Chuck Kyle sat in front of the television in his Westlake home last week watching the Browns game like he usually does. This felt different.
“It’s odd. I got a little anxious, a little nervous,” he said Thursday.
Kyle, the legendary St. Ignatius coach, was watching one of his former stars quarterback the hometown team against the Vikings. It was Brian Hoyer’s debut with the Browns and just his second career start.
“We’ve had offensive guards, offensive tackles, defensive tackles, but when it’s the quarterback it’s a little more anxiety,” Kyle said, referring to the former Wildcats who have dotted NFL rosters. “I was worried for him. So much is in his hands.”
But when Hoyer trotted onto the field with 3:21 left trailing 27-24, Kyle relaxed a bit.
“Brian’s always enjoyed the two-minute drill,” he said. “He always loved that. We had several games where he did that very well.
“I’m watching, thinking this is what Brian would love to do.”
Hoyer threw for all 55 yards on the winning drive, finishing with a perfect 7-yard fade to the left side of the end zone to tight end Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left. He will start again today against the Bengals.
Hoyer needed the finishing flourish.
He got off to a great start, putting 24 points on the board in the first 27 minutes after Brandon Weeden and the offense had managed 16 in two games. The points stopped, Hoyer threw three interceptions and the Vikings took the lead.
“I was really disappointed in myself with those decisions because those are kind of easy things,” Hoyer said. “Usually, that’s not in my game to make bad decisions like that.”
Then came the final drive.
“To see him bounce back and rise to the occasion, I’ve seen him do that before,” Kyle said of Hoyer, who was honorable mention all-state as a senior in 2004 and set an Ignatius record with 3,643 career passing yards.
Hoyer arrived in May and has become a quick fan favorite. He grew up in North Olmsted, went to games at the old stadium with his dad’s season tickets and pretended to be Bernie Kosar when playing in the backyard. It also helps that he isn’t Weeden.
Hoyer wore a St. Ignatius football T-shirt Friday after practice. The reception for his first appearance at FirstEnergy Stadium should be raucous.
“Sure, it means a lot,” he said. “It will be awesome.”
Kyle isn’t going to the game because he has work to do as a coach and English teacher. He’ll multitask while watching on TV.
“There’s no doubt about it, he has a special feeling about it,” Kyle said of Hoyer playing at home. “The kid comes out in him a little.
“But he has to be a professional quarterback. It’s pro football, it could change. You can’t get too emotional. He understands that.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski also grew up a huge Browns fan and can relate to the emotions Hoyer is feeling but trying to downplay.
“I know he’s excited about his opportunity,” Chudzinski said. “We’ve talked mostly just about focusing on what we need to do and all the other things, blocking those things out and not worrying about those things.
“He’s a pro, and he understands that. Once the ball is kicked off, it’s football. He’s playing the game that he’s played his whole life. He knows what expectations are, and he’ll get into the course of the game and we won’t be thinking a thing about that.”
Hoyer finished the Vikings game 30-for-54 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He could become the first Cleveland quarterback since Brian Sipe in 1980 with back-to-back 300-yard games, and the first to win his first two starts since Mark Rypien in 1994.
He’s also the guy that was undrafted out of Michigan State in 2009, spent three years as Tom Brady’s backup in New England and was cut three times from August 2012 to May 2013. So veteran coordinator Norv Turner tried to pump the brakes when asked if Hoyer has the chance to be a good starter.
“It’s a fair question to ask and I think it’s really hard to answer,” Turner said. “If you take his 15 best plays and put them on a reel you say, ‘Wow, this guy is really good.’ I could do the same with other plays, and you say, ‘Let’s not jump to conclusions.’
“We’re working hard. Brian is going to give himself the best chance.”
This is Hoyer’s best chance to establish himself as an NFL starter. He had no shot in New England and wasn’t in Pittsburgh or Arizona long enough. Browns general manager Michael Lombardi’s been a longtime fan, and the starting job belongs to no one.
Hoyer impressed against the Vikings with his quick decisions. He got rid of the ball in a hurry, helping reduce the protection problems that sabotaged the first two games. Chudzinski spread the credit around, including to the offensive line and tight ends, but Hoyer played an important role.
“Brian’s a guy who has a real good understanding of the philosophy of throwing concepts,” said Kyle, who talks and texts with Hoyer regularly. “He can really picture things. He does a real good job looking at the secondary and knowing where he’s going to throw.
“It didn’t shock me at all. He was getting rid of it quickly and moving the sticks.”
Kyle believes Hoyer has the football intelligence to become an offensive coordinator in college or the NFL. That can wait. The first priority is putting a second win on his resume against a Cincinnati defense with a Pro Bowl defensive line but a susceptible secondary because of hamstring injuries to cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson.
Hoyer is in his dream job, but no one knows how long he will keep it. Weeden’s thumb is healing and he began throwing Friday. Nothing beyond today is promised to Hoyer.
“Brian’s playing right now,” Turner said. “We’re getting him ready to go play and do the best he can do and give ourselves a chance to win. The great thing, obviously, and the thing that has everyone excited is when you go win a game in the last two minutes. You score with 50 seconds left — that’s exciting. Those are traits you want in a quarterback.”
The win and the finish generated a lot of excitement in a season that appeared lost after two opening defeats and the trade of running back Trent Richardson. Hoyer provided the hope, and a win today would move the Browns to 2-2 with two more home games on deck.
“Now we’re in good spirits and if we beat Cincinnati, a good division opponent, it could change big-time around here,” cornerback Joe Haden said.