BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine abruptly sat upright behind his office desk as he defended what he termed the team's "lose-lose" decision to limit rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel's media exposure despite critics who insist Johnny Football doesn't need to be hidden.
"When people criticize how we handled it, what's the alternative?" Pettine told USA TODAY Sports. "Would it have been more prudent for us the night we drafted him to name him the starter? And have him come in here and let the media have access to him every day and have a huge press conference for him? Handle him that way?
"It's all about building a team."
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Neither Manziel, whom Pettine says could be the Browns' Week 1 starter "if he gives us the best chance to win" nor veteran Brian Hoyer were made available to reporters during this week's three-day minicamp, which concluded Thursday.
"It was a lose-lose," Pettine continued. "We were going to get criticized either way. So we're going to make decisions that are what's best for the football team."
The coach paused, then added another key rationale for the offseason media policy.
"And that's the way the kid wants it," Pettine said. "He doesn't want anything handed to him. He wants to earn it. ... The best thing about it is we have two quality quarterbacks, and it's a rare season now in the NFL where one guy makes it through and takes every snap.
"For us, it was adding a resource we thought could help us win. That's the bottom line of the draft. ... It wasn't, 'Oh, we want to bring that circus to town.' We were willing to deal with it because he's a guy we think can help us win."
That doesn't mean Pettine will get pinned down on when or if his high-profile rookie will play in 2014.
As the outside linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 and as New York Jets defensive coordinator from 2009-2012, Pettine witnessed two first-round passers who had instant success.
"I've been a part of two rookie quarterbacks that took the team all the way to the AFC Championship Game, Joe Flacco (Ravens) and Mark Sanchez (Jets)," Pettine said. "And why? Because we were lights out on defense, we ran the ball, and we protected the quarterback and didn't ask them to do too much.
"So our philosophy all along is build the best team and minimize the importance of the quarterback. And then, when you do get a great one, now you have something special."
Pettine made it clear at the conclusion of minicamp that Hoyer will enter training camp atop the depth chart based on how sharp he has looked despite taking limited, shotgun-only repetitions coming off anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. But Pettine also opened the door for Manziel, noting that it's up to him to keep his head in the iPad playbook while implying Johnny Football stay out of trouble — and maybe even off the inflatable swan he was photographed lounging on while drinking from a bottle of alcohol last weekend.
Pettine says he is pleased with the progress Manziel has shown since he was drafted 22nd overall May 8 and that he's perfectly capable of closing the gap with Hoyer.
"I don't think it's insurmountable," Pettine said. "I think that Brian is securely ahead of him right now. But we will compete, and we will decide. The issue for us as a staff will be finding the right time to name the starter."
Pettine also continues to defend Manziel's insistence on living his life off the field in the celebrity limelight the way he sees fit.
"Live hard, play hard," Pettine said. "There's numerous examples of guys doing that. ... I think there is a little bit of a jealousy element to it, too. He pops up on TV, he's sitting courtside, Game 2 of the NBA Finals. It's just some of the stuff he's able to do.
"You just don't become friends with LeBron."
Or an inflatable swan — maybe a little over the top there, right coach?
"Yeah," Pettine conceded.
Follow Jim Corbett on Twitter @ByJimCorbett
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