFL draft -- quarterback Johnny Manziel because of his rock star persona, defensive end Michael Sam because he of his potential to become the first openly gay player in league history. Saturday night they met on the field before the game, and then twice during it, with Sam dropping his former college counterpart twice for sacks.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that when Sam sacked Manziel on Saturday night at an inconsequential point in an inconsequential game -- with just less than 11 minutes to play and the St. Louis leading 26-14 -- it produced more interest than a similar play at a similar moment in another game would produce. How Twitter survived it might make for an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries."

Sam added a second sack of Manziel on the final play of the game. “He’s a talented kid,” Sam said. “He isn’t called Johnny Football for nothing. It was fun getting to play against Manziel in an NFL game. I sacked him as both a junior and senior at Missouri.”

"The guy goes through a lot of stuff, so he gets heckled by everybody I’m sure, so he came up to me and said hello,” Manziel said of the pregame meeting. "It was a brief interaction. I thought he played pretty well.”

Observation deck: Cleveland Browns

August, 24, 2014
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CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns appeared to get out of their preseason home opener with no major injuries. So much for the good news.

Everything else was pretty much a dud for the starters, as the St. Louis Rams dominated en route to a 33-14 victory in FirstEnergy Stadium.

All was not lost, though. The return game had flashes of brilliance and Johnny Manziel excited the crowd of 61,663 by scrambling for a 7-yard score and flashing the money sign.

Other observations of the 0-3 Browns:
  • In his first outing since being named the starter, QB Brian Hoyer improved on his previous two outings, but that amounts to damning with faint praise. With the exception of a touchdown drive against backups to end the first half, Hoyer was largely dismal. He threw an interception on a short crossing route to a linebacker standing ... directly ... in ... front ... of ... him. How he didn’t see Alec Ogletree is one of the great mysteries, since Hoyer basically stared at him the entire route. He came back to throw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Hawkins, but instead of coach Mike Pettine ending his starter’s evening on a high note, he sent Hoyer out to start the second half. And Hoyer promptly was sacked from behind and fumbled away the football. He finished the evening 10 of 16 passing for 84 yards, a touchdown and two turnovers. “I think we’re all just trying to come along together,” said Hoyer, who finished 10 of 16 passing for 84 yards, a touchdown and two turnovers. “As an offense, you have to be on teh same page, and there obviously were some plays out there where we weren’t. It’s going to come. That’s what the preseason is for, to work out those kinks. We will get better. I don’t doubt that.”
  • Manziel, in his first outing as the official backup, came on midway through the third quarter and converted a takeaway into a four-play, 14-yard drive that culminated with him scrambling the final 7 yards for the score. He finished 10-of-15 passing for 85 yards and no turnovers. He was sacked twice by Michael Sam.Asked about the possibility of a two-quarterback system this year -- something Pettine admitted is a possibility -- Manziel said: “I feel like any way I can help contribute to this team, whether it’s looking at a certain coverage, looking at something during the game, or getting in and having a certain package during the game, just anything that I can do to help this offense to win games -- that’s the position I’m in and that’s all I really want to do.”
  • The starting defense -- which was without two potential starting cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, as well as end Desmond Bryant -- struggled to get off the field on third down, allowing the Rams to convert on 7 of 10 opportunities in the first half alone. Rookie corner Justin Gilbert had a rough night, the lows including chunk gains allowed to Kenny Britt and Brian Quick and a missed tackle on Chris Givens that turned an underneath route into a 75-yard score. “I went for a strip and I didn’t get it,” he said. “I should’ve wrapped up and tackled him instead of trying to strip him.”

    One high was he knocked the ball from Stedman Bailey’s hands on what appeared to be a sure touchdown in the end zone.

    Overall, the defensive performance was disappointing because Pettine had talked during the week about giving the Dawg Pound something to get excited about. But the unit struggled to stop third-string QB Austin Davis, who took over roughly four minutes into the second quarter and played the rest of the way -- after starter Sam Bradford suffered a left knee injury in the opening quarter and backup Shaun Hill was pulled after two series presumably to avoid the risk of injury.

