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With Browns' QB competition closed, attention diverts to finalizing roster spots elsewhere

Aug 21, 2014 -- 7:31am

By Tony Grossi |



The Morning Kickoff …

Turning the page: Now that the quarterback debate is over, the page turns on this Browns preseason. I asked coach Mike Pettine what’s the next priority.

“Chemistry is a big part of it – getting guys out, playing together, starting to narrow the package down to fit what we do well and then start to get a little more opponent specific,” he said.

“We’ll do that this weekend with the St. Louis game. Then you’re always kind of looking at the season in chunks. We did some good work as a staff in the offseason on Pittsburgh and New Orleans and Baltimore. I think it’s getting to the point now with camp broken, where we need to go ahead and start to look ahead to that first part of the season.”

And to finalizing the roster. So here is an update on that.


1. Brian Hoyer, 2. Johnny Manziel. Rookie Connor Shaw did a great job at the end of the Washington game, but it’s doubtful he will unseat Kyle Shanahan-confidante Rex Grossman. However, Shaw is worth preserving on the practice squad.

Running back

1. Ben Tate, 2. Terrance West. Pettine said, “I think that competition is still wide open for that third running back spot.” Chris Ogbonnaya’s versatility gives him a big edge. Rookie Isaiah Crowell’s potential puts him next in line. That leaves Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker. Lewis lost a fumble in Detroit, but scored the team’s first touchdown against Washington. The Browns fear if they expose Crowell to the practice squad, they will lose him. That will be an interesting choice. Fullback Ray Agnew appears to be in competition with hybrid tight end MarQueis Gray for a spot.

Wide receiver

Uh, boy. First, the givens: 1. Josh Gordon likely will miss some portion of the season, if not all, because of a league suspension. 2. Andrew Hawkins is the slot receiver. 3. Miles Austin, as long as he’s able to stay on the field, will be one of the starters. Everything else is up in the air. Currently, Taylor Gabriel, the 5-8, 167-pound pride of Abilene Christian, is the leading receiver in preseason with six catches for 67 yards. Charles Johnson and Willie Snead have had their moments. Anthony Armstrong had his in June. Travis Benjamin is a No. 4 or No. 5. And the big question is whether Nate Burleson will make the team. I can’t remember the last time Burleson (hamstring) was in full uniform and running routes.

Tight end

1. Jordan Cameron, 2. Gary Barnidge, 3. Jim Dray. Shout-out to Emmanuel Ogbuehi, No. 5 on the depth chart, for corralling the rebound off Snead’s arms on the Shaw Hail Mary at the end of the game against the Redskins.

Offensive line

The starting lineup is set: Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz. There is no indication Schwartz is under scrutiny after two hands-to-face penalites v. Detroit and apparently allowing two sacks v. Washington. Top backups appear to be Paul McQuistan (guard and tackle) and Garrett Gilkey (guard and center).

Defensive line

Desmond Bryant, who didn’t do much after heart problems surfaced in Game 5 last year, now will be sidelined the rest of preseason after wrist surgery. He won’t be ready for the season opener, but Pettine said he is not a candidate for injured reserve. Phil Taylor will take over one end spot. The other one may go to Armonty Bryant, who started ahead of Billy Winn v. Washington and made a few more plays. The nose tackle position is capably handled by starter Ahtyba Rubin and backup Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. John Hughes is a solid backup at any position. Calvin Barnett, an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State, is an intriguing prospect.


The only battle among starters still ongoing involves Craig Robertson v. Chris Kirksey at the inside spot next to Karlos Dansby. Both have played well and Pettine has said both could be considered starters depending on the opponent’s offensive formation. The questions at this position group involve the rotation of outside ‘backers Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo. Sheard has been used sparingly in preseason and continues to be listed behind Kruger on the depth chart. We’re pretty sure that Sheard’s prominent role won’t be revealed until the regular season. If that comes true, what becomes of Kruger and Mingo? Each has one sack in preseason games, but neither looks like a dominant player. We’ll see when the real games begin.

