Mike Pettine appeared to make his first mistake as head coach of the Browns Thursday.
He named Brian Hoyer to start Monday’s nationally televised exhibition game in Washington against the Redskins. By doing so, he has also named Hoyer to open the regular season in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7.
That’s because the rookie head coach is on record as saying whoever starts the third exhibition game a week from Saturday night against the St. Louis Rams in Cleveland starts in Pittsburgh.
With Hoyer starting the first two exhibitions, how can he rationalize starting Johnny Manziel – and playing him for at least the first 2½ quarters – in the third meaningless game?
By relegating Manziel to working with second- and third-teamers against the Rams, Pettine has sent the rookie quarterback a definitive message: You’re not good enough to start yet. And you’re not going to get the chance to prove me wrong.
In explaining his decision, Pettine said, “It’s just something right now where we are comfortable with Brian going out there to start the game. I think it’s a little overblown as to who the starter is going to be.”
Overblown? With the Hoyer-Manziel battle grabbing national headlines on a daily basis? That overblown? Or ESPN (on whose network the Redskins game will be televised) and Fox and CBS and NBC embedded in Berea? That overblown?
Pettine went on to explain that “the key component . . . is that we are going to balance the reps. We will play it by ear as it goes on. We truly haven’t decided as far as the rotation, but the goal is . . . both have the same amount of repetitions and hopefully both get a good amount of work.”
What harm would it have done to start Manziel in the Rams game? None. He would get to work with the first team, something he hasn’t been given a chance to do yet. And unless Hoyer gets hurt between now and Monday, he won’t get that chance.
Sure, Manziel has worked with the ones in practice. That’s not the same thing, though.
There are many unanswered questions about him as he transitions to the professional game. One of them is how will he perform when given an opportunity with the first team. Pettine’s actions Thursday make certain that one will remain unanswered for the time being.
Some critics ask what difference does it make who starts this game as long as both men get the necessary reps. If Manziel had started the first exhibition instead of Hoyer, the answer to that would be obvious.
It is possible Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are fearful of rushing Manziel to the point where he might develop misguided confidence. With Manziel, however, that will never be a problem.
No matter how he performs, he gives off the notion that he won't allow anything chisel away at that confidence. It’s that feeling, that belief that has carried him to this point in his life.
Hopefully, this is not an attempt by Pettine and his staff to rein him in, much like they did in the OTAs and minicamp a few months ago. Manziel is smart enough to know his place on this team and doesn’t need to be verbally slapped into place.
This one very well could turn out to be the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. Stunting his growth is not a wise move.