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As regular season begins, Hoyer must earn captaincy through his play

SANTA CLARA–Kyle Shanahan hasn’t named Brian Hoyer a captain.

But make no mistake, as San Francisco prepares to open the regular season, the 49ers are Hoyer’s team.

During his eight-year NFL career, Hoyer has never started more than 13 games in a season, and he’s spent much of his time in the league as a backup. Based on his experience, Hoyer shouldn’t look so casual and comfortable as the man, because it’s not exactly a role he’s always played. Yet as San Francisco prepares for its week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers, Hoyer doesn’t need to do much to assure anyone of his leadership ability. His head coach has watched Hoyer grow into it all offseason.

“I just think he’s (Hoyer) been through more,” Shanahan said. “He’s more battle-tested. His ability is the same. I just think Brian’s in a good place. He’s had his ups and downs. I think he’s got to the point where he realizes he can’t control everything and he just works as hard as he can and doesn’t get too high or too low. I think he believes in himself and I think it’s real because he’s developed a confidence through adversity through overcoming it. I just see a more confident guy who is up for anything.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Hoyer spoke in the middle of the 49ers’ locker room, instead of fielding questions from reporters in the Levi’s Stadium auditorium. While most NFL quarterbacks speak in front of a podium, Hoyer elected to stand in clear view of his teammates. It’s a trick he reportedly learned from Tom Brady, a mentor of his when Hoyer played in New England. Hoyer was cool, calm and collected, and showed no signs that the moment when he leads the 49ers’ offense onto the field on Sunday will be too big.

Of course, Hoyer’s not exactly dealing with the type of pressure he would have faced if he ever had to take meaningful reps for Brady in New England. The 49ers are rebuilding, they’ll start the season with more cap room than any other NFL franchise, and there’s beliefs –certainly externally, but likely internally as well– that San Francisco will soon pursue a quarterback of the future. That pursuit could begin this offseason, or if Hoyer holds his own, it could wait until after the 2018 campaign.

Still, Hoyer doesn’t look like a man in a rush. He likes the offensive weapons at his disposal, he’s got two strong offensive tackles protecting him, and on Wednesday, he said he’s never had more fun on the field.

“I think for me this has been the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” Hoyer said. “It’s the most comfortable I’ve ever been. Being able to come in day one and kind of be handed the reigns and to having the control and implement the offense and do those things and get all the reps, I think it’s been huge. For me, I feel really good about where we are heading into Week 1 and we’ve just got to keep improving. We’ve improved all offseason. I feel like we got better each day in training camp and we’ve got to keep that same mentality heading into the regular season.”

Hoyer has a good gig going, and he knows it. But internally, he has a desire for more. On Wednesday, Shanahan said there’s only two players on the roster he can say with certainty will start against Carolina: Hoyer and left tackle Joe Staley. Shanahan was not, however, ready to name Hoyer a captain. That will have to wait.

“No. We didn’t vote on captains,” Shanahan said. “I don’t plan on doing that until later in the year. I’m just going to decide on each captain each week. Later in the year, I plan on having some set ones that finish the year for us.”

It’s entirely possible Hoyer will serve as a captain on Sunday against the Panthers, but if he doesn’t represent the 49ers at the coin toss, it hardly matters. Heading into the first week of the season, it’s Hoyer’s offense, and the teammates he’s surrounded by know that. For Hoyer to earn the captaincy, though, he’ll need to play like the leader he proved to be this offseason. If Hoyer flops or regresses, calls for C.J. Beathard and an offseason examination of the position will grow stronger. The 49ers can’t afford to name Hoyer a captain, only to have underwhelming play force him out of the role. It’s a label that Hoyer has unofficially held, and now, he’ll officially have to work for.

With his first opportunity just days away, Hoyer looks the part of being the man. Since he signed with the 49ers in early March, it’s been that way. Now, it’s time for Hoyer to play like the man, and earn the ‘C’ that’s waiting to be stitched onto his jersey.

“I was a captain at Michigan State,” Hoyer said. “It always means a lot. Especially when it’s voted by your peers. So, we’ll see what happens, but I think for me regardless of that, being a quarterback you have to be a captain whether you’re named one or not. You’re the leader. You’re the guy who’s responsible to get the play call, to get all 11 guys on the same page when you’re out there. It would be great. I think especially when it’s voted by your teammates, it’s always an honor.”


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