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Tight Race: Browns rookie QB Johnny Manziel keeping pace with Brian Hoyer in battle to start

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BEREA, Ohio - Johnny Manziel has quickly learned his college days — on the field anyway — are over.

Less than a week into his first NFL training camp with the Browns, Manziel is going through the typical growing pains of any rookie quarterback.

He's doing all he can in the classroom to grasp Cleveland's offence, but the former Heisman Trophy winner is finding that once he's behind centre, everything is moving faster than expected.

He's making mental and physical mistakes. The throws that came so easy for him at Texas A&M aren't there. He's not scrambling around and making defenders look silly. Not yet.

Johnny Football isn't dominating.

"I'm a rookie," he said. "I don't have all that stuff figured out."

Still, Manziel is making progress and staying close to Brian Hoyer in their competition to be Cleveland's starter.

Both QBs have had their good and bad moments through five practices, and offensive co-ordinator Kyle Shanahan said a contest that has divided Browns fans remains a tight race.

"I don't think one's any further in front than the other," Shanahan said.

Hoyer has taken all the snaps so far with Cleveland's first-team offence with Manziel working exclusively with the second-stringers. However, the Browns plan to give Manziel some reps with the starters "sooner than later."

Shanahan, who joined the Browns after four seasons in Washington, is eager for Hoyer or Manziel to seize the job, push into the lead and stay there. To this point, they've traded spots.

"As far as these five practices, it's usually one day one guy's ahead of the other," he said. "The next day, the other guy does a better job. I think it's been back and forth. It's something that I don't try to evaluate every day. I try to just coach both of them and get them better. Usually in my experience, when you've been in a situation like this, it usually plays out.

"We've been in a week. Hopefully as these preseason games go, as these practices go, I hope one of them will make the decision easy on us, one will just take off and start playing really well. Usually the answer becomes pretty easy. If they make it tough, I hope it's because they're both playing really well."

Manziel acknowledged some "ups and downs" during his first week in camp. He claims not to be worried about whether he's made up ground on Hoyer, who as expected, has looked sharper than his younger teammate.

Manziel said his sole focus is on getting a handle on learning Cleveland's offence.

"I'm not worried about one or the other being ahead," he said. "I'm worried about me making sure I know what I need to know to get out here and execute and run the offence and not have any mistakes. Once I go through a couple of days with no mental errors or getting where I need to be every single time, then I'll feel a lot better.

"Right now, it's me versus the playbook and there's nothing else."

Manziel is finding it difficult to operate the same way he did in college, where he shattered records and captivated a generation of fans with his uncanny ability to ad lib and turn a routine play into something spectacular. It's a whole different game in the pros with bigger, faster, stronger players.

Shanahan said Manziel is beginning to understand he has to be a different quarterback. He doesn't have a choice. There's not time to freelance or be creative and run around in the NFL. It's get the ball, make a decision and get rid of it.

"The test when you get to the NFL is a lot of times those defences won't allow you to do that," he said. "They're going to keep you in the pocket. They're going to have their containment. So you can't always be looking for it. You've got to be able to do both, and when something's not there or when a defence gets out of their lanes, yeah, make them pay."

Shanahan doesn't want Manziel to abandon his play-making ways, but he must know when to improvise.

"You never want to take that away from him, but you've got to continue to develop as a quarterback because these defences in this league, especially once you get into the regular season and coaches game plan for you, if they want to keep you in the pocket, they can," he said. "So you've got to be able to do both, and if you can do both, you can be a great one."

NOTES: WR Josh Gordon missed practice after travelling to New York for his appeal hearing with the NFL. Gordon and his lawyers will meet with an arbitrator on Friday morning to contest his possible suspension for a drug violation. ... Browns DT Billy Winn (hamstring) and OG John Greco (unspecified) practiced for the first time in training camp. ... Browns coach Mike Pettine is thrilled to have S Jim Leonhard, who played for him in Baltimore, New York and Buffalo. "You look at him and think he should be doing your taxes and not playing safety for you," Pettine joked. "But he's an exceptional athlete, and he's found a way to survive for a long time in this league."

___

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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