Hoyer's ready to play the game

One of the highlights of the New England Patriots' 2010 training camp came when a trash barrel was placed in the corner of the end zone and quarterbacks Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer took aim from about 25 yards away. Spectators "oohed" and "aahed" as they followed the trajectory of the football, captivated by the one-on-one challenge.

The "bucket drill" broke up the monotony of camp for Brady and Hoyer, and reflected their competitive flair, as celebrations ensued when one of them deposited the football inside the barrel.

It's been said that Brady doesn't like to lose at anything, whether it's football or checkers. Hoyer, entering his third NFL season, has that same gene.

So when discussing the Patriots' new look at quarterback -- rookie Ryan Mallett joining Brady, Hoyer and Jonathan Crompton at the position -- Hoyer's response this week was what one would expect. It was the same thing he said last year after the Patriots were wining and dining Tim Tebow in Boston's North End.

"It's always good to have competition," said Hoyer, who served as Brady's top backup in 2009 and 2010. "Obviously, Ryan was a big-time college player. He has a great arm. It will be fun for me to compete with him, and also to compete with Tom and Jonathan.

"I'm always trying to compete with the guy ahead of me. I'm always trying to play to Tom Brady's level, and obviously that's a very high bar he has set, and we just try to go out there, compete and have fun. I try to learn from him and compete with him at the same time."

Hoyer's competitive spirit, coupled with his skills, has served him well to this point.

He made the club as a rookie free agent out of Michigan State in 2009, beating out 2008 third-round draft choice Kevin O'Connell. And last year he showed the progress he's made in the team's complex system by playing well in the second half of the season finale against the Miami Dolphins, going 7-of-13 for 122 yards, including a highlight-reel, 42-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Tate.

With the improving Hoyer backing up Brady and Mallett added as a developmental option, the Patriots suddenly have one of the NFL's more promising backup situations.

To build on the momentum he created in the 2010 season finale, Hoyer, 25, has remained in the region this offseason, joining a bunch of teammates for regular workouts.

"It's actually been pretty good to be able to work out and be with guys you're friends with, you're teammates with; it makes you work that much harder," said Hoyer, who has thrown to receivers Tate and Darnell Jenkins on a regular basis, as well as tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman at times.

While some around the NFL have debated the merits of team workouts -- in part because they can't replicate an organized team activity -- Hoyer has noticed at least one benefit.

"One thing I would say, with the people that are up here working out, I've become closer to people that I never would hang out with or see outside of football normally," he said. "I think that's been kind of cool to get to know different people in a different way and hang out with them and spend more time with them, defensive guys that you might talk to when you're in the locker room or practice, but now you're more of a friend."

As for his own workouts, Hoyer is hoping a slightly different training approach will pay dividends.

"I've been doing a little cross-training -- super-sets, cardio, a little boxing, which gets your heart rate up and you're working out at the same time. I think it's making me more explosive and a better athlete," he said, adding that when it comes to football, he's focusing plenty on footwork and accuracy.

"Just another year under your belt, I think you learn a lot, and I just want to keep improving on that. With the lockout, it's kind of hard. We haven't been able to do OTAs and things like that, but you just try to stay on top of it mentally and obviously with the workouts, too."

Mike Reiss covers the New England Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.