Defensive secondary

Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert will be teamed from the start. That should be a formidable pair of outside corners. With Buster Skrine (thumb) sidelined until the opener, Isaiah Trufant will be the slot cornerback. Skrine was having a very good camp on the outside, but he needs the reps inside to acclimate to the full-time role. The top backup cornerbacks appear to be Pierre Desir and Aaron Berry, both of which missed the Washington game with injuries. Leon McFadden’s roster spot is going to come down to the wire. The safety position looks strong with starters Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, and backups Jim Leonhard and Jordan Poyer. Johnson Bademosi – now the team’s best special teamer – is in the mix as a backup.


I don’t recall ever going through a preseason with only one kicker and one punter, but Billy Cundiff and Spencer Lanning are halfway through without any relief pitchers on hand. Benjamin hasn’t returned any kicks or punts in two preseason games, but he will handle both duties when the games start counting.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Browns QB job is Brian Hoyer's and won't be shared, says Mike Pettine

Aug 20, 2014 -- 4:41pm

By Tony Grossi |



Brian Hoyer said he felt excitement, not relief, about winning the Browns’ starting quarterback job. Johnny Manziel said he was disappointed, but the result was understandable considering how far he had to come.

But now that Hoyer has the job, how much of Manziel will we see? And how soon?

“Give me a crystal ball, and I’ll tell you,” coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday. “The NFL season is so long, so much can happen. We don’t want Brian looking over his shoulder thinking one bad throw and I’m out. But over time, if you feel you have to make a change … time will only tell.

“You could foresee a scenario where he doesn’t play this year and there are other scenarios that are absolutely possible as well. It’s hard to tell.”

Pettine said the idea of using both quarterbacks in a game, with a special package for the more mobile Manziel, is not in the plans.

“The plays that he would run if he got in a game would be more suited for him, but I don’t foresee us now, especially early, being in a two quarterback system,” Pettine said.

The coach brushed off a question of Hoyer being on a short leash.

 “This is Brian’s job. I never think of it whether it’s a leash or we want a guy to be a game manager. We want him to be confident and go out and play,” Pettine said.

For Hoyer, the decision was the culmination of a dream and of hard work to come back from ACL surgery in October. He said he wasn’t pressing, despite two preseason outings that were less than scintillating.

“The other night (v. Washington), things got a little messed up,” Hoyer said. “Bad first series, and then (having to) sit down. People want to pin that on pressure, whatever. I think we just played poorly. I don’t think it ever got to me. This is actually the most relaxed I’ve ever been in training camp in my career. It’s good to have a decision and now I’m just looking forward to St. Louis and the regular season.”

Hoyer said that throughout his lonely days of rehabbing his repaired right knee, he took comfort in and motivation from his two winning performances in 2013.

“If anything, the biggest thing last year was I proved to myself I can play in this league,” he said. “I think it’s paid dividends this year as far as my mental preparation and how I go into games.

“Did I believe this could happen? There was no doubt in my mind. But there were days rehab sucked. I knew the feeling of running off the field after we beat Cincinnati. It’s all worth it.”

Hoyer said he won’t be affected by looking over his shoulder because he’s been doing that his whole career.

“When you’re a rookie, undrafted, trying to make a team … I feel I’ll carry that chip forever. Every day, I’m just trying not to be cut. When you have that mentality, you push yourself to the limit and the pressure you put on yourself is far greater than any pressure the media can put on your or the coaches can put on you. Now that I’m the starter, you have to take that mentality into your job.”

Manziel took the decision in stride with disappointment, but not anger.

“I feel if I would have come out and played better it would’ve been a different outcome,” he said. “I don’t think I played terrible, but I didn’t do anything to really jump off the page. I made strides and got better throughout the training camp. Obviously disappointing, but at the same time I want what’s best for this team.”

He said he would not do a single thing differently in his rookie training camp and maintained his pre-training camp partying had no bearing on the outcome.

“I wouldn’t go back from the point after the draft until now and change a single thing,” Manziel said. “I’m going to live my life and the offseason’s the offseason. I’m going to travel places, go places, do things and that’s going to a have no effect. Obviously I need to do it in the proper way. But I’m still going to continue to have fun in my life and live my life. And I don’t think any of that slowed me in this competition.”

Manziel indicated it was a bit unrealistic for anyone to think he could win the job.

“I know you don’t go from playing two years in college and playing two preseason games and then say you can come out and play the Pittsburgh Steelers and their defense. It just doesn’t happen. I don’t think that should have been much of a shock saying I wasn’t ready one game into it,” he said.

