By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
A circuitous path home: Brian Hoyer was 10 years old when he sat with his father, Axel, at the final game of the old Browns in Cleveland Stadium on Dec. 17, 1995.
The sound of M-80s exploding in protest of the team being stolen to Baltimore and the sight of fans uprooting wooden seats to take home as relics frightened Hoyer. It was the ugliest day in Browns history.
Seven years later, as a quarterback of powerhouse St. Ignatius High School, Hoyer visited a practice of the new Browns at the same facility in Berea which is now his professional workplace.
“I’ve been here before,” Hoyer said after his third OTA practice on Thursday as a member of the Browns. “I didn’t need directions on the first day of work.”
Hoyer, now 27, was all smiles as reporters spoke with him for the first time since signing a two-year contract last week.
“It’s really a dream come true,” Hoyer said. “I always grew up wanting to be Bernie Kosar. Now to get a chance to play quarterback for the Browns, it’s definitely an exciting time.”
Hoyer doesn’t have time to revel in his dream, however. Although his arrival seemed inevitable, he came relatively late in the process to add competition to incumbent starter Brandon Weeden.
The Arizona Cardinals delayed Hoyer’s imminent departure by protecting their rights to the restricted free agent with a high second-round contract tender. In the meantime, the Browns added Jason Campbell, who has 72 career NFL starts to Hoyer’s one.
The Browns are Hoyer’s fourth team in nine months. Last season, he was released on the final roster cut by New England at the end of August, signed by Pittsburgh for two cups of coffee in November, waived, claimed by Arizona on Dec. 10, and crammed to start the final game of the season, his only start in four NFL seasons, a 27-13 loss to NFC champion San Francisco.
“This is my fourth offense in a year, so I’m really scrambling and trying to study as much as I can and get caught up because I’ve missed two months of meetings and workouts,” Hoyer said.
What he brings: Hoyer was signed as an undrafted free agent coming out of Michigan State in 2009 by New England coach Bill Belichick – the same man who presided over the final Browns game in 1995. As an undrafted rookie, Hoyer beat out three quarterbacks with more experience to win the job as Tom Brady’s backup.
He held it for three seasons and used the time wisely.
“For a guy like me, the situation of how I came in the league, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go,” Hoyer said. “In my opinion, he’s the best. I got to sit there with him, day in and day out, and just see how he approaches things, how he runs a team, how strict he is on himself and really holds himself to the highest standard. I’ve seen what it takes to be the best and I try every time I go on the field to be the same.”
Hoyer eventually was displaced by 2011 third-round draft pick Ryan Mallett, who had a bigger arm and better physical skills and was viewed by Belichick as a potential heir to Brady.
But Belichick really liked Hoyer and confided his fondness to NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, who talked up Hoyer as a potential NFL starter. When Lombardi was named GM of the Browns by CEO Joe Banner in January, Hoyer’s arrival seemed imminent.
But Banner also heard glowing reports of Hoyer from three candidates interviewed for the position eventually given to Rob Chudzinski.
Coaches Ray Horton, Ken Whisenhunt and Bill O’Brien each said in interviews they would bring Hoyer to Cleveland if they got the job. They considered Hoyer a viable competitor for a starting job, and a solid NFL backup at the very least.
How does it unfold?: Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner both favor the big-armed quarterback in their offense, which doesn’t exactly describe Hoyer. Chudzinski said Hoyer enters the fray as clear No. 3 behind Weeden and Campbell.
“He was available and we decided to bring him in,” Chudzinski said. “He is a guy who has had experience. He has a good arm and a good sense for playing. We are working him here and he’ll get more of a look at him as we go.”
Hoyer said, “No doubt I think I have the capabilities to be a starting quarterback.”
In this city, which has seen 18 quarterbacks start at least one game in 14 seasons, the odds are good that Hoyer will some day join that list, probably later than sooner.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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