BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback derby is heading down the homestretch.
Coach Mike Pettine said Sunday he plans to name his starting quarterback shortly after the team’s Aug. 18 preseason game in Washington.
The winner of the competition between Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel will start Cleveland’s third preseason contest — Aug. 23 at home against the Rams — and sit out its final game Aug. 28 against Chicago.
“I wouldn’t say it’s 1,000 percent etched in stone, but I would like it decided before the third preseason game,” Pettine said. “If we have a starter that gets a lot of time in that game, then has all the practice time after that, we feel like he’ll be ready to go for the opener (Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh).”
Hoyer tops the Browns’ official depth chart, but he will split first-team snaps with 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Manziel at training camp this week.
Pettine declined to say which player would start Cleveland’s next preseason game, a nationally televised matchup with the Redskins, calling the battle “too close to call.”
“If there was a clear-cut favorite at this point, it would probably mean one of them was not playing well,” the first-year coach said. “That’s not the case here. I think we’ve got two guys that could be full-time NFL starters. It will all come down to who gives us the best chance to win. That’s the bottom line.”
Hoyer, who is recovering from reconstructive right knee surgery, started the Browns’ preseason opener Saturday in Detroit. The Northeast Ohio native completed 6 of 14 passes for 92 yards, leading the first-team offense to two field goals in three drives in a 13-12 loss.
Manziel was 7 of 11 for 63 yards while playing most of the second quarter and all of the third. The No. 22 overall draft pick out of Texas A&M drove Cleveland’s second- and third-teamers to one field goal in four possessions.
“Brian got 24 snaps, Johnny got 25, and I thought they both settled in quickly and were solid,” Pettine said. “They had different supporting casts, but it was good tape for both of them. Both operated the offense efficiently, but I also thought there were plays they would like back.”
Neither quarterback was sacked or committed a turnover, while displaying their unique skill sets against the Lions’ aggressive defensive line.
Manziel, who is listed at 6-foot and 210 pounds, was eager to roll out and improvise as he did in college. He scrambled five times for 26 yards, including a 16-yard gain on third-and-8, and avoided most contact.
“Johnny does have a certain skill set that we hope to take advantage of,” Pettine said. “If he is out there, we’re going to look at everything involved.”
The 6-2, 215-pound Hoyer stayed strong in the pocket despite pressure from Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, taking several hits in his first action since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last Oct. 3 against Buffalo. He went 3-0 as the Browns’ starter before the injury.
All things being equal, general manager Ray Farmer and Pettine have said they would prefer starting the season with a veteran — like sixth-year pro Hoyer — under center. It remains to be seen if it is a close call when they have to make a decision on the starter.
“Johnny has made some improvement, a lot of improvement since minicamp,” Pettine said. “As we’ve said before, it was him against the playbook, and he’s got a pretty firm grasp of it. He’s really gone from one extreme to another.
“Brian, on the other hand, has been solid all the way through. It’s not going to be an easy choice, but we’re confident that we’ll make the right one.”
NOTES: Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and rookie CB Justin Gilbert (groin) sat out the Lions’ game, but Pettine said both could have played if it was the regular season. “We just didn’t feel it was worth the risk,” he said. Pro Bowl WR Josh Gordon made two receptions before exiting with an undisclosed injury. The NFL receiving yards leader, who is expected to practice Monday, is awaiting a decision on his appeal of a one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
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