Manziel said there wasn’t much conversation with Hoyer about the result.

“Me and Brian didn’t talk much about it,” he said. “It was a competition. Good for Brian, though. He’s a hometown guy. I know me being in Texas, if the Texas job were like that it would mean the world to me. So, props to him.”


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Brian Hoyer prevails in Browns quarterback competition

Aug 20, 2014 -- 8:43am

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/Getty via ESPN

Mike Pettine informed his players Wednesday morning that Brian Hoyer is the starting quarterback heading into the season.

“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said in a story posted on the team Website and distributed via email. “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.”

As he indicated on a conference call Tuesday afternoon after the team returned from a dismal performance in Washington in the second preseason game, Pettine said that Hoyer’s “body of work” prevailed in the competition with rookie Johnny Manziel.

The coach took into account Hoyer’s two wins last season, his dogged determination to work back from ACL surgery in October, and the respect he has earned in the locker room.

“I think Brian’s been very poised,” Pettine said. “I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on.

“I think a lot of people discount that,” the coach said. “Here’s a guy coming off of a season-ending knee injury. Really, these are his first, essentially, 20-25 plays of live work back from it, and he’s only going to get better.”

The Browns play their third preseason game Saturday – first in renovated FirstEnergy Stadium -- against the St. Louis Rams. It was the target date Pettine set for naming his starting QB.

“I think it’s especially good, as an offensive unit, to go out and play and gain cohesion and chemistry,” Pettine said. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to go ahead and make the decision before this third preseason game so that (Hoyer and the rest of the starting offense) could play as a unit for a good chunk of it.”

Pettine’s only mention of Manziel came in the final paragraph of the release the club distributed.

“He’s certainly made great strides,” Pettine said. “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.”


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Browns have to rush to correct the errors of their flawed quarterback competition

Aug 19, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |



The Morning Kickoff …

Moment of truth: The Browns’ abysmal quarterback competition should never had happened.

Brian Hoyer should have been named the starter based on what he did last year and the Browns’ coaches should have followed the lead of owner Jimmy Haslam’s “act like a backup” decree and explained that Johnny Manziel would sit and learn during his rookie NFL season.

Manziel’s two seasons of playing at Texas A&M – without a playbook, with coaches sending in three-worded plays, without a huddle – should have signaled to coaches that a quarterback competition was a waste of precious time and counter-productive to the greater deed of preparing the entire team for the season opener on Sept. 7.

But, Pettine said on Tuesday, “We wanted to see those guys go out there and compete and put them in some adverse situations and see how they reacted.”

What happened was that Hoyer – burdened already by his own recovery from October ACL surgery and having to learn his fifth offensive system in three years – surprisingly – no, alarmingly -- crumbled under the weight of Manziel Mania.

And Manziel didn’t rise to the occasion but, rather, sunk to the level of immaturity that scared off so many NFL teams. Last week alone, he misread a schedule and missed a team meeting, and then lost his composure in his second preseason game and flashed his middle finger to the Washington bench after a broken play. Manziel very well could have earned Pettine’s “I’m a dummy” dunce cap previously fitted for quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

So, at the target date Pettine set for naming a regular-season starter, neither quarterback seemed worthy of even starting the third preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.

Pettine had a meeting Tuesday night with his coaching staff and, presumably, General Manager Ray Farmer, to decide whether to name a starting quarterback or continue this sham of a competition through the Rams game.

Pettine denied there was divided opinion on his coaching staff, but also admitted there was no consensus.

It is believed that Loggains leads a growing pro-Manziel faction and Hoyer’s backers may be down to Pettine. Ordinarily, having the head coach on your side should count for much. But Pettine doesn’t seem inclined to make this call on his own.

Thus, the committee held a meeting. It’s quite possible that the arguments in favor of each quarterback came down to the following:


Possessions: 7.

Points: 9.

Stats: 8 of 20 (40.0%), 108 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack, 57.9 passer rating.

Third-down conversions: 0 of 7.

The case for Hoyer

1. Because of his experience, he gives the Browns the best chance of winning in Pittsburgh in the opener and then in home games against New Orleans and Baltimore. His experience in preparing for NFL opponents and knowledge of the AFC North will be a great asset to a first-year coaching staff.

