BEREA, Ohio — One day after Cleveland Browns veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer held onto his starting job, receiver Nate Burleson defended the league's most-scrutinized backup.
"We have arguably the best No. 2 (quarterback) in the NFL," Burleson said of Johnny Manziel, the team's polarizing star rookie.
Burleson, ever candid as he heads into his 12th season, called himself a "Johnny Football fan" while going out of his way to insist Manziel will learn from his most viral preseason moment — flipping his middle finger toward the Washington Redskins bench during Monday night's nationally televised preseason loss.
"I don't mind the guy making mistakes, especially young in his career," said Burleson. "God knows I've made a lot of mistakes over my career. I just didn't have five high-definition cameras on me at all times. ... I'm fine with the guy making decisions and manning up to it.
"From what I've seen in Johnny and the way he approaches this job, he loves this sport, and he wants to be great at it."
Burleson said it might be a blessing that the former Texas A&M legend won't start the season atop the depth chart after coach Mike Pettine appointed Hoyer his starter Wednesday, citing his poise and experience.
"It's not a bad thing for him to be the No. 2, Week 1," Burleson said of Manziel. "He's a rookie and still has a lot of learning to do as a professional and a player."
Nonetheless, players are grateful the summer-long quarterback question has at least been temporarily resolved.
With Hoyer slated to work at least the first half with the starters when the Browns host the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night while Manziel plays after halftime, players are hopeful a struggling passing attack will find some rhythm.
"I'm pleased that we made a decision and at least we're going to get couple of more weeks here getting good quality practices with Brian as the starting quarterback," all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas said, referencing Cleveland's Sept. 7 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "(I)t's nice to have consistency in the guy who is taking the snaps first team because it gives everybody a chance to grow.
"That's how you get better. It is difficult switching between guys that you never get consistency with."
Cleveland's starting offense has yet to score a touchdown in seven preseason possessions.
"We're not executing well enough," Thomas said. "It's a new offense, different quarterbacks, a lot of new guys at different skill positions."
While Burleson hopes Manziel is Cleveland's future rock star, Hoyer has been a locker-room rock, taking just five days off amid his comeback from surgery to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament suffered last October.
"He was 3-0 last year when he was inserted and obviously was a huge factor in all of those victories," Thomas said, citing Hoyer's 2013 impact once he cracked the lineup.
"The guys that were around here know what he can do when the pressure is on. ... We're hoping to see a lot of that same stuff from him this year."
By his own admission, Manziel has a lot of learning to do when it comes to improving his play from the pocket and mastering the playbook of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
"Playing the hypothetical game of who would have been the starter, either one of those guys would do a great job for us," Thomas said. "Everyone on this team wants the best quarterback that gives us the best chance to win in Week 1.
"Coach chose Brian because of that factor. The whole team is behind him. ... If they would have chosen somebody else, I think the team would have been behind the other player — if everyone felt he gave us the best chance to win."
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