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The Cleveland Browns will start Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team announced on Wednesday.
Head coach Mike Pettine praised Hoyer in a statement, but added this telling explanation, "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Neither player has been good in the preseason. Hoyer's stat line (8-for-20, 108 passing yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) is just as rough as Manziel's (14-for-27, 128 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs).
So why is Hoyer getting the nod?
The simple, non-salacious answer is that Manziel just isn't ready. At the beginning of training camp Manziel spoke about the steepness of the learning curve, and how the NFL was a "180" from what he did in college:
"It's not something that I should just come in here and naturally (know) because I played well in college. I should just know how to run this offense. It's a complete 180 from everything that I've been used to, and it's going to take time. It's a process coming from a spread, air-raid system in college to a pro style system that's very unfamiliar with me as far as terminology and routes and being under center a lot more, but it's not something that I can't handle and it's not something that I'm going to continue to strive and work for and try to get better at."
This is something that Eagles coach Chip Kelly, one of the most forward-thinking people in the NFL, talked about over the summer as well. We just don't realize how many small things go into transitioning from the college to the pros.
Manziel's tepid preseason performance — where he failed to outshine a sub-par Hoyer — seems to back up the theory that he still needs more time in the oven, for lack of a better analogy. The Browns have nothing to gain by starting him before he's ready to succeed.
The second, juicier theory for why Manziel isn't starting has little to do with actual football.
We usually wouldn't put too much stock in this theory, but Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot (who knows the team more than anyone) seems to think there's something to it:
Since getting drafted Manziel has found himself in a bunch of small controversies. He was photographed with a rolled up dollar bill in a Las Vegas bathroom and took a picture where he pretended a huge stack of money was a phone:
He also flipped off the Redskins sideline during the second preseason game:
Fans love this stuff. Sports is entertainment, and Johnny Manziel is one of the more entertaining personalities in the league.
The NFL world hates it though.
When asked about the middle finger on Tuesday, Pettine said, "We'll take into account all things quarterbacks A to Z, so it's a body of work. It's everything from the time they set foot in the building back in the spring up until today."
The implication is that all this stuff matters.
Ultimately, Manziel would be playing if he was clearly better than Hoyer. He hasn't been, and by his own admission the transition to the NFL has been difficult. The petty non-football controversies may not have been that harmless, but they didn't help either.
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