BEREA — Quarterback Brian Hoyer stays late to familiarize himself with his fourth new offense in the last several months. He works with the rookies after practice to get extra repetitions. He’s likely still learning the names of his 89 teammates.
But there’s one thing Hoyer knows as well as anyone.
“I didn’t need directions on the first day of work,” he said.
Hoyer grew up in North Olmsted and starred at St. Ignatius High School. He attended training camp as a child and went with his dad to the final game at Cleveland Stadium when he was 10 years old.
“I just remember being scared because people were like ripping seats out,” he said. “I’m just sad my team’s leaving and people are ripping seats out and stuff.”
So it’s no surprise practicing in the orange helmet for the first time this week was special.
“Obviously when you’re a kid growing up and you dream about playing professional sports, you dream about playing for your hometown team. It really is … a dream come true,” Hoyer said Thursday after an organized team activities practice open to the media. “I always grew up wanting to be Bernie Kosar, and now to get a chance to play quarterback for the Browns, it’s definitely an exciting time.”
Hoyer, 27, signed last Friday and began practice Tuesday in the second week of OTAs. Thursday, he took the third-team repetitions, made some nice throws on out routes and led a touchdown drive in a two-minute drill.
“It’s early. He has picked things up quickly and he has a good feel,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s had experience. He has a good arm and a good sense for playing. We are working him here and we’ll get more of a look at him as we go.”
Hoyer (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) trails Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell on the depth chart and in understanding coordinator Norv Turner’s playbook. The offseason program began April 1 and OTAs started last week.
Hoyer said he’s been told nothing about what his role could become.
“I’m so far behind these guys,” said Hoyer, who’s wearing No. 6. “I’m learning from Brandon and Jason and Coach Turner. Obviously, there’s a great coaching staff here, so I’ve been asking them a lot of questions and just trying to catch up.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to compete for a spot on this team. Wherever that goes, we’ll see. But I’m just trying to take it day by day right now, improve myself and hopefully every day the plays get a little bit easier, the calls get a little bit easier and things like that.”
Hoyer has one career start and is a long shot to fly up the depth chart. But general manager Michael Lombardi is a fan, Weeden is far from a lock as the long-term answer and Hoyer believes he has what it takes to be a starter.
“You realize when you get out there and actually get a chance to play that it’s just football,” he said. “You realize for a guy like me who hadn’t played as much over three years how much you miss being out on the field and no doubt I think I have the capability to be a starting quarterback.”
Hoyer spent three years as Tom Brady’s backup in New England — throwing 43 passes — was released after training camp last year, then spent short stints with Pittsburgh and Arizona. He started against the 49ers after only three weeks with the Cardinals and went 19-for-34 with 225 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 73.8 rating in a loss.
“I played pretty good,” he said.
The Cardinals tendered him a contract that kept other teams away for most of the offseason. But they acquired Carson Palmer and cut Hoyer last week.
The Browns pounced.
“Really I think the Cardinals did right by me by letting me go early enough to get somewhere early where I can get into OTAs, practice, compete and learn,” Hoyer said.
He has been released by three teams in less than a year, which calls into question his ability to be more than a journeyman backup.
“I guess some people would look at it that way,” he said. “For me, I just kind of look to the here and now and the future and I feel lucky to be here and I’m excited about it.
“I don’t worry about critics. I don’t read the media. I don’t watch the media. Once you start worrying about what those people say, I think your head’s in the wrong place. I worry about what my coaches think, my teammates think.”
Lombardi, who watched practice Thursday, is well-versed on Hoyer’s strengths and weaknesses through his discussions with Patriots coach and longtime friend Bill Belichick. Hoyer raved about his time with Belichick and Brady.
“For a guy like me, the situation how I came in the league, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go,” Hoyer said. “In my opinion, (Brady’s) the best. I got to sit there with him day in and day out and just see how he approaches things, how he runs the team, how strict he is on himself and really holds himself to the highest standard. I’ve seen what it takes to be the best and every time I go out on the field, I try to do the same.
“Playing for that organization, you learn football the right way. I learned so much there, way more there in my first year than I ever learned in my whole football career leading up to that.”
The timing of his release by the Patriots put his 2012 season in jeopardy, because teams are reluctant to pick up a quarterback that doesn’t know their system during the season. Hoyer worked out for teams and remained confident he’d land somewhere, but it wasn’t an easy time.
“It was rough every Sunday,” he said. “Finally I got to the point where I couldn’t watch anymore. And I didn’t watch, and then that next Monday Pittsburgh called. So it was kind of ironic.”
A lifelong Browns fan playing for the Steelers is also ironic. But Hoyer said every job in the NFL is valued — even one with Pittsburgh.
His latest one means more.
“I’m just fortunate enough now that I’m playing for the team that I grew up cheering for,” he said.
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