Hoyer more secure as Pats backup QB in 2nd season

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Brian Hoyer stood on the field moments before last year's season opener, an unlikely Patriot in an unlikely situation.

Undrafted out of Michigan State, he had made New England's roster as a free agent. More than that, he was the only backup all year to Tom Brady, who had missed all but the first game of the previous season with a knee injury.

''The one thing that I'll never forget is that first game, that Monday night game when those jets flew over'' Gillette Stadium, Hoyer said Tuesday. ''It just kind of hit me. This is the NFL. This is where you're meant to be.''

Now, nearly a year after that memorable flyover, Hoyer is expected to see significant playing time Thursday night when the Patriots end their exhibition schedule at the New York Giants. He's more comfortable and confident, a second-year pro much better prepared to step in if necessary.

The butterflies remain, but they're different now.

''This year, it's butterflies about getting ready to play the Giants, trying to figure out who's going to be out there when I'm playing against them, what defensive backs are going to be out there,'' he said, ''things like that. Last year I'm just worried if I'm going to be here.''

But he made a positive impression quickly on coach Bill Belichick.

In the first exhibition game last year, he completed 11 of 19 passes for 112 yards in a 7-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In the last one, a 38-27 win over the Giants, he was the only quarterback to play for the Patriots and finished 18 for 25 for 242 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

''I think Brian was a fast starter and I think he caught everybody's eye pretty quickly,'' Belichick said.

The third quarterback in camp this year is rookie Zac Robinson, a seventh-round draft pick from Oklahoma State. He hasn't had as much opportunity to play as Hoyer did a year ago. With Brady expected to play very little, if at all, on Thursday, Robinson could enhance his chances of sticking with the team.

But he knows the Patriots kept only two quarterbacks last season.

''It's really just out of my control,'' Robinson said. ''We'll see what happens. I'm really thankful for the opportunity, obviously, to be out here.''

The Patriots needed a second-stringer last year after Matt Cassel, also a seventh-round pick, was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2008, after three years as the backup, he took over after Brady was hurt in the first quarter of the opener and had a strong season.

Even when he wasn't playing, Cassel impressed Belichick.

Robinson still has a way to go.

''I don't know that Zac has had the opportunity that Brian has had,'' Belichick said. ''I think that Brian (and) Matt Cassel, those guys set the bars at pretty good level. I think it's hard to compare players' development. Players don't always develop at the same rate.''

Hoyer was surprised when he didn't get drafted but felt confident he would sign as a free agent. And once he joined the Patriots, he wasn't surprised to get the word from quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien that he had made the team.

''It happened so quickly,'' Hoyer said. ''Deep down inside I felt a sense of accomplishment, but then you've just got to move on and keep going and being prepared to be the backup.''

Hoyer has continued his growth since last season, when he played in five games without a start. But he played in the second and fourth quarters of the regular-season finale at Houston, completing 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards.

''That was crunch time. That was a real game,'' he said. ''It wasn't a preseason game. It wasn't a mopup duty game. (The Texans) are trying to make the playoffs and I got an opportunity to play against a good defense there, so that was invaluable.''

Tagged: Chiefs, Patriots, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, Zac Robinson

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