2. At a critical time last year after the trade of running back Trent Richardson, he rallied the locker room and proved to teammates the season was not lost by leading wins at Minnesota and home against Cincinnati.

3. A year ago he was quick with his reads, decisive with the ball and accurate with his throws. The fact he has been the opposite in this training camp could be due to post-surgery confidence issues, slow transition to the complex Kyle Shanahan offense and the weight of Manziel Mania. Naming him the starter would allow him to concentrate on the offense and establish a chemistry with a green and inexperienced receiving corps.


Possessions: 8.

Points: 10.

Stats: 14 of 27 (51.9%), 128 yards, 1 TD, O INT, 3 sacks, 7 runs for 28 yards, 77.4 passer rating.

Third-down conversions: 8 of 16.

Fourth-down conversions: 1 of 2.

The case for Manziel

1. It is inevitable that he is the future, so why not cut to the chase and begin the developmental process immediately.

2. Statistically, he’s done a tad better than Hoyer despite receiving fewer practice reps with the first-team offensive line. His improvement would be accelerated by committing all first-team reps to him.

3. His mobility and rifle arm fit the RG3 profile that Shanahan exploited in Washington and represent the new-era quarterback type that keeps defensive coordinators like Pettine awake at night.

Conclusion: Either choice is a projection of risk v. reward. Manziel offers the greater reward, as his “ceiling” may be higher than Hoyer’s and his “star” quality is good for business. But rushing in Manziel ahead of his time could scar him and prevent him from ever reaching his potential. Hoyer is the surer thing immediately, would have the backing of the veterans in the locker room, and gives the team the best chance of avoiding an 0-3 start. Pettine should name Hoyer the starter and begin in earnest the next priority of developing chemistry and cohesion with the starting offensive unit.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Now what does Mike Pettine do?

Aug 19, 2014 -- 12:43am

By Tony Grossi |




The veteran quarterback is pressing and the hotshot rookie challenger lost his poise and flipped the bird to the opposing bench.

So if you think the Browns are ready to name a starting quarterback, think again.

The best thrower in the Browns’ 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins was No. 3 Connor Shaw, who completed a 45-yard Hail Mary touchdown at the end, but missed a two-point try for the win.

“All options are still on the table,” coach Mike Pettine said after the Browns’ quarterback competition turned into what amounted to a pie-fighting contest on “Monday Night Football” in FedExField.

Brian Hoyer was 2 of 6 for 16 yards in four series, had a long pass of 12 yards and threw behind a wide-open Andrew Hawkins in the end zone.

“Probably couldn’t have been any worse. It’s disappointing, it’s embarrassing,” Hoyer said.

Johnny Manziel was 7 of 16 for 65 yards in four series. He managed to put a touchdown on the board in the second half on an 8-yard pass to Dion Lewis at the end of a 16-play drive against the Washington Redskins’ backups.

But it was more noteworthy for Manziel’s hand gesture to the Washington bench after he was flushed to the sideline and threw an incompletion. The gesture wasn’t noticed by game officials, but it could draw a league fine. It will also bring a sitdown with Pettine.

“It does not sit well,” Pettine said. “It’s disappointing. What we talk about is being poised and focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise … especially the quarterback. That’s something we’ll obviously address with him.”

Cornerback Joe Haden said he was amazed by some of the words he heard directed towards Manziel on the field and off the field. But Manziel said he has grown used to them and didn’t hear anything he hasn’t heard before.

“I should’ve been smarter,” Manziel said. “There’s always words exchanged on the football field. I should let it slide off my back. I felt I did a good job of holding my composure and I had a lapse of judgment.”

In the first half, Hoyer and Manziel combined for 4 of 13 passing for 45 yards. The Browns had 84 total yards offense, only three first downs earned, and 0 for 5 on third-down conversions.

Asked if Hoyer was pressing, Pettine said, “It’s hard to tell. I know he missed some throws. They both missed some throws.”

Hoyer would have none of it.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said on the subject of pressing. “Things in the game are a little bit different than in practice. If I’m thinking of making a perfect throw out there … I just have to go out and do it. There’s no excuse for it.

“It has nothing to do with (the competition). First play messed up (and went as a sack), then a penalty. Then it just spiraled out of control. It’s unfortunate, especially the situation that we’re in.”