    “Third-and-long, that should be something where a good defense will dominate, and that’s where we took a step backwards tonight,” Pettine said. “I thought in other games we’ve been better on third down and we just couldn’t make a play on third down to get off the field. They did a good job of executing, but we were poor. We weren’t very smart. There were a couple of times where we didn’t play more to the sticks, didn’t play the situation very well, and we let them make a play and we didn’t. It was frustrating.”
  • Standout wideout Josh Gordon was scratched from the starting lineup so the team could work other players in case Gordon loses his appeal of a one-year suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. The plan was to work him in later, but Gordon didn’t take a snap because “he was dealing with something medically,” Pettine said. “As the game went on he probably felt like he was tightening up a little bit, so we decided not to put him out there.”
  • The return game was a bright spot for the Browns, who got a 45-yard kickoff return from Marlon Moore and a 37-yarder from Taylor Gabriel. Both showed good speed, vision and decisiveness.
BEREA, Ohio -- For all the attention being paid to the struggles of the Cleveland Browns' quarterbacks this preseason, it should be noted that the wide receivers haven’t given them much help or performed much better.

There have been dropped passes, routes ran at the wrong depth, cuts made at improper angles and, in the case of Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon last Monday, an apparent lack of interest and effort in the game.

The play of the wideouts will be a focal point Saturday night when the Browns (0-2) meet the St. Louis Rams (0-2) in their exhibition home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium. Coach Mike Pettine wants to see more urgency and greater efficiency from a group that remains a major question mark as the season approaches.

[+] EnlargeGordon
David Dermer/Getty ImagesIt seems very likely that the Browns won't have All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon in the lineup when the regular season begins.
“I think it’s a big night for them,” Pettine said. “We’ll see who can step up and make some plays. I talked about how the NFL is all about being productive and making plays. The third game is typically one that’s game-planned a little bit. It’s as close to the regular season as you’re going to see. I think we’re all looking forward to the guys going out there and competing.”

With the quarterback position resolved, wide receiver is now the most unsettled position on the team. Gordon, who led the NFL in yards receiving last season, is appealing a year-long suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, but it's likely that he won’t be available, at least in the early part of the season. Veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson were signed in the offseason, but Burleson has yet to play because of a strained hamstring and the team has been limiting Austin’s snaps in hopes of keeping him healthy after hamstring injuries slowed the former Dallas Cowboy in two of the past three seasons.

Andrew Hawkins, a free-agent signee from Cincinnati, has been able to create separation from the slot, but timing has been an issue between himself and the quarterbacks. Then there are several youngsters fighting for spots, including rookie free agent Taylor Gabriel, who leads the Browns with six catches in the preseason.

Excluding Gordon, Austin and Hawkins, the battle for playing time -- and, presumably roster spots -- is “wide open,” according to Pettine. The Browns plan to build the offense around the running game, which means it’s imperative for the receivers to deliver when their number is called.

There’s a strong likelihood that the Browns' receivers will see a lot of one-on-one coverage because defenses figure to move a safety near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. At that point it comes down to execution and chemistry, which is why these final two exhibition games are so important for Cleveland.

Neither Austin nor Burleson would use the quarterback rotation between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel as an excuse for the receivers’ struggles to date -- “We still have to get to the same spot, regardless of who’s throwing the ball,” Austin said -- but they acknowledged there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of hearing the same voice calling a play, barking the cadence and delivering the football.

Austin doesn’t try to run from the reality that this is a big season for him. Since back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009-10, he has struggled with injuries. He had only 579 receiving yards in 2011, then after a bounce-back 2012 season with 943, he had only 244 receiving yards in 11 games last year.

“Every year is a big year, but 100 (percent) this one is,” he said. “One, it’s important for me to stay healthy. Thankfully I’ve been feeling good and running well. Now I’m trying to get the offense. Hearing it called in the huddle is a lot different from the terms that we used in Dallas. Routes are slightly different that I ran. My own assessment of myself is that I need to play faster and feel more comfortable hearing the call and jumping out to any position. I understand what my job is, but I’m not yet comfortable with what the full range of options is. I mean, I know where the holes are in the defense, but do you get to the hole now or are we waiting a little while to hit it? Small details like that and getting down the playbook are things I continue to work on.”

Burleson, a 12-year veteran, isn’t prepared to overreact to the passing game’s slow start.

