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Brian Hoyer Liked ‘Hard Knocks,’ Until He Was On It

Brian Hoyer has been an NFL quarterback since 2009, when he signed with New England as an undrafted free agent and became Tom Brady’s backup. He’s now in his third stint in New England, this time backing up second-year quarterback Mac Jones. Hoyer has started games for seven different NFL teams and is now in the phase of his career that he calls the “older backup mentor,” but he knows what it’s like to compete for a starting job, and while talking to me for this episode of QB2, he explained what he thinks is the best way to set up a QB battle. Hoyer drew from his experience: One of the closest and weirdest competitions of his career was documented on HBO’s Hard Knocks with the Houston Texans in 2015.

“I used to watch [Hard Knocks],” Hoyer said. “And then when I was on it, I was like, 'This is terrible. I am never watching this show again. I know what these guys are going through.'” 

HBO cameras captured the meeting where then-Texans head coach Bill O’Brien named Hoyer the starter over Ryan Mallett, with both quarterbacks sitting in the room together. ”It’s really not that big of a difference, OK?” O’Brien said, as neither signal-caller said anything. “It’s really not. You have to earn it every day.”

O'Brien went on to stress that Mallett needs to be ready to play. “If things aren’t going very well, look, we’re not on a short leash here, but look, we’re not going to sit here and let it go eight games of not being good,” O’Brien said at the time. 

But the leash was short: Hoyer was benched in the fourth quarter of Houston’s first game. It was a rare glimpse into how a head coach handles a close QB competition, but it might not have been very realistic after all.

“A lot of that was played up for Hard Knocks,” Hoyer said. “You know—it’s like, that’s my life! That’s all of our lives and here it is, we are setting things up to make it more dramatic.”

How would that moment played out if the Texans hadn't been on a TV show?

“I think we [him and Mallett] wouldn’t have been in the room together, that’s for sure,” Hoyer said. “I know that’s not how it was done in Cleveland. I think that was to play up the drama and, it is what it is.”

In Cleveland, when Hoyer was promoted to the starting role in 2013 and then demoted for Johnny Manziel late in the 2014 season, he said he was informed about the decision separately, away from the other quarterbacks. 

So, with that experience in mind, how would Hoyer set up a quarterback competition if he were a coach? He wouldn't. To him, that's something to settle before the summer.

“Never have one at all,” he said. “If you can’t make a decision by the end of the spring OTAs, I would just go with whoever you had the most faith in and give them the opportunity to build that in training camp.”

Hoyer said he would pick a quarterback before training camp and put all of his support behind that guy, because the team can become divided during a prolonged battle. 

“There were times when I felt like the team was split, and rightfully so, they don’t know who is going to be [QB1],” he said. “Maybe guys are picking sides and it is totally understandable, but sometimes you don’t understand what it does to the guy who ends up being chosen. He doesn’t really have the full team behind him because everyone is thinking, Well, what about that guy? If it came down to the wire, it obviously wasn’t really that close.”

Also on this episode, Hoyer talked about the most chaotic cross-country move of his career, the pressure of being Brady’s only backup as an undrafted rookie, and how to best stay out of fights at a joint practice.

You can watch the full interview here, and follow Defector on Twitch if you want to be notified for the next episode.

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