Pettine intended to name a quarterback prior to Saturday’s third preseason game in FirstEnergy Stadium against the St. Louis Rams. Now, he’s hedging and said “it’s possible” he could wait.

“I think all the options are on the table,” he said.

One option not available is considering a quarterback other than Hoyer or Manziel.

“That’s not a choice. Somebody has to be ready for the opener,” Pettine said.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Browns QB competition muddled after poor outings in 24-23 loss to Redskins

Aug 18, 2014 -- 11:07pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/Getty via ESPN


On the prime-time showcase of “Monday Night Football,” the Browns’ quarterback competition descended into an exercise of utter futility and humility in a 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins.

The game ended on an unsuccessful two-point conversion try by No. 3 quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw completed a 45-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary throw on a deflected pass to Emmanuel Ogbuehi to set up the dramatic ending.

But long before that, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel took turns being, well, not good.

Somewhere, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey and all the other expansion Browns’ QB alumni must have been rolling their eyes and saying, “Been there, done that.” In fact, Colt McCoy was on hand in a Washington Redskins uniform to witness it firsthand.

Where have you gone, Spergon Wynn? A franchise turns its lonely eyes to you.

But after an awful first half, in which neither quarterback reached the end zone, Manziel broke the preseason touchdown-less streak with a 16-play, 68-yard scoring drive that consumed over eight minutes.

The scoring honor went to running back Dion Lewis, who grabbed a short Manziel flip and funneled through traffic eight yards for the touchdown with 13:33 left in the fourth quarter.

The series was doubly noteworthy because after one incompletion while running from pressure, Manziel was seen to flip the bird to the Washington bench. The officials didn’t see it and no flag was thrown.

The last Browns player known to extend his middle finger to the opposition was punter Chris Gardocki in the 2000 season.

Shortly after Manziel’s scoring drive, McCoy himself made a cameo and contributed an interception for the home team. Safety Jim Leonhard returned it 19 yards for another touchdown. That was the fourth takeaway on the night for the Browns’ defense.

McCoy gained revenge later, putting together two scoring drives and pulling out the win for the Redskins, when he beat Royce Adams on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Nick Williams.

The loss dropped the Browns to 0-2 in the preseason under first-year coach Mike Pettine.

Now Pettine and his staff have to decide which quarterback to prepare for the start in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7. Pettine said he wanted to stick to his timetable of naming his starter before the third preseason game.

The scoring outburst in the second half, occurring in less than a minute and a half, did not exactly erase the histrionics of the ragged quarterback play earlier in the evening.

In the first half, Hoyer had four possessions, Manziel had two. They combined for 84 total yards (four coming on a meaningless completion as the first half clock ran out), three first downs (three others came on penalties) and three points. They were 0 for 5 on third down conversions.

Hoyer was 2 of 6 for 16 yards. He was sacked on his first play.

Manziel was 2 of 7 for 29 yards. He was sacked on his third play, whereupon Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo, a bystander on the play, flashed the Manziel money sign.

Hoyer went 3-and-out on his first two series.

Manziel went 3-and-out on his first series. Then he got something going, thanks to two Washington penalties for first downs, including an unsportsmanlike conduct on the Redskins’ bench. But the possession died on a Manziel read-option run for minus-1, a Manziel incompletion off the outstretched hand of Jordan Cameron and an incompletion whizzed outside of Josh Gordon. That off-the-mark pass sinspired another Orakpo money pose.

The best you could say is that neither quarterback turned the ball over. MarQueis Gray took care of that after a short Hoyer completion. Gray, running routes out of the backfield again on this night, lost the ball and the Redskins recovered at their 45.

The previous possession, Hoyer inherited the ball at the Redskins’ 15 after a Tashaun Gipson interception of Washington backup Kirk Cousins and a 43-yard return.

On first down, Gordon dropped Hoyer’s pass. On third down from the 12, Hoyer threw behind a wide-open Andrew Hawkins at the back of the end zone. Hawkins got both hands on the ball but couldn’t hold on.

Manziel’s second-half workload improved his overall numbers on the night to 7 of 16 for 65 yards and one TD. His passer rating was 76.3.

The quarterback play overall was tough enough to watch. Worse was the constant throwing of flags by the officials. The Browns’ depleted secondary was called six times for holding or illegal contact.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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