“I’ve been in preseasons where I played terrible and thought to myself: ‘This might not be my year,’ and I balled out (during the regular season),” he said. “Then I’ve been in preseasons where I was ‘The Man.’ I’m thinking I’m the next Randy Moss, leading the league in all kinds of categories. Then we start the season and I’m terrible. As long as you’re building to something, which is creating team chemistry and getting everybody on the same page, preseason will be quickly wiped from people’s memories.”
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BEREA, Ohio -- This was not exactly a quarterback competition that inspired belief.

But at least it's over. That alone is a positive step for the Cleveland Browns.

Naming Brian Hoyer the Browns' starter Wednesday heading into the regular season fills three large needs:
  • It allows Hoyer to concentrate on preparing, which is what he does best. He can focus on the regular season, prepare to play and forget the competition.
  • It allows Johnny Manziel to take a step back, assess where he is and concentrate on learning the nuances and finer points of an NFL offense. Rex Grossman is there to help.
  • It ends this competition that seemed to be strangling the life out of both players. Coach Mike Pettine had good and logical reasons for doing things the way he did, but in the end, this one was turning south in a hurry. It needed to end.

Naming Hoyer the starter makes sense. He didn't play great in either preseason game, but he did have some good practices when more often than not he seemed better prepared and suited than Manziel to run this offense. That would seem to indicate he was pressing in games.

Freed from the weight of trying to win a job and instead playing just to win a game, Hoyer can relax and -- the Browns hope -- revert to the form he showed last season.

Hoyer's play against Washington was, by his own admission, embarrassing.

He needs to be better, not miss an open receiver in the end zone, not force throws and not rush them. He's at his best when he's prepared, on time and decisive.

It's up to him to live up to the faith and belief Pettine has shown in him. It's up to him to play well.

Manziel brings the hype and the attitude and the did-he-really-do-that college stats. But he was behind in grasping the offense. And it showed in practice, it showed in Washington and -- despite some illogical praise that came his way after the game -- it showed in Detroit.

He's at the point where he makes one read and runs.

If the Browns wanted to run a fast-paced offense like Manziel ran at Texas A&M, he might be ready to play. Instead, the Browns are running a verbiage-heavy, structured system.

Debate all you want whether that takes away Manziel's strengths. It's what the Browns are doing.

Kyle Shanahan repeatedly has said NFL defenses quickly will realize what a quarterback does well and take that away. Shanahan also said Manziel's strength -- his elusiveness -- could become his greatest weakness.

Manziel no doubt finds himself in an uncomfortable spot being the backup. It's understandable. But it also allows him the chance to grow and learn and get better while he waits. It's a chance too many Browns quarterbacks before him didn't have, and they suffered because of it.

Hoyer had done so much right as he came back from his knee injury. He attacked his rehab, begged to be let loose in the offseason and studied the new playbook like mad.

But the drafting of Manziel was a game-changer for him, and he showed he felt the pressure that goes with being the guy who has to hold off the phenom. It's a tough spot, especially for someone trying to lead his hometown team. He didn't exactly thrive in the fishbowl, but he has survived.

Theoretically, the Browns now could have the best of two worlds.

If Hoyer can channel what Tom Brady taught him and win one or two or three games before the bye, the outcry for Manziel will cease. The team will be able to just go play, Hoyer will be able to relax, Manziel can soak in knowledge and the team will be winning.

If Hoyer doesn't get things together and the Browns don't win, well, Manziel is there, ready and waiting and, hopefully by the time he plays, able.

The best-case scenario for the Browns? That the 22nd name in the draft isn't added to that quarterback jersey in Tennessee the week after the team's bye.
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It’s not fair to make too much out of Johnny Manziel’s gesture to the Washington Redskins' bench.

Manziel
It’s a gesture many have used.

But it is fair to say it matters, and it should matter. The Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback did what he did in a nationally televised game with many watching to see how he played. Coach Mike Pettine explained why it matters to him.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Pettine said. “We talk about ‘Play like a Brown.’ We want our guys to act like a Brown. We want to be a first-class organization. We have hundreds, thousands of kids who have come to our training camp practices. That type of behavior is unacceptable.”

Spot on.

Pettine then added something that is obvious about the camera-ready Manziel: “He should know more than anyone that all eyes are on him.”

Manziel will be fined and life will go on. His teammates will rally around him.

But it matters.

And here’s why.

Manziel plays in a city that raised Jesse Owens, who went on to win gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler.

He plays in a city that was home to Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League who dealt with constant and bitter racism.

