BEREA — As the rest of Northeast Ohio exploded when Johnny Manziel was picked by the Browns, Brian Hoyer had a more muted response.
“It was almost a sense of relief when he was drafted, because I knew exactly right then and there what it was going to be,” Hoyer said Wednesday after an organized team activities practice.
The selection of Manziel crystallized what was in store for Hoyer: a quarterback competition of national interest in which Manziel is the popular choice and Hoyer the forgotten man.
Yet coach Mike Pettine has declared Hoyer the starter and Manziel the backup with a lot of ground to make up in the open competition.
“It does feel different because as of right now I’m the top guy and before I’ve always been coming from behind,” said Hoyer, who made three of his four career starts last year. “So this does feel a little different, but to me my mentality has never really changed. I’ve always kind of thought of myself as the starter and prepared that way because you never know when that opportunity is going to come.”
Hoyer and Manziel shared a field for the first time Wednesday under the watchful eyes of the media. Hoyer is still wearing a big brace on his surgically repaired right knee and was limited to two series in 11-on-11 drills – all out of the shotgun — to protect the knee from inadvertent contact. Journeyman Tyler Thigpen took over with the starters when Hoyer was held out, keeping Manziel in his backup role.
“I just think it’s just like any other rookie, that he’s just inconsistent,” Pettine said of Manziel’s first week-plus on the job. “A lot of it’s the mental part of it. He’s more worrying about getting the formation right, making sure the motion’s correct and he’s got the cadence, then he’s got to worry about where guys are. He flashed some things today that made him kind of who he is. The ability to make plays on his feet.”
Manziel didn’t talk to reporters after speaking Saturday during rookie minicamp. But he remained a popular topic of conversation, and Hoyer was asked if it’s frustrating that Manziel’s the No. 1 story in football.
“It doesn’t affect me, so, no,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer said he never considered asking for a trade after the Manziel pick. Instead, he steeled himself for the challenge and further devoted himself to keeping the starting quarterback job.
“I think — and everyone else has made it clear — that it’s not going to be just kind of pushing me aside,” said Hoyer, a North Olmsted native. “So I knew, even going back to last summer, that this was the place that I wanted to be and it ended up working out and I got back here, and then I got a chance to play.
“So I’ve said it a million times, this is my hometown. This is where my family’s from, this is where I want to make a difference in this program and this organization. I’ll never shy away from competition and it’s something I had prepared myself for. So it’s good to be back out on the field and get to work.”
Hoyer isn’t immune to the hurricane of hype surrounding Manziel, but he’s staying out of the eye of the storm. He has a job to do, one to try to win and can’t afford to share in the excitement felt by many of his fellow Northeast Ohio natives and Browns fans.
Hoyer stood in the middle of the large pack of reporters, including representatives from ESPN and NFL Network, and carried himself like a starting quarterback. He joked about sending Manziel a birthday card, he boasted about the advantage of being a veteran, he acknowledged he’s in a new situation as the offseason starter.
“Brian has always been a competitor and will be the same guy no matter what,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I expect to see a lot of the same things we’ve seen from him all along because that’s the way Brian is.”
Pettine said earlier in the week he doesn’t want the quarterback competition to be “warm and fuzzy.” Hoyer has embraced the notion of a dogfight of a competition.
“I totally get it. When you’re competing for the same job, there’s only one guy out there,” he said. “I wouldn’t put too much into it. I don’t think we’re in there not being friendly. But when you’re gunning for the same job there is a little bit of an edge to it.”
Hoyer said the knee is fine and he’s only reminded about it when the brace slides. He continues to pester Pettine, the offensive coaches and the training staff to remove all restrictions and let him participate in all drills.
“At some point they might get a restraining order against me because I’m texting them all the time,” Hoyer said. “I think for me I’m going to press to the fullest and they can hold me back. That’s their call, but I’m going to make sure they know I’m ready to go.”
Hoyer said Manziel has made a good first impression off the field.
“He understands he’s a rookie,” Hoyer said. “He’s pretty quiet. He really pays attention. I see him taking a lot of notes. To me he seems like a hard worker. Every expectation that I had of him, he’s kind of lived up to that.”
Thomas was more blunt when discussing the former Heisman Trophy winner.
“Johnny has done a good job of being a rookie, keeping his mouth shut,” he said. “Rookies are supposed to be seen and not heard, which is what he’s done.”
Pettine said Manziel’s competitiveness is obvious, but he has a long way to go to catch up with Hoyer from a knowledge standpoint. Most of Manziel’s throws in team drills were short and out of his hand quickly. He didn’t look comfortable when the first read wasn’t there, but showed his athleticism on a couple of plays when he got outside of the pocket and threw completions.
“You’ve got to build a foundation first,” Pettine said. “You want him to learn the offense as it exists and we know that there’ll be times when we do get into live situations that he’s going to be able to make plays. We’re not going to try to coach that out of him, but we want him … these are just basic, basic installs, just trying to learn formations, just trying to learn basic plays. I think there will be a time down the road for the stuff that makes him special, the improv stuff.”
Hoyer’s confidence was again evident when asked about the extra media attention for a May practice in shorts.
“It’s football. It’s the greatest sport in the country and anytime there’s a big story people want to hear about it,” he said. “So I think it’s great for this league, I think it’s great for the team, but like I said, when it comes down to it, the stuff that really matters is what happens on the field.”