Browns' QB rundown shows ripple effect of Johnny Manziel's elbow injury

The goal for the Cleveland Browns' third preseason game had been to get Josh McCown a healthy amount of snaps, then bring Johnny Manziel in to play in the second quarter for time with the starters.

Manziel’s elbow injury shelved those plans. He now will miss the final two preseason games. And at long last, coach Mike Pettine has said that Josh McCown will start the opener against the Jets.

Then he kidded the media about its infatuation with naming the starter.

“I think I’ve said he’s the starter,” he said, “without saying it.”

Where do the Browns stand with their quarterbacks?

McCown has been what the team had hoped he’d be at this point. Good guy off the field, solid guy on. He quickly earned the trust and respect of his teammtes, especially the veterans.

The Browns will give McCown one half in Tampa Bay, then sit him out in the preseason finale. That means he will enter the regular season with barely a full game of playing time in preseason. That’s a dance the Browns annually do with new quarterbacks. They limit the preseason playing time to protect them, then wonder why they weren’t ready when the season started. The good thing with McCown is that in 12 years in the league and at the age of 36, he’s seen just about everything.

In his four possessions, McCown has been effective. He’s scored 10 points, completed 80 percent of his passes. The problem is two of his three incompletions went to the other team. He’s not been helped by the fact that the two main backs who have been on the field — Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West — have averaged 3 yards per carry, and that rookie running back Duke Johnson and veteran receiver Dwayne Bowe have been out. McCown remains the same guy who has never started 16 games in a season, has been above .500 as a starter once and was 1-10 as the starter in Tampa Bay last season.

At this point, the positives and negatives really don’t matter. The Browns will ride with McCown when the season starts.

Manziel’s injury is not long-term, the team says. It is not a major setback, the team says. It can be managed and treated with rest, the team says.

That is clearly the hope.

But to say Manziel is merely sore and has a tired arm when he is going to miss two weeks of valuable work doesn’t exactly seem accurate. This is an injury; the only question is how severe.

Others have managed a similar situation before, but when the Browns admit that his throwing motion contributes to the problem, and when they admit it's next to impossible to change that motion, it’s a concern. Especially since the team said the exact same things it is saying now when this first happened in camp two weeks ago.

There’s no reason to write off Manziel at this point. But there’s reason to wonder whether this will be a lingering issue.

On the field, Manziel had made strides. But he was not to the point that the team was ready to consider him its starter. Entering the third preseason game, he was the backup. Now he will miss valuable time — and hopefully be back for the regular season.

The injury to Connor Shaw takes on different in light of Manziel’s situation. Shaw had been progressing in camp and showed a much stronger arm than last season. With Manziel sidelined, Shaw would have been the backup. He now is sidelined indefinitely after surgery to repair ligament damage in his right thumb.

Thad Lewis was a surprise offseason addition. The general feeling was that he was signed as insurance in case Manziel had issues following rehab. Now that Manziel has elbow issues and Shaw is out, Lewis is the backup. Lewis has thrown four passes in late preseason action, completing two for 15 yards with another that went off the hands of Vince Mayle and was intercepted. Lewis will get plenty of time against the Bucs. It’s needed.

Pat Devlin was signed this past week in part to help throw during practice. There are some positive reports on Devlin — big guy, accurate, smart, eager to work — and he will have a chance to show what he can do. He might even play in the final preseason game, though he will be used Saturday only in case of emergency.