He plays in a city that was home to Jim Brown, who overcame racism and spoke out against it throughout his career.

All of them dealt with far more than Manziel does on the field, and they handled it with dignity and pride, not with a junior high gesture.

Manziel is friends with LeBron James, who competes as hard as anyone and has never done anything like that on the basketball court.

Finally, Manziel is teammates with Joe Thomas, who has played every down of every game since he was drafted and made the Pro Bowl every year. He has lived through all the 10-loss seasons, yet he has shown up every season committed and dedicated to the team. He never complains, never makes a show of himself -- despite living through annual shenanigans year after year after year.

Manziel's gesture matters because he couldn’t get through his second preseason game without a classless act. He’s competitive. He has done and said a lot right since he started camp. But that gesture will be among the more remembered things of his first training camp. He can absolutely put it behind him with how he acts in the future, and he deserves that chance.

But it’s not exactly the best way to start a career.

Nor is it the best way to follow those who paved the way for him.

No coach should face a crisis midway through the preseason, but Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine has one with the team's quarterback position. He must take decisive action, starting with these 10 suggestions:

  1. End this competition nonsense immediately. The incessant attention to every throw, the nonsensical sharing of snaps, the inability of Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel to take the job ... it's all hurting the team. Continuing the silliness might lead to one guy playing well in one quarter of the preseason, but more likely it would lead to more struggles and a schism on the team. What's happening now isn't helping Hoyer or Manziel. End it.
  2. Make Hoyer the starter. Tell him it's his job. Tell him to stop thinking it might not be his job. It's his, and he's the guy. Not because he earned it; he didn't. But he at least has a two-game track record from last season to lean on, has some experience in an NFL offense and understands what it takes to play and act professionally. Let the team start to coalesce behind him and step toward unity. And let the team take a breath and find itself with one quarterback in charge.
  3. Show that Manziel isn't ready. He's especially not ready for Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, the first three teams the Browns face. The Browns' system is too cumbersome for a guy to learn quickly. Manziel has moved from a spread college system based on speed and running plays quickly to one with play calls longer than the Gettysburg Address. If the Browns wanted Manziel to start immediately, they needed to tailor the offense to him, not fit the proverbial square Manziel peg into the hexagonal Kyle Shanahan/Dowell Loggains hole. Manziel gives every indication that this offense is that complex to him.
  4. [+] EnlargeHoyer
    AP Photo/Evan VucciNaming Brian Hoyer as the Browns' starter could help the team get behind one quarterback in preparation for the season opener.
    Sit Manziel down and talk to him about what it means to be a professional. This isn't a game anymore. Teammates have their livelihoods depending on how he plays and acts. Wagging a middle finger at the Redskins' bench might seem funny to him, but it's not. He might seem like the feisty competitor, but he's not. It's a sign of concern, and Pettine should be credited for not sugarcoating that reality. At this point, Manziel's signature moment with the Browns is an obscene gesture on national TV. Isn't that wonderful?
  5. Explain to Manziel that he's not in College Station anymore. The NFL is full of loud, nasty, belligerent guys who are eager to get under someone's skin and throw him off his game. Manziel's celebrity appearances on the party circuit make him a target of every barb known to the sports world. If he thought Monday night was bad or if he thought other experiences were bad before Monday, what's ahead will be worse. Washington proved it could get into his head.
  6. Stand up and say that the way things have progressed is Pettine's fault. Much as it's the quarterback's job to accept blame and spread credit, it's the same for the head coach. Hindsight says it might have been wiser to name Hoyer the starter heading into camp. There's the assumption that it would have helped him just play and not play like he's wearing a straitjacket. It might help the entire team if the coach simply said he made a mistake, he let the scrutiny get into people's heads and it's his fault.
  7. Then, channel his inner Blunt Force Trauma (his nickname) in a sit-down with Hoyer. Tell Hoyer he wants him to be the guy. Tell Hoyer he's rooting for him. Tell Hoyer he learned behind Tom Brady, for crying out loud. But add that Hoyer must back up his coach and go play. Stop worrying. Just play the way he did last season. If Pettine wants to be touchy-feely, he can remind Hoyer of the note he wrote him after his injury in 2013. Then he can call Hoyer's high school coach, Chuck Kyle of St. Ignatius, and ask Kyle to have the sympathetic father talk with Hoyer.
  8. Don't let a decision be made on anything other than football. Manziel is not a read-option quarterback to be experimented with; he can make plays with his feet and throw on the move. Move the pocket. Roll out. Forget the pistol and forget the other nonsense until Manziel proves he understands the game. If the Browns want to make it simple for Manziel as he learns, have at it. What's being thrown at him right now is too much, and it shows.
  9. Don't say the decision is not for the long haul -- something Pettine said last week. Pettine has been wonderful to deal with, but that slip was a head-scratcher. Former Browns general manager Phil Savage used to say that every person in the building had to be on board with the quarterback decision. When the coach says he doesn't want the starter to believe it's his team because he's starting the first game, the quarterback himself can't believe.
  10. Meet with the offense and channel his father, the original Blunt Force Trauma. The message: Take your heads out of the sand and start to play football because we're all in this together. Josh Gordon, you barely look interested on the field. Are you? The other receivers, who were brought here to help. Are you ready? Hoyer is the quarterback. The decision is made. Put your heads into the fresh air, breathe deep and play football.
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LANDOVER, Md. -- What do the Cleveland Browns do after that dismal performance by the two guys competing to start at quarterback?

