INDIANAPOLIS – The first pass Brian Hoyer ever threw to Zach Pascal went for a 14-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left in the first half of Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Not the first pass at game speed. The first pass, period.
Such is the challenge facing the Indianapolis Colts’ backup quarterback this week. He was with the New England Patriots during training camp, has a limited knowledge of head coach Frank Reich’s offense and was scheduled to take his first meaningful reps with the first team during Wednesday’s practice.
The potential to be forced into action with very little preparation is the life of a backup quarterback in the NFL. But Hoyer’s case is a bit extreme.
Still, the veteran isn’t lobbying for change.
In fact, he’s still doing everything he can this week to support starter Jacoby Brissett.
“I want to give Jacoby the luxury to do whatever he wants to do,” Hoyer said Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “I basically played the whole game last week without ever really practicing this offense anyway. So, whatever he’s willing to do, able to do, he can do, and I’ll help him out with that.”
It’s a refreshing attitude that should take some of the pressure out of what is sure to be a challenging week in Indianapolis.
A delicate balance must be struck in giving Brissett every opportunity to play against the Miami Dolphins and making sure Hoyer is as prepared as possible if needed.
Reich understands the dynamic well. He was a backup quarterback for the majority of his 14 seasons in the NFL, including a decade behind Hall of Famer Jim Kelly with the Buffalo Bills.
He said Hoyer has to pay extra attention to every detail during meetings and practices and obviously be ready to make the most out of any reps he receives.
It’s also important to engage with his teammates. Talk to the offensive line, pull the wide receivers aside between drills and after practice. Whatever it takes to build the necessary trust and chemistry ahead of game day.
“If he has to play, obviously it helps to have come in and played the bulk of the game last week,” Reich said. “So if it ends up where he plays, (we’ve) just got a lot of confidence in him.”
Hoyer gave his teammates plenty of reason to believe against the Steelers.
The scoring strike to Pascal was one of three touchdown passes he threw in his first regular season action since 2017. He fired an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Jack Doyle on his first attempt in the second quarter and gave the Colts the lead with 8:43 remaining in the game on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chester Rogers.
He was 17-of-26 for 168 yards overall and also threw a second-quarter interception that was returned 96 yards for a touchdown by Pittsburgh safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Hoyer doesn’t want to put a percentage on the amount of the playbook he currently has a grasp on. It’s been a week-to-week process.
He learns what needs to be installed for the Steelers’ week, for instance, then flushes it and focuses on Miami. There are unique details for each game based on Indianapolis’ healthy personnel, the opposing defense and countless other factors.
Meanwhile, Hoyer is helping to run the scout team and learning the opposing offense each week as well.
It’s a lot to process, but Hoyer seems to embrace the challenge.
“It’s kind of like learning languages, really,” he said. “Like, Spanish and Italian are probably pretty similar. If one offense is Spanish and one’s Italian, there’s some common ground, some things that are a little similar, and then you just go from there.”
Of course, few people are asked to have a fluent three-hour conversation in a new language the same week they’re learning it for the first time.
Hoyer said Sunday was the first time he’s had to enter a game because of injury during his 11-year pro career. But he’s made 37 starts for five different franchises.
So he’s as prepared as any quarterback can be for these situations.
All he can do now is wait.
Brissett was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, and he remains Indianapolis’ primary option.
“Jacoby’s old school, now. He’s old school,” Reich said. “I mean, you guys know. You saw the year that he played (2017). He took a beating, and he played every stinking snap. So this guy is as tough as they come, but we’ve gotta do the right thing for him and our team.
“We’ll just see how it plays out. He’s our quarterback. We want him to play, and if he’s ready to play, then he’ll be the starter.”