In today’s NFL, the presumption has become that a first-round rookie quarterback will play right away. This year, each of the three franchises that devoted a Thursday night pick to a quarterback has tried to tap the brakes.
But the destination that is Week One arrives soon. Even more immediately, teams have to decide whether to put those rookies at risk during preseason games behind backup offensive lines — against opposing backup defenders looking to make a name for themselves, perhaps by flattening a budding superstar.
In Cleveland, where an effort to curtail Johnny Manziel’s off-field activities probably has influenced the attempt to humble him behind Brian Hoyer, the urgency to put the best possible team on the field could be accelerating the timetable for Manziel’s elevation to the top of the depth chart. As explained by Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, Manziel seems to be closing the gap on Hoyer after less than two weeks of training camp.
Manziel flashed some of his backyard style during a Saturday scrimmage in LeBron’s hometown of Akron, and coach Mike Pettine strongly hinted that prior impressions that the team’s quarterback competition may be tilted toward Hoyer may have been inaccurate.
“When camp began, Brian was the ones because we had to put somebody out there with the ones,” Pettine said Saturday, overlooking the rep-splitting approach that the Vikings have used with rookie Teddy Bridgewater. “But they were truly competing against each other, and at some point we will mix the units. I think that it’s all part of our evaluation process.”
The process includes getting the veterans to buy in to the choice to ride with Johnny Football. Two years ago, the decision to make Russell Wilson the starter in Seattle represented public acknowledgement of what the players knew privately. In Cleveland, where guys like Joe Thomas are comparing Hoyer to Tom Brady, it could be a tougher sell.
Ultimately, that could be the challenge for a coaching staff and/or front office and/or ownership that didn’t trade up from No. 26 to No. 22 to acquire a clipboard holder. Surely, they want Manziel to play. Before that can happen, the players have to want him, too.