They can't punt every third down, can't install the single wing in the next two weeks.

But they have a problem. In Monday night's 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins, the two guys the team is counting on to win the job did next to nothing to help themselves or their team.

This "competition" produced a fiasco beyond almost any reasonable expectation -- on national TV no less -- and it left a head coach looking perplexed.

The veteran plays like he's suffocating under the pressure of Johnny Manziel, and the rookie looks like a rookie.

To add to the mess, the rookie topped his night with a middle-finger gesture to the Redskins bench on national TV.

The end of the world? Hardly. Classy? Absolutely not.

But could it be a sign that perhaps this is all getting to Manziel? Could Brian Hoyer's performance be a sign that this is getting to him, too? Absolutely.

Coach Mike Pettine came down hard on Manziel for his gesture. Appropriately so.

"It does not sit well," Pettine said. "I was informed right after the game and it's disappointing. We talk about being poised and being focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise. That's a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback. We have to keep our composure and that is something we will obviously address with him."

Manziel said he slipped up and he "should have been smarter."

No kidding.

He said he gets endless grief from opposing teams and fans, and Joe Haden said he heard all kinds of disrespectful things directed at Manziel.

Whatever.

Show some class and respect the game. It's not difficult.

This could be simple frustration, getting sick of the barbs -- though Manziel might best get used to them given his profile. It could be the sign of a rookie who's had it all go his way, reacting badly to an offseason that is not unfolding smoothly. It could be the sign of a rookie who for some unknown reason thinks he can get away with something like that.

He won't. The league will weigh in, as he faces a fine of up to $11,025, or 25 percent of his weekly salary if he appeals.

But the bigger challenge facing Pettine now is how Manziel's behavior weighs in on the starting quarterback spot for the season opener.

Hoyer's and Manziel's comments on their play illustrate the way things went.

"It's embarrassing," Hoyer said.

"I don't think I did a very good job today," Manziel said.

Credit both for not hiding behind the "have to review the tape" or the "there were positives to build off" lines.

There really weren't. Not even Manziel's fourth-quarter touchdown -- as big a relief as it was to the offense -- seemed to matter much. The drive was long, penalty-aided and lacked a single impressive throw. Manziel's week started with him being late for a meeting and ended with a middle-finger salute. In between he barely completed 50 percent in practice and played poorly in Washington.

Not good.

Hoyer played in the first half and finished 2-for-6 for 16 yards. He started a drive at the Washington 15 and could not get the ball into the end zone -- overthrowing an open Andrew Hawkins on third down.

"No excuse for it," Hoyer said.

Manziel was just as hard on himself, saying he started the game and "really tried to force everything and not let it fly."

Training camp competitions have ruined quarterbacks, especially in Cleveland. But they are doubly dicey when one of the players has the Q-factor of a Manziel. The holdover feels suffocating pressure, the rookie arrives with fanfare and hoopla. In this case, neither has responded to the pressure. As the competition has droned on and as the incessant attention on the job grew more intense heading into "Monday Night Football," the two wilted.

Now what?

