Steven King

How Browns' Brian Hoyer Can Stave Off Johnny Manziel

Created on Jul. 19, 2014 5:00 AM EST

Johnny Manziel – “Johnny Football” and all the hype that goes with him – is a member of the Cleveland Browns. But it is not him, but rather journeyman Brian Hoyer who is the team’s starting quarterback heading into training camp next week.

In fact, Hoyer is ahead of Manziel by a wide margin in their competition for the job. Coach Mike Pettine made that perfectly clear when the full-squad minicamp concluded last month and he hasn’t backed off that one bit in the weeks since. In fact, he has seemed to reinforce it.

So, who is Hoyer? He is, in many ways, the anti-Johnny Football.

He is a veteran, not a rookie.

His personality is as unspectacular, bland and boring as Manziel’s is glitzy, wild and high-profile. Hoyer is Barney Fife and Mr. Rogers. He is a choir boy. Manziel is Elvis and Joe Willie. He’s that boy in high school that every dad warned their daughters about.

Hoyer is married with a son. Manziel is seen with a different red-hot model-type every weekend.

How can Hoyer possibly stave off the onslaught of the ultra-popular Manziel and his dead-sprint into the starting job that nearly everyone has taken for granted will eventually happen? After all, if Manziel doesn’t start, then there might be a riot at Browns Headquarters in Berea, Ohio.

There are two ways Hoyer can do it.

First and foremost, he just needs to play well – very well – in camp and the preseason, so that he proves he is clearly the best quarterback heading into the season.

The Browns need good quarterback play. Oh, man, do they need good quarterback play.

They haven’t had a competent quarterback over a span of more than one season since Bernie Kosar began his career. But that was nearly three decades ago. And Kosar turned 50 years old last November. What has followed has been a seemingly endless parade of never-will-be and never-were quarterbacks. The team has had the worst quarterback play of any team in the NFL since the expansion era began in 1999.

Brandon Weeden?

Charlie Frye?

Colt McCoy?

Spergon Wynn?

That Tim Couch – with 64 touchdown passes, 67 interceptions and a Paul McDonald-like 75.1 passer rating – is the best quarterback over the long haul that Cleveland has had in this re-born era tells you everything you need to know about just how bad it’s been.

But if Hoyer plays as he did for a brief time last season before being lost with a knee injury – a 3-0 record (on a 5-11 team) in three starts, five touchdown passes with three interceptions, a 59.4 completion percentage and an 82.6 quarterback rating – then he’ll be the starter for the foreseeable future. And did we mention that he has a good huddle presence and is a leader on the field around whom the players rallied last season? That also counts for something – a lot, really.

Indeed, a player’s viability in the NFL is based on his play on the field and his production. Along with that, good quarterback play is the key to winning, so if Hoyer can lead the team to victories, he will be entrenched as the starter in Cleveland. The fans are starved for a winner. It’s been 12 years – by far the longest such drought in franchise history – since Cleveland has been to the playoffs.

So what’s the other way that Hoyer can keep the job and win it?

While Manziel is the man in Cleveland popularity-wise, he’s not a Cleveland guy or a native northeast Ohioan. He’s from Tyler, Tex. and played his college football in the same state at Texas A&M. A year ago at this time, he couldn’t have found Cleveland even if he was in the middle of it and it was on fire.

Hoyer, on the other hand, was born and raised in North Olmsted, in Cleveland’s western suburbs. He played at Cleveland St. Ignatius High School – one of the most prestigious football programs in the country – and also pitched for the Wildcats, getting credit for the victory when they won the Division I state baseball championship in 2002. His family still lives in the area and he also has many friends here as well.

And as proven by the return of Akron native LeBron James to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, northeast Ohio loves its own. It cherishes them, wraps its arms around them and protects them. LeBron rubbed the fans’ noses in it when he took his talents to South Beach four years ago, but when he announced last week that he was coming back home, grown men wept like babies with their joy and elation.

Those in the region can criticize another northeast Ohioan, but woe to anyone outside the region who chooses to do it. LeBron has gone from being god-like to Public Enemy No. 1 and now back to god-like. He could be elected governor of Ohio now. Incumbent John Kasich is lucky King James isn’t running against him.

So, with everything else being equal, while there will be a push – and a big one at that, to be sure – to make Manziel the starter this season right from the get-go, there will also be a push from a lot of northeast Ohioans to keep their native son under center. Indeed, what a great story – a true feel-good tale if there ever was one -- it would be if a Cleveland guy leads the Browns to the city’s first major pro sports championship in 50 years.

Hoyer is a smart guy. He gets all that. And as James returned, he made a point about LeBron’s comments that in northeast Ohio, nothing is given to you. You have to work for it.

Hoyer will hit the ground running when camp starts. No one will outwork him. All he has to do is play well and be a regular guy – a northeast Ohio guy – and he will be just fine.

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