|A better rapport with receivers has increased Brian Hoyer’s confidence. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
In the wings, Hoyer is well-armed
On that day in April 2009, Brian Hoyer wanted to be one of the 256 players drafted by NFL teams. The quarterback ended his career at Michigan State hopeful that he had done enough to convince at least one team to pick him.
His 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound frame was praised in scouting reports, as were his quick release and ability to read defenses. But he was plagued by inconsistency and a drop in statistics in his final college season. Hoyer was projected as a middle-round selection.
However, the rounds came and went, and the two-day draft concluded when the Kansas City Chiefs selected South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop.
After the completion of the seventh and final round, Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner called his former pupil.
“Obviously, he wasn’t very talkative and was disappointed, if I remember correctly, which is understandable,’’ Warner said. “But there’s the case that you’re almost better off not to get drafted, and this way he had a chance to pick and choose, and certainly, I think he chose the right place and ended up in an ideal situation.’’
That place was with the Patriots. Hoyer signed a contract four days after the draft to compete for a spot behind Tom Brady. He so impressed the Patriots during training camp that they released three other quarterbacks before the start of the 2009 season and made Hoyer the sole backup.
“I think there was a moment in that first [regular-season] game where it was like, ‘All right, I made it.’ And then it’s on to, ‘All right, work has to be done,’ ’’ Hoyer said. “I think it’s appropriate to take a step back and realize the accomplishment, but then you get right back to work and get back to getting better.’’
As Hoyer enters his second season, that journey continues. The preseason is his time. The first team gets a handful of drives in exhibition games, then the offense is turned over to the 24-year-old Hoyer.
“This is really his time to get a large volume of snaps; even in practice he’s been able to get that,’’ said Nick Caserio, the Patriots director of player personnel. “You want to see how they handle the whole operation, handle the team, handle the communication, two-minute situations, how they are in the red area.’’
“I think the comfort level is definitely better, but it’s one thing to do this out here on the practice field,’’ Hoyer said last week. “You still have to do it in a game.
“For me, it’s a valuable opportunity to go out and play in these preseason games because it’s going to be the most that I’m guaranteed to play this year.’’
Hoyer was in a similar situation before. At Michigan State, he red-shirted his freshman season, then was a backup for two seasons. In 2007, he was elevated to starter and completed 223 of 376 passes for 2,725 yards and 20 touchdowns.
In his senior season, Michigan State went to a more run-based offense and Hoyer’s numbers dropped to 2,404 yards and nine touchdowns.
Despite the statistical decrease, Warner thought his quarterback would be drafted.
“I was shocked, absolutely,’’ Warner said. “Not that I was expecting him to go high in the draft or anything like that. I didn’t have any illusions along that line, but just knowing him like I know him and being in this business for years and coaching quarterbacks for years, I didn’t have any doubt that he would be successful at the next level.’’
Caserio didn’t venture to guess why Hoyer went undrafted. All he knows is that the Patriots have groomed him into a backup they are comfortable with. Hoyer was the last guy standing in 2009 after Kevin O’Connell, Matt Gutierrez, and Andrew Walter were released.
“Brian has come in since Day One and he’s worked hard,’’ Caserio said. “He’s smart. He understands our system. He’s got a quick release. He gets rid of the football. He usually makes pretty good decisions.
“But it’s one thing to do it in practice; you want to get those game reps and see how he’s going to respond. I think when he’s been out there, he’s done some good things.’’
“He walked in and said, ‘Hi, I’m Tom.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I know,’’ said Hoyer with a laugh.
But that meeting helped Hoyer understand that he could lean on Brady as he learned.
“He was very approachable,’’ said Hoyer. “He introduced himself to me. I didn’t have to go up and say anything to him.
“There was never a point where I hesitated to ask him a question because I knew he’d give me an answer right away.’’
Hoyer returned this year more confident. In training camp, he has been having fun challenging Brady in the bucket drill, in which the quarterbacks aim for a bucket in the corner of the end zone from various distances. The first time Hoyer sank one, he sprinted to the sideline as if he had hit a home run.
Hoyer has accomplished the feat three times, while Brady is still waiting for his first.
But Brady doesn’t let Hoyer get away with much. Brady, who went to rival Michigan, poked a little fun at Hoyer last week.
“He’s done a great job,’’ Brady said. “I really enjoy Brian. And from what you guys see, he’s a really good player. Throws the ball well. He’s got really good command out there. He’s really smart.
“For a Michigan State guy, he’s pretty smart.’’
“I learned a lot from him, just about how receivers run routes and how they attack defensive backs,’’ said Hoyer, “and same thing with Torry [Holt].’’
But the best teacher for Hoyer at this point may be Brady.
“He’s been huge for my development, just watching him and asking him questions and learning from him,’’ Hoyer said. “He’s really helped me out and he really hasn’t had to do anything. He’s been a good teammate and a good mentor.’’
And when Hoyer needs additional advice or support, he gives Warner a call.
Warner said he knows Hoyer has the makeup to take advantage of his current situation and flourish when his time comes. After all, Hoyer is just a Brady injury or a lopsided score away from being called upon. He got that call five times last season, completing 19 of 27 passes for 142 yards.
“If the starting quarterback gets hurt, let’s face it, you’ve got 10 guys relying on you in the huddle and you got a whole football team relying on you to do the right thing,’’ Warner said. “You certainly always have to take the right attitude every week.
“When he did play [as a backup at Michigan State], you could see he prepared, because I saw it on film. When he got in situations, he executed very well.
“He’s the type of guy, he’s willing to learn. He knows he’s got to pay his dues.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.