At this point, two options seem the most realistic. One would be to give the job to Hoyer (as poorly as he played) and hope it relaxes him and unites the team behind one guy. Or the Browns can go into the third preseason game and leave it up for grabs and hope somebody actually ... well ... you know ... wins the job.

"Somebody has to be ready," Pettine said.

Well, somebody has to line up for the first snap.
Examining the Cleveland Browns' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

The old Tyler Thigpen experiment didn't go too well. Connor Shaw seems like a practice squad candidate.

Running backs (3)

There hasn't been an Isaiah Crowell sighting in days. Dion Lewis' fumble in Detroit won't help him. Ogbonnaya has great value on special teams, as his touchdown-saving tackle on a punt return showed.

Fullbacks (2)

Gray can do things, but it's looking like he may make it as a hybrid tight end/fullback if he sticks.

Wide receivers (5)

We’ll assume that Josh Gordon is suspended. If he’s not, add him and remove Johnson. Willie Snead made strides in practice, but needs to do better.

Tight ends (3)

The Browns are well fortified with the three tight ends they have.

Offensive linemen (9)

Wallace has been impressive playing behind Thomas. The right guard competition between Gilkey and Greco seems to have turned solidly in Greco's favor.

Defensive linemen (7)

Bryant's wrist injury, which may need surgery, is troubling to a unit that started camp with good numbers. How that plays out will be interesting.

Linebackers (8)

Mingo has played consistently well. Martin has flashed in some practices. Sheard is a linebacker who will also play with his hand down. A sixth receiver would mean the Browns keep just seven linebackers, but if it's eight the decision comes down to Justin Staples or Diles.

Cornerbacks (6)

Losing Skrine to his thumb injury is not good, but it does give Gilbert more time on the field. He has been the most impressive rookie on the team in camp.

Safeties (4)

The Browns clearly were concerned about safety depth, so they signed 30-something Leonhard. That bumps Johnson Bademosi, an aggressive player who has made some mistakes. Poyer started in Gipson's absence and got a ton of reps. The coaches must like him. But Josh Aubrey is another guy playing well; if he forces his way on the team, the Browns might keep one less linebacker or fullback.

Specialists (3)

No need to change anything here from last season, as all were strong and dependable contributors.
The endless debate and discussion about the Cleveland Browns quarterbacks -- wait ... Johnny clipped his nails today!” -- obscures one troubling reality about the offense no matter who plays quarterback.

So far in this camp, the Browns have been offensively challenged.

Or challenged offensively.

Both are true.

Manziel
 
Hoyer
 The offense did not score a touchdown in a scrimmage and did not score a touchdown in the first preseason game -- and that when the Browns played two quarterbacks competing to start for three quarters while the Lions played their backups.

There have been chances. A bad call cost Johnny Manziel in the scrimmage and a fumble cost him in Detroit. A dropped pass and two overthrows cost Brian Hoyer against the Lions.

But the Browns have been a team of “what ifs” and “yeah, buts” the past six seasons, when they have combined to lose 69 games -- 11. 5 per season.

As in yeah but they’d have been good if Greg Little didn’t drop all those passes.

Or in yeah but Brandon Weeden is only a rookie.

Or what if they hadn’t traded Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.

Yeah buts and what ifs have done nothing but get coaches fired, players released and new systems started.

The wash-rinse-repeat cycle the Browns have been on for so many years continues as new coach Mike Pettine brings a new offensive system. He's trying to balance getting one of two quarterbacks ready to play while he works without any knowledge of whether or for how long he’ll have his best playmaker on the field. Oh ... there’s also the consideration that the blocking scheme for the running game is a complete overhaul.

This isn’t to say it can’t come together by opening day. But it is extremely challenging and difficult, as the Browns are showing this training camp and as they’ve shown in so many prior camps.

Even Manziel admitted the offense needs to find itself, and he sounded like a guy who understands that a touchdown might be a mental relief.

“We haven’t done it yet,” Manziel said, “so that’s what we need to do. That’s the goal for every group that’s out there is to score points.”

The Browns have some pieces. The offensive line seems to be made for Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. Ben Tate and Terrance West have shown ability. Josh Gordon, when he plays, is as good as any receiver in the league.

But learning a new system is difficult for any group of players. Trying to mesh on the fly can be frustrating.

It’s overstating it to say first guy to get a touchdown with the offense is the regular-season starter -- but not by much.

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