Browns-Steelers Preview

The Associated Press

The NFL's leading receiver from 2013 has begun a year-long suspension, there's a third coach in three years on the sidelines and the team owner is two months removed from being hit with a $92 million fine.

Yet somehow, the biggest storyline of the Cleveland Browns' offseason will begin Week 1 holding a clipboard.

Brian Hoyer will get the start but all eyes will be on Johnny Manziel on Sunday at Heinz Field, where Cleveland begins yet another new era against a Pittsburgh Steelers team hoping an injection of speed and youth can help it emerge from mediocrity.

Winning four or five games for six straight seasons has left the Browns hitting the reset button quite often, but it still registered as a bit of a surprise when they fired first-year coach Rob Chudzinski hours after concluding a 4-12 season with a 20-7 loss in Pittsburgh.

That set in motion what even by Cleveland's standards was a tumultuous offseason. It took nearly a month for owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner to settle on Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as the new coach. Haslam agreed in July to pay a $92 million penalty for cheating customers out of promised rebates with his truck-stop company, the culmination of a 14-month federal inquiry. And Josh Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013 despite a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, was handed a one-year ban for his latest violation just 10 days before the start of the season.

In the midst of all that, the Browns selected Manziel with their second first-round pick - their latest attempt to unearth a franchise passer for a team that's used 11 opening-day starters since 1999.

But it'll be Hoyer, not the Heisman Trophy winner, who will be No. 12 after a preseason in which both struggled to distinguish themselves.

''This is Brian's job,'' Pettine said. ''I never think of it whether it's a leash or we want a guy to be a game manager. We want him to be confident and go out and play.''

Hoyer showed flashes in two starts last season before injuring his knee in the third, yet it figures to be only a matter of time before the calls for the rookie begin. But Manziel completed just 50.8 percent of his passes in the preseason, was fined $12,000 for flipping his middle finger at the Redskins' sideline and was ripped by Haslam after photos of his nightclub escapades in Austin and Las Vegas surfaced in July.

The Steelers, in fact, expect to see Manziel in some capacity Sunday.

''They didn't draft him in the first round to watch,'' coach Mike Tomlin said.

With Tomlin back for an eighth season and Ben Roethlisberger entering his second decade as Pittsburgh's quarterback, there's again a sense of stability for the Steelers.

For the past two years, though, that hasn't meant much. After going 12-4 and making it to two Super Bowls from 2008-11, Pittsburgh has been out of the playoffs the last two seasons after a pair of 8-8 finishes.

''There is a sense of urgency,'' receiver Lance Moore said. ''We know 8-8 is not what this organization is all about. This organization is about competing for championships and we're going to be willing to do whatever it takes to get back to that.''

Moore is one of a few new targets for Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who lost receiver Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery in free agency. Fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant is questionable for Week 1, but he'll add some height to group that includes the 5-foot-9 Moore, 5-10 Antonio Brown and 5-11 Markus Wheaton.

There's another rookie weapon in the 5-8 Dri Archer, a running back who clocked a 4.26-second 40 at the NFL combine. Archer will split punt returns with Brown and also figures to split out wide in an offense that plans to go no-huddle more frequently.

''We have some young people who are capable of infusing some speed, but we're not going to hang our hats on that, and we're not going to talk too much about it,'' Tomlin said.

The Steelers had their own bit of preseason controversy when top-two running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were arrested - and Bell charged with a DUI - after their car was stopped and a bag of marijuana was found a day before their preseason game against Philadelphia.

Tomlin said the team chose to handle their discipline internally.

Pettine brings a blitz-heavy style over from Buffalo to a defense that was an impressive ninth overall (332.4 yards per game) last season, and his new team will be facing a unit that's no stranger to blitzing in Dick LeBeau's defense.

It just might look a bit different. Speedy rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier will start in the middle, second-round pick Stephon Tuitt will see plenty of time on the defensive line, Mike Mitchell will replace veteran safety Ryan Clark and pricey linebacker LaMarr Woodley was released.

Cleveland's receiver depth is shaky with Gordon gone - Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins will start - but Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron should provide a downfield threat for Hoyer.

The Browns are also counting on former Texan Ben Tate to step up in his first chance as a full-time back, though that won't be easy Sunday. Cleveland has scored three rushing touchdowns while losing 19 of 21 to Pittsburgh.

It's lost 10 straight at Heinz Field by an average of more than two touchdowns and hasn't won a season opener since 2004.

Just don't tell Pettine that the odds are against him.

"Browns at Steelers in Week 1, in your first game as an NFL head coach?" he told the Browns' official website. "It doesn't get any better than that."

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