By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
No. 6 is back: Tuesday was a great day for Brian Hoyer and for the Browns.
Because in order for this thing to work, this “win now” attitude the Browns of Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer and Jimmy Haslam have adopted – in stark contrast to the empty rhetoric of “sustained winning” – Hoyer has to be healthy and stay healthy.
The way the team is constituted right now – nine days before the draft – the Browns can win if Hoyer can stay healthy. He showed that last year in three starts with a team not as good as the one that had its first minicamp practice on Tuesday for Pettine.
Josh Gordon wasn’t even Josh Gordon yet when Hoyer took over in Week 3 last year. Trent Richardson was not yet a draft bust, but his shocking trade left the locker room confused and the running game non-existent. Jordan Cameron hadn’t declared himself a Pro Bowl tight end yet.
And the Browns won every game Hoyer started.
That’s when everybody in the locker room got excited, some of them for the first time in their Browns careers. The revelation was the excited look in the eyes of the defensive players – Joe Haden, Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, T.J. Ward and, mostly, D’Qwell Jackson, who had suffered the pangs of bad quarterbacking more than all of them.
They all were believing in Hoyer.
But there were only three games, and Hoyer didn’t make it through the first quarter of the third one before tearing an ACL trying to escape the pursuit of fast Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso.
So for the plan to work -- and the plan involves drafting a quarterback high -- Hoyer and everyone knows that Hoyer has to prove he can stay healthy.
That’s why it was such a great day to see Hoyer lifting his right leg encased in a bulky brace as high as he could in team calisthenics, and to see him practically sprinting to take the snap from Alex Mack in 7 on 7 drills, and to see him moving around assertively, as if he’d been quarterbacking the Kyle Shanahan offense for years.
On Tuesday – 6 months and 11 days after knee surgery -- Hoyer made a statement: This is his team and he’s not letting go this time.
“That’s why he’s so good,” said Cameron. “He sees this opportunity and he takes ownership of him being out here and him being healthy and any way he can help our team. He’s a good leader, very vocal. Assertive is the perfect way to describe him.”
How ya doin', Johnny?: Hoyer said that once Haslam cleared the decks and hired a new coaching staff, assuring an extra minicamp, Hoyer focused his rehab on being ready for the first day.
“Because I knew I’d have to prove myself again,” he said. “It’s something I’ve had to deal with throughout my whole career in college and the NFL. I’m willing to do it. Competition always makes people better.”
Hoyer knows competition is coming in nine days. Farmer and Pettine talk every day not about whether to draft a quarterback on May 8 but at which point. Do they take Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles at No. 4 or do they take Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr at No. 26, or make a play for one of them in a trade up from No. 26?
Whomever the Browns select, and whenever, Pettine made no bones about his preference to sit the rookie quarterback behind Hoyer.
“I think it’s extremely difficult to come right out of a rookie camp to training camp and be a starter in the NFL,” Pettine said. “That’s a rare guy that can handle that and he has to have a great supporting cast to do it, so it’s something you hope to avoid because I think you can set that player back and set your team back. We’re in the ‘win now’ business, and as history has shown, I think it’s difficult to do with a rookie quarterback.”
For three years with the New England Patriots, Hoyer sat and watched Brady’s every move every day. Now, he is in the position of being the one who will be watched by a younger quarterback
“I didn’t always ask a ton of questions, he didn’t always tell me what he was thinking, but to be able to sit there and watch someone put the time in, work hard, see how they attack the preparation, I think that’s the best way to tutor someone,” Hoyer said. “Show them how to do it the right way.
“First and foremost, my responsibility is to win games for this team. The best way to be a role model is to play the best you can and show the young guy what it takes to win in this league. I was fortunate to be behind the best in that aspect. I think I’ll take that role. I’ll never not answer a question. I know some guys take it as a threat. I’ll be myself and continue to work hard and try to do my best to help the team win.”
And what if the new quarterback is Johnny Manziel, the would-be, next NFL sensation who already is lining up shoe deals and cutting commercials with LeBron James?
“Just be myself,” Hoyer said. “Do what I do on a daily basis and work hard. That’s all I know what to do. I’ll continue to act the same way and go from there.”
Proving it all over: Just put yourself in Hoyer’s shoes for one minute.
Undrafted, forgotten as a distant backup behind one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time, released, banged around three teams in one year before landing with your hometown team. You finally get your chance and you seize it by the throat and win two games in a row, and then you tear an ACL. Is that Cleveland or what?
And now your team, the team you rooted for as a kid and then taught to win in your very brief time at the helm, is pondering to replace you with a new hotshot quarterback in the draft. Perhaps the most exciting player in the history of college football.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Hoyer maintained. “People are always going to speculate. I know how I feel about myself. I know how my teammates feel. I’m trying to go out and prove it to these new coaches. All I can ask for is a chance and I think I’ll get that.
“Being from this city and now having the opportunity to play for this team, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that wants the Browns to win more than me. That’s what I work towards every day.”
For the Browns’ plan to work, Hoyer has to be on the field, winning, and the hotshot new quarterback has to be watching and taking notes and preparing every day.
Because the biggest question about Hoyer is not if he can win. The biggest question is if the gods of football will give him a full season to remove all doubt.
|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. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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