First decision made

CLEVELAND – What we know for sure is that Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback for the Browns on Saturday in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions.

Beyond that the competition to win the job for the start of the regular season is about as uncertain as a Johnny Manziel scramble.

One could say that Hoyer has won the first round, but that was the easy part. He had a significant advantage by the fact Manziel entered the fray as a head-in-the-cloud rookie.

The hard part might be holding off the challenge of Manziel, who has made noticeable strides after a shaky first week. For the first time since training camp began, Manziel carried himself with the assurance of a starter in the making during a press conference after Wednesday’s practice.

“We should get out there with a lot less clutter,” Manziel said. “We’re into it a couple weeks now. I feel a lot more comfortable. There’s still a long way for me to go, obviously, but, like I said a week ago, if I kept working on this stuff and kept getting more familiar with a certain play call and concepts that I would get better. There’s still a lot left for me to go.”

The consensus is that Hoyer has failed to build on his lead at the start of camp and might be letting an opportunity to win the job slip from his grasp. He hasn’t had an awful camp by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn’t done the things you’d expect to see from a firmly-entrenched starter.

Hoyer might beg to disagree. He began camp knowing it was his job to lose, and he feels he’s kept a firm grasp on it.

“I expected it all along,” Hoyer said when asked about getting the start in Detroit. “You just go about your approach the same way every day. If you go about trying to be the best quarterback for this team, regardless of where you are, things will work themselves out.”

Coach Mike Pettine said that Manziel might get some repetitions with the first-team offense against the Lions. Pettine also wouldn’t rule out starting Manziel against the Washington Redskins in the second preseason game.

It couldn’t be more obvious that this is a legitimate horse race. It started with Manziel appearing confused and humbled. He played much better in the Family Day scrimmage last Saturday and has followed it with three decent practices this week.

Conquering the playbook and not Hoyer has been Manziel’s operative plan. The playbook won most of the battles early in camp, but of late Manziel seems to be dealing better with intricate calls that can consist of 16 words.

“I’m picking things up at a quick pace, but I wouldn’t say more than anybody else,” Manziel said.

Pettine said the decision to name a starter prior to the third preseason game will now come down to how the two play in the first two preseason games. The biggest mystery is how much Manziel will have to change his free-wheeling college style to adapt to the NFL.

“That’s still a process to be able to control that and make it a positive thing going forward instead of a thing that’s considered somewhat wild,” Manziel said. “Today in the end zone I threw a touchdown stepping up like I’m going to take off, keeping my eyes down field and being able to get the ball to a receiver (tight end Jim Dray). There are times when you have to get out, and there are times when the defense wins.”

Don’t count out Manziel simply because Hoyer will start against the Lions.