Mike Giardi

Hoyer knows there's a lot to measure up to in backing up the GOAT

Hoyer knows there's a lot to measure up to in backing up the GOAT

FOXBORO - Brian Hoyer has been around long enough to know the deal. He spent as much time post-practice today talking about the guy he backs up - you may have heard of him, a fella by the name of Tom Brady - as he did about his own play here in camp, especially on Brady’s 41st birthday. 

As someone who was here for three-plus years as Brady’s understudy, then went away and returned midway through last season, Hoyer has a great perspective on what, if anything, has changed with 12.

“Someone asked me last week and I said just the gray hair,” smiled Hoyer, knowing full well he himself has zero hair. “It’s inspiring for me to be around because you see a guy who has accomplished so much but still has the drive and passion to come out here. I joked with him the other day and said how many 41-year-olds are running up a hill in full pads right now? In the entire world? So to me, to see someone that I looked up to as a mentor and a role model, to see him still doing it - I feel old at times and I’m only 32 - so it’s fun.”

Brady has been playing the best football of his career the past four seasons, winning two Super Bowls, losing another and getting bounced in the AFC title game. He also capped his 40th year on this planet by being named league MVP. And yet to Hoyer’s eyes, Brady is still as intense and locked in as ever despite a different offseason plan.

“…his preparation, how critical he is of everything he does,” noted Hoyer. “He’s so self-critical - whether it’s throwing the ball, a read, and for me, that’s always great for me to see as a reminder that this is how its gotta be done. It’s awesome to be back here and see that nothing has really changed. He’s the same Tom I know. He comes out every day and is competitive and wants to be the best.”

That’s a tough player to be measured against every day, and the offense clearly takes a step back when Hoyer is at the helm (duh). After a solid start to camp, the veteran has scuffled the past two days of camp, even when given a greater workload as was the case Friday. Our own Phil Perry charted competitive periods and had Hoyer 17-of-30 with two interceptions and a fumble. His accuracy just hasn’t been what it’s needed to be, but Hoyer is facing no pressure from rookie Danny Etling, who finally had what would qualify as his first decent day.

“You’re always fighting and for me, look it, I’ve been on a lot of teams and you never know what’s going to happen,” said Hoyer. “The only thing you can control is the way you got out and play. So that’s all the way up to other people and I’m at peace with that. At this point in my career, I go out and try to play the best I can. Whatever happens, happens.”

Hoyer was brought to be in the 'in-case-of-emergency, break-glass' guy. He doesn't have "upside" anymore, but the Pats knew that when the team brought him back. They wanted someone who knew the offense and could be trusted to not fall flat on his face should the moment arise. A couple bad days of training camp won't change that. Hoyer is the next man up, for better or worse.

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Camp Battles: Toughest foe for the big guys might be the heat

Camp Battles: Toughest foe for the big guys might be the heat

When you’re 6-foot-8, 370-some-odd pounds like Trent Brown, you don’t face too many formidable foes. But in training camp, there’s one consistently whapping the big fella on the noggin. That’s the heat. 

Thursday’s practice saw the mercury climb into the high 80s, and with the exception of an occasional breeze, there was precious little air to breathe. But Brown not only survived but thrived, continuing to look dominating while getting his work in.

“It’s not fun,” said the soft-spoken Brown. “But this is what we were working for all offseason.”

In large part, conditioning is what the offseason is all about. For guys such as Brown and rookie first-rounder Isaiah Wynn, some of what they could do was hampered by offseason surgery, but to their credit, both big men passed the conditioning run. In fact, as far as we know, every player on the roster did so.

The requirements vary by position, but the gist is a bunch of sprints with little rest between each rep. As Eric Rowe told me, “if you can’t pass it, you probably weren’t doing all you should do.” Of course, that’s easy for a cornerback to say, but the big bodies tend to labor more, especially in the heat. Marcus Cannon left practice on Day 1 (and again Wednesday) with heat thought to be the culprit. Still, those sights have been few and far between.

“It sucks,” said newcomer Danny Shelton, who’s lugging around 343 pounds on his frame, “but I take pride in being able to do what the coaches ask me and that was one of the things that has to be done.”

This camp had been a little slower paced than previous ones but it’s a credit to the linemen in particular that they’ve managed to stay on the field and do what’s required. Thus far, they’ve triumphed over the conditions, and have even managed to run the hills a couple times after practice. No doubt that makes Bill Belichick a happy man, though you probably won’t catch him smile.

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A frustrating start to first NFL camp for 7th-round QB Etling

A frustrating start to first NFL camp for 7th-round QB Etling

FOXBORO - Before we get to the football stuff, know this: Danny Etling is a huge Larry Bird fan, having grown up in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

“Oh, no question,” said Etling. “How can you not be?”

That’s the kind of smart decision a good quarterback makes. And Etling proved to be a sound one at LSU, throwing just two interceptions for the Tigers in his final season. His transition to the pro game though has been far more challenging.

“Nothing really prepares you for the NFL like just going through it, and getting thrown in the deep end and just doing it,” said Etling. “There are no shortcuts.”

The seventh-rounder has been willing to put in the time. He's often the first out to the practice field and the last to leave. But that hasn’t translated into a ton of success when Etling’s gotten reps. He’s been wildly inaccurate at times, missing throws I’ve seen him make at LSU. Needless to say, it’s left the affable youngster kicking himself in the arse on more than one occasion.

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“Yes,” he emoted, smiling and shaking his head. “It’s the most frustrating thing of learning a new system and being in a new place is that you don’t play near to the potential that you originally have set standards for yourself. But when you’re unsure and you’re not playing very sure, not attacking things and you’re more on the defensive and trying to just learn everything, you’re not going to play as well."

“And that’s the hardest part of it is getting through that portion of it, working as hard as you can, not losing confidence and then taking the next step. Once you’ve grasped the offense, once you understand everything, it's like, ‘Okay, I can make a 5-yard flat throw. I can make a 10-yard out throw.’ You can do all those things.”

If you can’t be accurate in this system - hell, any system - you won’t make it in the NFL as a quarterback unless you run it like Michael Vick did back in the day. Etling isn’t that kind of athlete but he is considered by those in the organization as having the tools to be successful in the short to mid-range passing game, with an arm good enough to push the ball down the field (though he’s considered a below-average deep ball thrower). So, are there things that he can do to at least tighten up what was thought to be a strength coming out of college? Bill Belichick thinks everyone can improve at every thing.

“...that varies from individual to individual. But, assuming that they understand what they need to do or mechanically how to do it and work at it and try to address it, then you’re going to see improvement,” Belichick said. “So, the rate of improvement is not always a straight line. Sometimes it starts off slow and spikes up. Sometimes it starts fast and levels off. Sometimes it’s more of a gradual straight line. At some point, it’s going to level off where everybody’s going to pretty much peak somewhere.”

When they reach that peak, then what?

“Once a player has reached that plateau, then you evaluate how good it is,” added Belichick. “If it’s great, then great. If it’s average or in that range, then you try to maintain it. Then maybe at some point somebody would pass that. If it’s below average, then probably another player at some point would be able to come in and surpass it. There’s always room for a little incremental improvement, but there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns.”

Etling knows there’s more for him to show and while he’ll love to flip that switch tomorrow and begin a steady upward climb, it’s just not that simple. Belichick knows it, and so does his young QB. 

“The hay is not even close to being in the barn as far as work goes,” he said. “Especially for me. So, it’s just going to be a continual process of learning and working at it. There are no shortcuts. There’s just time and continuing to push through it.”

And with that, Etling scooped up his pads and helmets and began toward the stairs, ready to dive into film study and keep that process moving along. 

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