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Browns acclimate to protecting Johnny Football

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Jul 28 2014 10:23:26 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 29 2014 09:53:51 AM CDT
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns jersey, NFL Draft

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Decades between the last franchise-caliber quarterback in Cleveland, there is no guarantee the Browns' answer is on the current roster.

But Brian Hoyer, who has fewer than 200 career pass attempts and three career starts, and rookie Johnny Manziel are vying to convince coach Mike Pettine that they are the right man for the starting job in 2014.

Veteran offensive tackle Joe Thomas said the early sense in training camp is that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system will be more balanced than recent seasons.

"There's definitely going to be a big emphasis on the running game. The offense that (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan brings here has traditionally always been kind of a run-first offense, going way back to when they were in Denver and it was being run in Houston," said Thomas. "It's not like it's going to be 80-20 run-pass, but it's going to be closer to 50-50 run-pass mix than we've ever seen since I've been here."

Hoyer is mobile, and Manziel generated over 10,000 yards total offense in two seasons at Texas A&M using uncanny mobility to threaten defenses as a runner and scrambler who can create passing lanes wide enough to park a Mack truck. That also makes life difficult on assignment-conscious blockers.

"It's kind of like the read-option. You don't know where he's going to be a lot of times when the play breaks down," Thomas said. "It makes it difficult to try to block for a spot, which is kind of what you're used to doing. Sometimes busts become the biggest plays you have when you have a guy running free. All of a sudden, Manziel's running out of the pocket, throwing a ball downfield. It's a lot like playing (Steelers quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger. A lot of times, the biggest plays that they've had in the past were ones where we had defensive guys running free to the quarterback but can't get him down. Then, he breaks out of the pocket and he extends the play. Now, defensive backs have to cover their guy for six or seven seconds which doesn't happen and then you get the big chunk down the field."

Hoyer connected instantly with tight end Jordan Cameron in his brief pre-injury cameo last season, and Cameron is expected to be a lead receiver in the offense if wide receiver Josh Gordon's reported season-long suspension holds.

Cameron is playing for a new contract. He noticed -- and received multiple text messages -- when Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph signed a $36.5 million deal Sunday night. But Cameron's future is essentially in the hands of two unproven passers.

"I wouldn't say they're polar opposites," Cameron said. "They're both very competitive people. The quarterback needs to be super competitive. Kind of like I said, the energy from a quarterback, it leaks off to everyone else and it's pretty contagious. They both have that."

Cameron said there is no backing down from an expanded role in the offense, knowing it means more attention from defenders.

"You want that. You want more targets, if that's what it's going to be," Cameron said. "Like I said, I'm not even thinking about that right now. It's Day 1 of camp, and when that time comes we'll worry about it then."

NOTES: TE Gary Barnidge and LB Tank Carder were activated for Monday's practice. To create roster space, OL Chris King and K Jake Rogers were released. ... Rookie CB Justin Gilbert, the Browns' top draft pick, is competing for a starting job with Buster Skrine. Gilbert said the team reminded him in a meeting that All-Pro CB Joe Haden, who starts at left cornerback for the Browns, did not start as a rookie. "They were like, 'If you don't start the first week, Joe Haden didn't start until a couple of games in the season.' Whatever we can do in the defensive room to win games, that's the main key."