EASTLAKE: If Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer’s softball swing is any indication, his comeback attempt from a devastating knee injury will prove to be a home run.
Hoyer blasted long balls to the bleachers in left field during his first two at-bats in a home-run derby Thursday night before the Joe Haden and Friends Celebrity Softball Game at Classic Park. Hoyer eventually fell 2-1 to cornerback Buster Skrine in the championship round of the contest, but the North Olmsted native’s health is what really matters.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at right now,” Hoyer said. “I can’t wait to get out and play football.”
Despite suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last October after he led the Browns to back-to-back wins, Hoyer said he has been cleared to practice without limitations when training camp begins July 26.
He participated in spring practices but sat out 11-on-11 drills — except for simulated, toned-down versions — so teammates wouldn’t accidentally run into his surgically repaired knee.
Now, Hoyer is on the verge of ditching the restrictions as his competition intensifies with rookie Johnny Manziel for the starting quarterback job. Browns coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer would enter training camp as the starter, adding that the veteran is “securely ahead” of Manziel — but the lead is not “insurmountable.”
“[I’ll be] practicing full go, so it’s exciting for me,” Hoyer said. “It’s something I’ve worked really hard to get back to, and I’m just looking forward to getting going.
“It feels good to know that I put the work in and now it’s time to go. You don’t think about it. You just go out and play football.”
Will Hoyer practice full go every day?
“It hasn’t been discussed yet,” Hoyer said. “All I know is that when I left [minicamp June 12] and I was begging them to let me practice, they said once training camp comes there won’t be any limitations, so we’ll see how it goes and take it day-by-day. Obviously, we’re going to see how the knee’s feeling, but I’m geared up and ready to go and excited.”
Hoyer has worked extremely hard to bounce back from the injury. While most of his teammates vacationed for weeks this offseason, he only allowed himself five days off.
“Two weeks after our last minicamp [ended in June], I took that week off for five days, went to Florida for a few days, stayed around St. Pete’s beach and relaxed,” said Hoyer, a pitcher and center fielder for the St. Ignatius High School baseball team when it won a state championship during his sophomore season. “It’s amazing what your body can do not only after you put it through strenuous work, but then you give it five days off, and how much better you feel.
“It was enough [of a break]. I know how far behind the eight ball I was. From last year at this time, I didn’t really take a break until then because it was training camp, season and I got hurt. And from there on out, I was rehabbing. I knew if I got away for a good week, it would be good enough — and I’m ready to go. It’s going to be a long season, and I’m ready for that. And the time to take a break is after the season.”
Instead of taking a longer leave, Hoyer has been working out at the Browns’ headquarters in Berea. Meanwhile, he has thrown to receivers Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin and Charles Johnson. He’s also been taking snaps from guard Garrett Gilkey.
“Obviously, for me, I have nowhere to go,” Hoyer said. “So it’s good for me to go in the facility and have a comfortability with where I’m working out and stuff like that. So it’s been good to have those guys around, so I don’t have to throw to barrels.”
Hoyer is not only feeling good about his comeback and his chances to maintain his lead against Manziel, but he’s thrilled about the buzz surrounding his hometown since LeBron James announced his return to the Cavaliers last week.
“Until I see him in that uniform, I almost can’t believe that he’s really back,” Hoyer said. “He means so much to this community. I think you can see how our city reacted. You realize that he’s more than just basketball to this area, how important he is, how much he means to the economy.
“I’m sure downtown will be a lot more packed when he’s back. It’s just an exciting time for Cleveland. You’ve got LeBron, the [Republican National Convention] coming up in a few years, I feel really good about where we’re headed. The Indians are right there, so it’s a good time to be a Clevelander.”
Now Hoyer is aiming to add to the excitement. So far, it appears his knee won’t force him to abort his mission.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.