It’s called “The Winner’s Manual,” and there’s a rich photo of a dark green Michigan State football jersey with the No. 1 sprawling across the front cover. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio bound the book together and gave it to Hoyer at the start of training camp in 2007.
Dantonio compiled a host of quotes about leadership and lessons about winning, team fundamentals, focus and a determined work ethic, and it’s something Hoyer reads and references on a regular basis. After all, it only takes him a few seconds to reach into his locker to pull it out — it’s not buried all that much deeper than the Patriots’ playbook.
“That stuff is just ingrained in my head,” Hoyer said while skimming through the pages. “I’ve played quarterback my whole life. When you’re in the huddle and 10 other guys are looking at you, I think that’s where you’ve got to step up and be a leader.”
It’s helped Hoyer, who looks like a natural leader anyway. He’s got a cool demeanor, and he walks through the Patriots’ locker room with the confidence — not cockiness — of a true NFL quarterback. Despite the fact that Hoyer is in just his second season, he has worked hard to develop the type of respect that a quarterback needs to demand from his teammates, no matter how much experience is on the resume.
That has never really been more significant than in the last month and a half, when Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady has missed a chunk of practice time with a right foot injury. Brady missed his fifth practice Wednesday, and he hasn’t fully participated in any practice since Week 9, according to the team’s injury report.
That’s left Hoyer as the de facto starter in those practices, and it’s important for Hoyer to keep the offense on par in Brady’s absence, especially in those weeks when the Patriots have been preparing for the Steelers, Colts and Jets. For instance, if Hoyer struggles, it’s tough for the offense to implement new features or, at the very least, get a feel for what will and won’t work in game situations.
“When you get a rhythm to it and guys see that you know what you’re doing, I think you gain a little respect,” Hoyer said. “I just try to go out there and do the right thing, practice hard and make sure the offense doesn’t skip a beat when I’m out there.”
And that respect has certainly been earned. He’s been in the huddle with a very veteran group of offensive linemen who have done their share to keep Hoyer honest and on his toes. When Hoyer looks at his wristband with the play sheet, his offensive linemen have pounded him in the fist or knocked down his arm as a form of motivation to ensure Hoyer knows the plays and is also confident enough to call them without double-checking.
“The O-line always gives me a hard time when I get in there,” Hoyer said with a laugh, “but you’ve just got to kind of put up with their stuff, get in there and call the play right. I think that’s half the battle, knowing what you’re doing going in there.”
As Hoyer has progressed, both with his knowledge and leadership ability, his time in the huddle has come easier and easier. Obviously, that’s something that takes time for a young quarterback, but he’s had a number of different ways to grow in that regard. Aside from Dantonio’s compilation and his current coaching staff in New England, Hoyer has peered in on the way Brady takes charge of the huddle as a way to observe in a first-hand way.
So far, Hoyer’s teammates have been very impressed with his progression.
“I think [Hoyer] has done a great job of taking command of the huddle,” Patriots running back Sammy Morris said. “Part of taking command is being able to feel like you have a good enough grasp of the offense to be able to be that kind of leader. In that regard, he’s done a great job as well, as far as knowing, with limited game-time experience, taking control of the huddle, making all the checks and that good stuff.”
“It seems like he’s been here for about 10 years already,” Patriots rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez said. “He just knows the offense so well. He controls everything, and you can tell he’s a mature player out there and knows everything. He’s so smart, and that makes him a great leader. You can tell he’s just a smart kid. When you know everything and know everything that people are doing around you, you can help others, which is another way to lead.”
Hoyer traces his improvements back to last offseason, when he could work on other parts of his game because he had finally developed a solid grasp on the offense. In 2009, as a rookie who was fighting through the stigma of being an undrafted quarterback, Hoyer might have had some other challenges to overcome, and he had to spend the majority of his energy learning New England’s offensive system.
Now that he is confident enough in his knowledge of the offense, Hoyer can spend more of his time on other areas, such as his footwork, or throwing mechanics, or how to correctly look off a safety, or on his film study to dissect an opposing defense.
Hoyer’s increasing talent has helped spring his confidence, and that’s how a leader is born. Every quarterback at every level is looked upon as a leader, and that’s something Hoyer has embraced from the start of his football life. A strong presence at quarterback will serve as the heart of a team, but a guy with shaky confidence can doom everyone from the get-go.
It’s translated to the locker room and practice fields at Gillette Stadium, and Hoyer’s emergence, particularly as a leader, has helped ease the sting when Brady can’t be out there.
“Everywhere I’ve ever been, when you step in that huddle, you better have command,” Hoyer said. “You better have a demeanor about you where guys are going to go out there and play hard, not question whether or not you know what you’re doing. It’s a confidence you’ve got to take in there, and then I think other people see that.”
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