BEREA: Brian Hoyer appeared to be healthy Tuesday as the Browns kicked off their three-day voluntary veteran minicamp. More important, Hoyer looked like a starting quarterback during the team’s first practice under new coach Mike Pettine.

About seven months after suffering a season-ending knee injury, Hoyer displayed impressive footwork and delivered crisp passes while dropping back and throwing to receivers during individual drills in the team’s indoor facility.

He also carried himself like a leader and the face of the franchise.

“I waited so long for that opportunity last year and I got it,” said Hoyer, who led the Browns to back-to-back wins last fall before a torn right anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 3 ended his season. “My mentality hasn’t changed since I took over last year, and unfortunately, I had to deal with the injury and battle my way back. But until someone tells me otherwise, I’m acting like I’m the starter.”

A North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius High School graduate, Hoyer knows he’ll need to hold off competition from a rookie quarterback to reclaim his starting job. The Browns are expected to draft a quarterback next week, and they’ll likely use a first-round pick (Nos. 4 or 26 overall) on one May 8.

Pettine, though, made it clear that he would rather start Hoyer than thrust a rookie into the fire right away. The Browns will open the regular season on the road Sept. 7 against the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

“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 right out of essentially a rookie camp and some OTAs, a mandatory camp and do a training camp 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.”

That philosophy might influence the Browns to pick an immediate contributor who plays another position at No. 4 instead of a quarterback.

“That’s been a big part of the discussion in the draft room,” Pettine said. “That’s a position [quarterback] that we know, as many others, that we’re going to need to address, and you talk about where you’re going to do it and the impact that it’s going to have on the rest of the team. 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.”

Hoyer, 28, conceded he’ll pay attention to how the draft affects the quarterback situation, but he won’t abort his mission to win the starting job.

“I think people are going to speculate,” Hoyer said. “That’s your job. You guys have to write something. I know how I feel about myself. I know how my teammates feel. I’m trying to go out and prove it to these new coaches. All I can really ask for is a chance, and I think I’ll get that.”

But how would he react if Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel blows through the doors of the team’s headquarters May 9?

“I’ll be myself,” Hoyer said. “I’ll continue to act the same way and go from there.”

He’s determined to mentor whichever rookie quarterback the Browns draft the way Tom Brady guided him when he was a backup for the New England Patriots.

“The best way to be a role model or a tutor is to play the best I can and show a young guy what it takes to win in this league,” Hoyer said. “I was fortunate to be behind the best in that aspect. I think I’ll take that role. I’ll never not answer a question [from a teammate]. I know there are guys that see it as a threat. You always try to help your entire team.”

Hoyer’s health will be a key factor in his quest. The brace on his right knee served as the only visible reminder of his injury Tuesday. He participated in seven-on-seven drills, though the team held him out of 11-on-11 sessions as a precaution.

Pettine said he doesn’t expect Hoyer to have any limitations once training camp begins in late July, but, in the meantime, the organization doesn’t want to risk someone accidentally falling on him during a team drill.

“He begged me to be able to jump in there for the team stuff, and I had to play head coach for a minute and tell him no,” Pettine said. “But that’s the way he is. That’s the way he’s made up — ultimate competitor. So I think he firmly believes that [the starting quarterback job is] his job.”

Hoyer insisted he felt great after practice. He’s eager to convince the new coaches he should start regardless of how the draft unfolds.

“Once I found out we were going to have a new staff and we were going to have this minicamp, I really shot for this timetable to be able to participate as much as I could because I knew I’d have to prove myself again,” Hoyer said. “It’s something I’ve had to deal with throughout my whole career whether it was college or the NFL. Competition, I think, always makes people better.”

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. 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.