Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater get nods to start, Johnny Manziel to wait


Sep 21, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars fans watch above a sign suggesting they start quarterback Blake Bortles (5) before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings have made the moves to their rookie quarterbacks this week and going forward for the time being.  The Jaguars did it because of the ineffectiveness of Chad Henne despite hoping to sit Blake Bortles all year.  The Vikings put Teddy Bridgewater in the game due to an injury to Matt Cassel’s foot which will keep him out multiple weeks.  Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns, who most national pundits expected to have Johnny Manziel starting for the team week 1 and many local media and fans expected to start week 5, are going full steam ahead behind journeyman Brian Hoyer.

Bortles came in for the Jaguars after the team was down 30 to the Indianapolis Colts and threw the first touchdown pass of his career.  He also threw the first interception that was returned for a touchdown of his career.  On the whole, Bortles was 14 of 24 for 223 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  Jaguars head coach has already announced that Bortles will start next week and most are presuming that it is his job for the rest of the year.  The Jaguars’ organization had planned to sit Bortles all year despite an impressive preseason and Bortles looking ahead of schedule.  General manager David Caldwell had discussed the fact that the organization would know when Bortles was ready for the job.  Evidently, when the team went down 30-0 against the Colts is when they knew.

Perhaps due to a porous offensive line that yielded 10 sacks the week before or a weapons that some might argue needed a year to develop, there were reasons outside of just Bortles’ readiness that could make the argument to keep him on the sideline for the time being.  How much public pressure and a terrible onfield product contributed to the move is anyone’s guess.  The rationalization of the team sounds eerily similar to the same one that had them rush Blaine Gabbert into action when he was a rookie.  The two are completely different people and have different organizations around them, so it is too simplistic to suggest Bortles will fail because Gabbert did.  Nevertheless, the Jaguars had a plan and at least appear to have bailed on it.

The Vikings picked a quarterback in Bridgewater who appeared capable of starting the season as the team’s starter coming out of the gate.  Cassel was given the job and injury forced the team to make the move to the rookie.  Bridgewater did not have an eye-popping day in terms of numbers but did show his ability to pass and run with the ball.  The Vikings ultimately still lost to the New Orleans Saints, but Bridgewater is the man in the driver’s seat in Minnesota.

The Vikings’ brass has a unique opportunity to see how Bridgewater does and if he looks effective enough, they can just keep Cassel on the bench when he recovers from his injury and continue to go.  If Bridgewater has a shaky run, they can go back to Cassel, citing he should not lose the job due to an injury.  They can roll with Bridgewater as long as they want, but unlike the Jaguars, they are not married to him as the starter for the remainder of the season.

The national media refused to believe the Browns would not start Johnny Manziel; even going as far as suggesting the team was bullying him in some venues.  Struggles in the preseason and looking out of his depth early on in addition to having a veteran that could try to keep him on the bench at least initially.  On the local front, week five after the team’s bye week was the first meaningful potential spot for Manziel to be the starter when the schedule got significantly easier.

The team is just 1-2 but has been in every game and while Hoyer has hardly been perfect or even that far above average, he has been steady and avoided big mistakes.  To this point, Hoyer has thrown for 716 yards through 3 weeks, had 3 touchdowns and not had a single turnover.  Despite losing to the Baltimore Ravens 23-21 in part due to some late game mistakes from Hoyer, he was able to complete 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards.  At times, he was extremely effective and precise with accuracy.

As the Browns enter their bye, Hoyer is enabling them to wait to play Manziel when they want to as opposed to when they have to, which is the situation Jacksonville appears to find itself.  Manziel looked woefully raw in the preseason and looked lost in the pocket.  Though Manziel has had the occasional appearance, which may or may not have seen its fruition on a creative, though illegal play that might have netted the Browns 30 yards on a pass to Manziel, it instead went back 5 yards on a penalty and according to the rules, should have gone back 10 more.

Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine has said on multiple occasions that he would prefer to have a rookie quarterback sit for the entire year.  Based on the early returns, that would be the best situation for Manziel as well, who has consistently been far more realistic than his supporters about how far he had to go as a quarterback.  The Browns enter a stretch with a number of winnable games and short of injury, Hoyer may only firm up his spot as the starter for the rest of this year and ultimately put the Browns in a similar situation as the San Diego Chargers had with Drew Brees and then first round pick Philip Rivers up until Brees injured his shoulder.

For now, Bortles and Bridgewater join Derek Carr as the rookies in the 2014 draft class to start for their respective teams.  Manziel has a chance to be the best of the bunch, but his time will be delayed.  The question becomes how long; the ideal scenario seems to be until next season, but the Browns have a terrible track record of keeping their quarterbacks healthy for an entire year, so that could be put to the test.  Of the three situations, the Jaguars appear to be in the worst spot but Bortles might have the highest ceiling of the group and if his improvement from his last season of college to the preseason is any indication, everyone may want to buy as much Bortles stock as they can possibly get.  Nevertheless, the Vikings and Browns have more options with their respective first round quarterbacks, which could prove better in the long run.  And as often proves to be the case, the nurture part has a huge impact of how players do in the NFL; perhaps more than the nature part.

For anyone curious on my takes on the quarterbacks in this class (Manziel was 4th of this group, 5th overall):

1. Teddy Bridgewater
2. Derek Carr
3. Blake Bortles
4. Johnny Manziel