BEREA—Will it be 21, 23 or 24?
Josh McCown became the 23rd quarterback to start for the Browns since the team returned in 1999. Tim Couch is the only quarterback to start all 16 games for the Browns in one season, dating all the way back to 2001 when the Browns finished 7-9.
If McCown is not cleared to play this week, Johnny Manziel could get his first start of the season. Manziel started two games last season before injuring his hamstring against Carolina and being placed on injured reserve. He was the 21st quarterback to start for the Browns and was followed by Connor Shaw for the season finale.
Pettine said that Manziel will work with the starters, at least Wednesday and Thursday.
“Josh is still in the concussion protocol,” Pettine said. “He’s making progress, but we won’t know the status until he’s fully cleared to return.
“Johnny will take snaps with the ones today.”
Pettine said that the earliest McCown would be able to practice is Friday. However, he did say that McCown was able to be out on the practice field, even though he wasn’t seen during the portion open to the media.
“As I said the other day, everybody reacts different,” Pettine said. “Some guys, it takes longer. the protocol is very cautious and I know he has some testing to do, but don’t know if he’ll be out there for all of it, but for the parts he can be out there, he will.”
Pettine wouldn’t declare if McCown is cleared, that he would be the starter.
“We’ll be prepared either way.”
In 2014, Manziel was 18-of-35 for 175 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He rushed nine times for 29 yards, including a touchdown.
To complicate matters, Manziel is still on the injury report with the sore right elbow. Pettine said they will ease Manziel back into having a full load at practice.
“I just think we have to be mindful of it,” Pettine said. “We don’t want to all of a sudden come out and say let’s go ahead and throw it that many times or at least limit the number of downfield throws. It’s something we’re aware of, but we’re not going to let it handcuff how we practice, but to me, the team reps are the most important. I would rather him take fewer throws in individual, just be cautious in individual as opposed to just giving him the full workload. Just want to make sure he can make all of the throws in the team period, which we don’t see as an issue.”
Pettine wouldn’t say that Manziel’s arm is unable to handle the load, but didn’t want to push it with him.
“I don’t think it’s that he can’t, we just want to be prudent with it and ramp him back up,” he said. “We feel he’s past it. There’s still going to be some natural soreness, but we just don’t want to jump right back in and he’s going to take starting reps and overload (the elbow), especially early in practice, that he doesn’t need to take there. We want him to take the team reps.”
Manziel said his elbow isn't an issue.
"There's no point in going out there and throwing any meaningless balls or anything that could potentially push it over the edge," Manziel said after practice. "My elbow feels really good."
Pettine said that newly signed quarterback Austin Davis would also get some reps with the first team, in case he’s forced to play if McCown and Manziel are unable to. If Davis were to start, Sunday or in the future, he would be number 24 on the list.
“With Josh not practicing (Wednesday or Thursday) then Austin will get repetitions,” Pettine said. “We’ll mix him in. We’ll make sure that if he has to go in the game, he will be prepared.”
Pettine was asked what the Browns like about Davis.
“One, we know, the type of person he is,” Pettine said. “The work ethic. He’s very passionate about football. He just loves it. His football IQ is very high. I think he gets the ball out quickly. He’s a pretty good athlete and to me, he’s played. They weren’t ideal circumstances, but he won three games as a starter and played some football, so he does have some true real game experience.”
Davis (6-2, 221) was 180-of-284 for 2,001 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2014 with the Rams. His rating was 85.1.
The Browns added a fourth quarterback to their practice squad on Tuesday in Matt Blanchard, who was 45-0 and a three-time national champion at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. Pettine said they felt they needed the additional arm for practices.
“I think you just look at where we are right now,” Pettine said. “Josh isn’t able to throw until Friday so now you’re only looking at two quarterbacks (in practice) and us wanting to be prudent with Johnny, we wanted to bring another guy in. Circumstances dictated that we wanted to bring in another arm.”
Pettine admitted that he felt Manziel played better against the Jets, than he did in his two starts in 2014.
