BEREA: When Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi worked as an analyst for NFL Network in 2011, he said Brian Hoyer was a starting-caliber quarterback.
Well, Hoyer happens to agree, even though he has been a backup since he entered the league with the New England Patriots in 2009 as an undrafted free agent from Michigan State University.
“No doubt I think I have the capability to be a starting quarterback,” Hoyer said Thursday after the Browns completed their third and final practice of this week’s organized team activities.
Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius High School graduate, is third on the Browns’ depth chart behind incumbent starter Brandon Weeden, 29, and nine-year veteran Jason Campbell, 31. Practicing with his hometown team in front of the media for the first time since he signed a two-year deal reportedly worth $1.965 million on May 17, Hoyer worked primarily with the third-team offense.
But Hoyer also practiced a little bit with the second unit, a sign he’ll receive a legitimate chance to push for a promotion. He led the offense down the field and capped a drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Montario Hardesty during an 11-on-11 session.
In other words, he looked comfortable in familiar surroundings.
“I didn’t need directions on the first day of work,” said Hoyer, who used to watch practices at the team’s training facility.
Hoyer, 27, said his “phone was pretty busy” after he signed last week. Naturally, family and friends are giddy about his homecoming.
“Obviously when you’re a kid growing up and you dream about playing professional sports, you dream about playing for your hometown team,” Hoyer said. “It really is … a dream come true. 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 has already received plenty of attention from the local media because of his Northeast Ohio roots, but it’s not the only reason. The bottom line is backup quarterbacks are routinely thrust into action in Cleveland, so it’s a good thing Hoyer is confident he can start. No Browns quarterback has played a full 16-game season since Tim Couch in 2001. In two of the past three seasons, third-string quarterbacks — Colt McCoy in 2010 and Thaddeus Lewis in 2012 — have started.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Hoyer is well aware of the team’s history. He grew up a die-hard Browns fan and attended the team’s final game in 1995 before the late Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore.
“My dad and I were there,” Hoyer said. “I just remember being scared because people were like ripping seats out. I’m just sad my team’s leaving and people are ripping seats out and stuff. Yeah, I was there.”
Eighteen years later, Hoyer is hoping to take the next step in his career with the Browns. He’s endured quite a journey as of late.
Hoyer pointed out he is learning his fourth offense in less than a year. After spending three seasons as Tom Brady’s backup with the Patriots, he wound up with the Pittsburgh Steelers in December and then landed with the Arizona Cardinals, playing in the final two games this past season. Hoyer has made one start in his career, completing 19-of-34 passes (55.9 percent) for 225 yards and one touchdown with an interception in the Cardinals’ 27-13, season-ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Hoyer said the Browns haven’t revealed their plans for him.
“Nothing. I mean, for me, I’m just coming out here,” Hoyer said. “I’m so far behind these guys. I’m learning from Brandon and Jason and [offensive coordinator Norv] 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.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Weeden, Campbell and Hoyer will continue to take reps in that order. The Browns announced Thursday that they waived Lewis, and Chudzinski said the team needs only three quarterbacks for training camp.
“He’s had experience,” Chudzinski said of Hoyer. “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.”
Perhaps Hoyer will impress Chudzinski and Co. partly because he learned from one of the best — 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, he’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.”
Hoyer, though, obviously isn’t Brady. And some believe he can’t possibly be any good because three teams have let him go.
“I don’t worry about critics,” Hoyer said. “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.”
Unless, of course, one of those media personalities becomes your boss — and he thinks you have what it takes to become a starter.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.