BEREA — Brian Hoyer is running, throwing and lifting weights in his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He’s getting to know new coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during his daily trips to Browns headquarters to rehab.
Hoyer considers himself the starting quarterback — and is doing everything he can to keep it that way in 2014.
“Yeah, definitely. That’s what I’m working hard every day to get back towards,” he said Thursday. “So I take that mentality with me every day I come in here.
“My goal is to be the starting quarterback again.”
Hoyer had started only one NFL game before joining the Browns last year. He went from third on the depth chart to starting in Week 3, then won all three of his starts before getting hurt against the Bills.
But nothing is guaranteed to Hoyer, the North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate who was undrafted out of Michigan State in 2009. The Browns own the Nos. 4 and 26 picks in the first round and are expected to draft a quarterback. Hoyer knows well the names the Browns will consider in the top five — Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.
“In this league there’s a draft every year, there’s free agency every year, so it’s a constant motion of players in and out,” Hoyer said. “Veterans have an advantage on rookies anyway because those guys — I know from my first year — you train so much for the combine, things like that, that you’re not really training for reading defenses, playing football. You’re worried about your 40, your drops, things like that. For a veteran, I’m worried about minicamp. I’m not worried about going out and running a 40.
“So we’ve got an advantage anyway. And there’s always going to be competition, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The organizational shakeup Tuesday left Hoyer without perhaps his strongest supporter, fired general manager Michael Lombardi, who signed him last year when he became available.
“Obviously for me, Mike Lombardi was a big reason I came here,” Hoyer said. “He had a lot of faith in me and I’ll always appreciate what he did for me to a point where not a lot of people believed in me. And I’ll always look to prove him right.”
The removal of Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner could actually benefit Hoyer. The old regime seemed set on taking a quarterback at the top of the draft, while new GM Ray Farmer is too fresh to have a definitive plan.
“I’ve gotten a chance to get to know Ray over the year I’ve been here, so I’m excited,” Hoyer said. “The things he talks about as a football player is what you want to hear. You’ve got to move forward and that’s what we’re going to do.
“For me it’s just about getting out on the field and competing and getting back that starting job.”
A rehab he classified as on or ahead of schedule has boosted his spirits 17 weeks after surgery. The Browns’ offseason program is scheduled to begin April 7, and Hoyer expects to participate.
“I’m out here doing everything I need to be doing,” he said. “If it was up to me, I’d practice tomorrow. So at this point, I feel really good. Now obviously the trainers and doctors will determine when I’m back. But for me, April can’t come soon enough, and I’m ready to go.”
As difficult and tedious as the rehab is, it’s given Hoyer the chance to be in the team facility and build a relationship with Pettine and Shanahan, though league rules prohibit them from talking X’s and O’s. He also called fellow Michigan State alum Kirk Cousins to learn more about Shanahan, who was Cousins’ coordinator with the Redskins.
“He had nothing but great things to say and we kind of compared notes on offenses,” Hoyer said. “So I’m excited. Now I can get a chance to get in there and watch their film from last year and kind of get a feel for his style of offense, and I think I fit that style really well. There’s dropbacks, there’s play-action, there’s a good running game that’s involved, which makes it easier on the quarterback in the play-action game.”
Pettine studied a lot of film of Hoyer last year as the Bills prepared to play the Browns and remains impressed.
“I have a lot of respect for Brian, I think the intangibles are tremendous,” Pettine said. “He’s a great leader, he knows how to prepare. He came out of that system, learned from Tom Brady. I think his football acumen is off the chart and you could tell.
“There’s certain quarterbacks you look for an ‘it’ factor. You might not be able to necessarily describe what ‘it’ is, but he has it.”