This is no ordinary exhibition game.
Johnny Manziel will have his first real chance to show how he measures up against live NFL competition when the Cleveland Browns play at Detroit tonight.
Although Manziel won’t be the starter for this game, what happens against the Lions could be an early indicator of how soon Cleveland will be able to rely on its rookie quarterback.
Coach Mike Pettine hopes to have a starter selected before the third preseason game, meaning what Manziel and Brian Hoyer do in the first two will be crucial.
“I think more weight will be put on those as I said before, because it’s live reps,” Pettine said. “The practice part will still be important, but I think it’s safe to say that.”
Hoyer will start, and Manziel isn’t expected to play at all with the starters, but his every move will be scrutinized regardless.
The Browns took the former Heisman Trophy winner in the first round of this year’s draft, hoping Manziel could help revive a franchise that has not appeared in a postseason game since 2003.
“I have a long way to go,” Manziel said. “I have a lot to learn, a lot more to get comfortable with and I feel that I’m getting better. I definitely feel my comfort level out here on the field growing day by day and I think these coaches and the players that are around us are all helping me get better.”
Pettine is also making his debut this weekend, and the first-year coach is faced with the task of managing Cleveland’s quarterback situation as best he can — with fans understandably eager to see Manziel play.
“I think we all see what Manziel can do,” Pettine said. “He can make plays with his feet, but I think he’s maybe better than we thought in the pocket as well.”
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon will likely be mixed in with the starters and backups against the Lions as he awaits word from the NFL on his appeal of a possible suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Receiver Nate Burleson — who played for Detroit the past four seasons before signing with Cleveland — has been dealing with a hamstring injury.
The Lions have no real quarterback competition to speak of, but like Cleveland, they are welcoming a new coach. Jim Caldwell took over during the offseason after Jim Schwartz was fired.
Caldwell’s task is to help Matthew Stafford become a more consistently reliable passer, and Stafford said Friday he’s enjoyed a chance to sort of start over with the new staff.
“I’m being coached differently. Our drops are different, our reads are different, the plays are totally different,” Stafford said. “It was kind of nice to just scrap everything and start new, the way they wanted me to do it.”
Caldwell hasn’t said much about how he’ll divide playing time, so it’s not clear how much Stafford and Calvin Johnson will be on the field, but this should be at least a vague preview of what the new staff’s offense will look like.
“It’s preseason — we’re not going to go out there and unload the playbook,” Stafford said. “It’s going to be probably more multiple formations than I guess fans of the Lions are used to seeing. Maybe some more motions and shifts and things of that nature, but we’re still going to be an exciting offense.”
The Lions signed free agent S Nate Ness and released LB Cory Greenwood.