Brian Hoyer can keep his eyes trained downfield this Sunday. There's no need to look over his shoulder.
He's well aware of who's behind him, but the Browns' starting quarterback doesn't have to worry about Johnny Manziel jumping in front of him.
Not this week, anyway.
Hoyer's season-opening start in Pittsburgh won't be a short one, barring a disaster. Browns coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday that he's spoken to Hoyer and told him not to concern himself with anything other than beating the dreaded Steelers. Pettine wants Hoyer's focus to be solely on the guys in black and gold, not anyone in a logo-less orange helmet.
If there's a leash on Hoyer — and let's be clear, there is one — it may be a little longer than first believed.
"Quarterback's the one position where you can't be as quick on that trigger," Pettine said. "When we met to discuss him being the starter, it was, 'Hey, this is your team. This is your offense.' That we have his back. That we didn't go with him and just say, 'Hey, listen, we might do this and see how it goes and after a series we might switch it back.' I know you can't do that at quarterback.
"He knows it's not going to be a quick hook."
Hoyer appreciated Pettine's words. They were helpful, but didn't change the way he's approaching the season.
"He said, 'Look, I just want you go to out there and be yourself and play and not worry about anything else'," Hoyer said. "And I think that's how my mentality is regardless. This is something I've worked toward and I'm not looking back, so it was good to hear him say it."
Pettine's pep talk aside, Hoyer, who was once released by three teams in a nine-month span, understands that the NFL is a brutally bottom-line business. It's either make plays or get cut. Throw completions and touchdowns or get tossed away. Win games or lose your job. No excuses.
Hoyer knows Pettine will give him nothing he hasn't earned.
"You have to produce or there will be a change made," Pettine said. "But I don't think he's going into this game feeling that."
Manziel, though, is waiting in the wings. The Browns didn't draft the former Heisman Trophy winner to sit the bench for long, and there's a chance Pettine could design a special set of plays for the dynamic rookie. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects Pettine to utilize Manziel in some way Sunday.
Manziel on the field for any length of time could be dangerous for Hoyer. If Manziel sparks the offense, Pettine might choose to stick with him.
Hoyer, though, isn't opposed to some kind of "Johnny Package."
"If it helps us win a game, that's what it comes down to," he said. "I want to be out there, but if there's a package that can help us win, the team is way bigger than me."
Simply playing for the Browns is a dream come true for Hoyer, a Cleveland-area kid whose childhood included trips to old Municipal Stadium with his dad to watch his favorite team play. Now he's getting to start the season for them in Pittsburgh against the hated Steelers, the sworn enemy for anyone weaned on stories of Otto Graham, Jim Brown and Bernie Kosar.
For Hoyer, though, the Browns-Steelers matchup triggers some mixed emotions.
After he was released two years ago by the Patriots, Hoyer was out of work and barely clinging to the idea of making a living playing pro football. He hoped someone would give him a chance to resurrect his career, and as fate would have it, the Steelers were the ones willing to sign him. He came to Cleveland as a backup for Charlie Batch when the Steelers beat the Browns.
"As bitter as this rivalry is and being a Cleveland boy, I'll always have a place in my heart for Pittsburgh because they gave me a job when no one else would," Hoyer said. "I'll always be thankful for that, but at the same time I think I'm on the right side of this rivalry now."
Maybe not as planned, but it's all worked out. Hoyer has made it back from knee surgery, held off Manziel and is days away from opening a season as a starter for his hometown team.
"I'm the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and there's nothing to complain about," he said. "I'm happy with where I am."
NOTES: DE Desmond Bryant did not give any details on the reason he underwent wrist surgery. Bryant was limited in practice and is unlikely to face the Steelers. ... Pettine is teaching Cleveland's young players about the history of the Browns-Steelers rivalry, which has been one-sided in recent years. "It's not pretty," Pettine said. "I put it up on the slide to kind of talk our young guys through. I put rivalry, and I put question mark. From the Steelers standpoint, it's not much of a rivalry." Cleveland is 5-26 against Pittsburgh since 1999.