Let the conjecture begin.
Browns coach Mike Pettine announced Thursday that Brian Hoyer will start a road preseason game Monday against the Washington Redskins. Hoyer also started the preseason opener last week in a 13-12 loss to the Detroit Lions.
The announcement refutes an "ESPN" report last weekend that stated rookie Johnny Manziel would start against the Redskins. Pettine said earlier this week that he didn't know how ESPN gained the information because the decision hadn't been made.
The fact that Hoyer will have started each of the first two preseason games seems to indicate that Pettine is preparing him to start the regular season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Pettine cautions not to read too much into which of the two starts Monday. The plan is to give both quarterbacks time with the first team.
"It's just something right now where we are comfortable with Brian going out there to start the game," Pettine said. "I think it's a little overblown as to who the starter is going to be. The key component, as I've stated earlier this week, is that we are going to balance the reps.
"We will play it a little by ear as it goes on. We haven't truly decided as far as the rotation but the goal is, for when we look at the stat sheet at halftime, that they both have the same amount of repetitions and hopefully they both get a good amount of work."
The most-watched position battle in the NFL can be broken into two parts. The first is the opening week of camp leading up to an intrasquad scrimmage. Hoyer easily won that battle simply by gaining a bigger grasp of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's playbook.
Manziel appeared humbled as his struggled to digest the intricacies of the play calls. Entering the scrimmage there didn't appear any chance that Manziel would start the season opener.
The second part is everything that has happened since the start of the scrimmage. That's when Manziel began to close the gap. He looked comfortable running the offense in the scrimmage and again against the Lions. He's probably running the ball more than he should (six carries in slightly more than one quarter in Detroit), but it's hard to complain when the chains move.
If anything, Hoyer might be the one that's struggling to grasp the offense. That could prove damaging when going against a confident rookie who is proving to be a quick learner.
Pettine said from the outset of training camp that the plan was to name an opening-day starter before the third preseason game. He budged a bit earlier this week when he opened the door to possibly waiting to after the third game to make the call.
Nothing says Manziel is closing the gap more than Pettine's sudden hesitancy to make a decision. He may look at a possible suspension to receiver Josh Gordon and realize that the only chance the offense has of success is with Manziel doing his thing and an improved ground game.
Hoyer needed to build off his strong start and pull away in the competition. If he had, he would be receiving all the repetitions with the first team both in Washington and five days later at home against the St. Louis Rams.
Instead, Pettine and Shanahan are playing a balancing act in an attempt to even the reps. It's gone from getting Hoyer comfortable with the first team to start the season to giving Manziel every opportunity to show he shouldn't be the starter.
Hoyer may very well win the job, but you have to wonder why Rex Grossman was signed this week. It's believed that Grossman, a veteran of 11 seasons, would be more accepting of a role as tutor to Manziel than would Hoyer, who wants a chance to start after beginning each of the last five seasons as a backup.
It seems like Manziel is being groomed to get the call despite the news that Hoyer will start against the Redskins.