BEREA — Quarterback Brian Hoyer dropped back quickly and smoothly and fired a strike. He rolled right with little restriction and delivered a perfectly placed completion.
The highlight of the first day of the first minicamp under first-year coach Mike Pettine was Hoyer’s fluid movement on his surgically repaired right knee during individual and seven-on-seven drills. Hoyer, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 3 and wore a large brace, was kept out of 11-on-11 drills as a precaution, but he’s expected to be cleared by mandatory minicamp in June and have no limitations by training camp in July.
“It was awesome,” Hoyer said. “I felt really good, which was no surprise to me. I felt like I was prepared for this for a while. It’s just good to play football again.”
The day belonged to Hoyer, but spring in the NFL is all about the draft. So the subject quickly switched to the team’s plans for May 8-10 and how they will affect Hoyer’s bid to be the starter of his hometown team.
Pettine has been saying for months the team will draft at least one quarterback, but the who and the when remain unknowns. The Browns have the Nos. 4, 26 and 35 picks and are expected to take a quarterback with one of the three. The list of candidates includes Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.
“I’ve never felt that if you draft them high that you have to start them right away,” Pettine said. “You can make a mistake there. I think it’s extremely difficult to come in and all of a sudden be ready to be a starter in the NFL. I think that’s a rare guy that can handle that and he has to have a great supporting cast in order 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, it’s very difficult to do with a rookie quarterback.”
Pettine could be trying to mislead the rest of the league, but he acknowledged that taking a quarterback at No. 4 and planning to sit him would not be the best way for the Browns to win this season.
“That’s been a big part of the discussion in the draft room,” he said. “Certainly it’s an ideal situation if you can get that quarterback later in the draft and that way you’re drafting a position player at four. But we’re in the business of I think staying true to our sequence, that if our fourth-best player or somebody rated above that is there at the fourth pick that we’ll feel comfortable turning the card in regardless of what the position is.”
While Hoyer has maintained for months he plans on keeping the starting job he held for three weeks last year – all wins — the feeling across the league is that the Browns need to find a franchise quarterback. The Browns even considered adding veteran Matt Schaub before he was traded from Houston to Oakland. Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius grad, was undrafted out of Michigan State and has made only four starts in his five-year career.
“I really don’t hear it that much because I don’t pay attention,” he said. “But it doesn’t bother me. I think people are going to speculate.
“I know how I feel about myself. I know how my teammates feel. All I can really ask for is a chance and I think I’ll get that. I’m going out there every day and until someone tells me otherwise, I think I’m the starter for this team. I waited so long for that opportunity last year and I got it. My mentality hasn’t changed since I took over last year.”
Being on the field for minicamp had extra meaning for Hoyer because of the new coaching staff. He wanted to show what he could do and how well he could absorb and run the new system.
“I knew I’d have to prove myself again,” he said. “It’s something I’ve had to deal with throughout my whole career, whether it was college or the NFL. I’m more than willing to do it. Competition I think always makes people better.”
He’s going to get more of it in the form of a rookie, who may look to Hoyer as a mentor.
“I think the best way to tutor is to play well,” he said. “Show them how to do it the right way.”
Hoyer was asked what he would do if Manziel is drafted and brings his big personality and the circus that would follow.
“Just be myself,” he said. “I have to do what I do on a daily basis and work hard. That’s all I know what to do.”
Pettine said he had to resist Hoyer’s begging to enter the team drills, but said he looked good and proved he’s ahead of schedule. He knows Hoyer feels he’ll be the starter.
“That’s the way he’s made up, ultimate competitor, so I think he firmly believes that it’s his job,” Pettine said.
All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon spent time at NFL Network and ESPN during the offseason and was asked often about the quarterbacks he wanted the Browns to draft. He said Tuesday that was no reflection on Hoyer and he’d be comfortable if he was the starter in September.
“Definitely,” Gordon said. “That means he definitely did what he had to do to deserve that spot and he worked his butt off to get there. And hopefully that’s what he does and hopefully he gets back healthy.
“He’s trying to show everyone he’s 100 percent healthy. He feels he deserves it and wants to prove himself, so that’s what he should do.”