“It was progress,” Pettine said. “The turnovers, the two fumbles and the interception were the disconcerting part. We know if you turn the ball over that many times, you have to protect the football, or you minimize your chances of winning. As far as what he had just come off of and the limited number of reps that any number two quarterback gets, let alone him, coming off the arm, I thought he made some good throws.
“We didn’t limit the plan at all and he didn’t flinch,” he said. “He was good in the huddle and getting guys lined up. He knew the plan. It was not like he was just playing street ball because he wasn’t prepared. He prepared himself to be the starter and in some instances, it showed. His biggest issues were the turnovers.”
Manziel admitted he's got to take care of the football.
"I can't be careless with (the football)," he said. "I just need to get (the ball) out of my hands and play for the punt and move on."
Manziel thinks he's progressed.
"A lot more comfortable," Manziel said. "Even as the game went on, I started the game a little nervous, a little shaky and as I made that pass to Travis (Benjamin) and he takes it into the endzone as the game went along and we saw some of the pressures, some of the things we saw in the week, the game slowed down.
"The key is having the guys up front knowing they have my back and they were working with a guy who hadn't been in there," he said. "I give those guys a lot of credit."
McCown was injured trying to score a touchdown after leading an impressive 78-yard drive to open the game and did not return. Manziel took a couple of hits, as well. Pettine said he’s talked to the quarterbacks about taking unnecessary hits.
“You talk to those guys, but the same thing comes up with Josh,” Pettine said. “Being wreckless versus competitive. It’s easy to say to a guy, but I think it’s harder to change their way of thinking. I thought Johnny did a nice job of sliding on a couple plays and on the one he exposed himself to be big shot that wasn’t necessary. The one that he fumbled on, he just has to be a better decision maker. That’s something that comes with experience. You can tell a kid that the stove is hot, but sometimes they have to touch it before they figure it out.”
Solomon Out: LB Scott Solomon left the Jets game with an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return. Pettine said will be out some time.
“Solomon will miss some time,” Pettine said. “He has an ankle sprain and will be out at least a couple weeks.”
ESPN reported that Solomon could miss four to six weeks.
LB Barkevious Mingo and LB Nate Orchard are expected to step in for Solomon.
“Having the depth in that room with Nate Orchard,” Pettine said. “He’s in a much better place with his back. He should be able to step in there.”
Pettine said that LB/DL Armonty Bryant is being used more as a linebacker this season, as a defensive lineman.
“We have five (outside linebackers),” Pettine said. “We consider Armonty as an outside backer first and can moonlight (as a defensive lineman(, when necessary.”
Orchard was inactive last week against the Jets.
“Orchard was more of a function of not having practice reps,” Pettine said. “He was limited but working his way back.”
Inactive Xavier: DL Xavier Cooper was inactive last week after having a preseason with three sacks.
“It was a function of our depth,” Pettine said. “We love to have them all up given the game plan he was the next guy up.”
Dansby Day-to-Day: The Browns had 12 players on their pre-practice injury report, including LB Karlos Dansby.
“Karlos Dansby has a foot (injury),” he said. “He’ll be day-to-day. We should have every body else out there at least on a limited basis.”
The others on the pre-practice Injury Report: OL Joel Bitonio (knee), WR Dwayne Bowe (hamstring), DE Desmond Bryant (shoulder), LB Karlos Dansby (foot), DB Justin Gilbert (hip flexor), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), QB Josh McCown (concussion), LB Nate Orchard (back), OL Mitchell Schwartz (thumb), LB Scott Solomon (ankle), RB Robert Turbin (ankle) and OL Joe Thomas (rest).
Gilbert’s Example: Pettine said that the incident with DB Justin Gilbert was addressed and he used it as an example to the entire team.
“We’ve handled that internally,” he said. “I’ve spoken to him and it led to talk to team how we expect them to act outside the building.”
West Returns: RB Terrance West returns this week with the Titans after being traded the first week of the season. Pettine was asked if he expected West to have an attitude to show the Browns that they made a mistake.
“Terrance always plays with an attitude,” Pettine said. “He did some good things in their opener. I’m sure they will play exchange pleasantries before and throughout the game.”