Pettine: Hoyer primed for challenge

July, 23, 2014
7/23/14
11:01
AM ET

Brian Hoyer took a grand total of five days off this offseason.

He probably would have done the exact same thing had the Cleveland Browns not taken Johnny Manziel in the first round of the NFL draft.

"He's a gym rat," coach Mike Pettine said.

The phrase is timeworn, but accurate. Because it sums up the work ethic and dedication of the Cleveland-area kid trying to hold off the challenge of the first-round pick to live his dream of starting for his hometown team.

In the team's first minicamp before the draft, Hoyer was a confident guy, talking about the Browns being his team until he was told otherwise. The night of the draft, he was part of the Manziel maelstrom, and affected by it much more personally than anyone. By the team's organized team activities, he was saying that the best thing he could do as a teammate would be to be the best quarterback he could be. By the end of OTAs, he was eager and anxious to have limitations removed as he recovers from a torn knee ligament that ended a promising 2013 season too soon. In the time between minicamp and training camp, he took a brief respite from rehab and work. But only a brief one.

He enters training camp as the Browns' starter, but he's as aware as anyone what it means to not only be competing with a first-round draft pick, but a first-round pick with significant cachet, resume and achievements.

Pettine, though, has seen no sign that any of the public chatter over Manziel has affected Hoyer.

"I think he's confident," Pettine said, "and I think he's getting his confidence through his preparation."

Which is where it all begins and ends with Hoyer, who learned from the best as Tom Brady's backup. Last season when he had three starts, he talked about being as prepared as he could be. This offseason, with or without Manziel, he's taken the same approach.

The Browns believe Manziel's presence will help Hoyer, will make him better by forging his competitive juices and focusing his already-strong drive.

"The alternative would be that we didn't draft Manziel and we took somebody in the fifth round," Pettine said. "Would Brian Hoyer be as good then as he would be after taking Manziel and having to deal with the circumstances that we're in?"

It's one of his core foundations -- competition makes people better. He has that at running back with Terrance West and Ben Tate, at cornerback with Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine, at guard with four guys fighting for two spots. And at quarterback.

"There's no substitute for it, and there's no better motivator than competition," Pettine said. "If you're not willing to compete, then you shouldn't be here."

Hoyer seems to relish it. On a recent radio interview on ESPN's "Mike & Mike," he called the drafting of Manziel "a relief" because he then understood what he was facing. Manziel has talked about wanting to start, but while Hoyer has been spending time with his family and children, Manziel has been on the party circuit. Whether that matters remains to be seen.

Pettine does not hide from the reality of what it means to take a quarterback in the first round, especially one like Manziel. But he also understands why he was hired.

"We can't lose sight as a staff that it's very simple for us: Who gives us the best chance to win this coming Sunday?" he said.

He points out that nobody from the Browns on draft night said they had drafted their starting quarterback.

"There's so much credibility when he earns it on the field," Pettine said. "Sure, [Manziel] comes in here with an incredible background of being a playmaker and having success. But there's the question of getting it to translate to the NFL level.

"We're confident that will happen. That's the reason we took him. But at the same time we feel we have a quarterback here in Brian who can win games for us."

Pettine values mental toughness. And Hoyer has shown no sign of being rattled or shaken by the hoopla over the rookie. In fact, it might have honed his desire.

"To me," Pettine said, "you have to be the strongest guy on the field mentally if you're the quarterback. To me, if he had issues with that mentally then you would question, ‘Does he have the wherewithal to be an NFL quarterback?' If he's going to let that bother him, you would question it.

"I'm not worried about it. I think that cream rises to the top."

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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