By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Quarterback Brandon Weeden is expected to start for the Browns on Sunday when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars, and free-agent Caleb Hanie is a candidate to serve as his backup.
Weeden will likely be reinserted into the starting lineup, coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday afternoon during a news conference, because quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a concussion Sunday as the Browns’ playoff lives were essentially snuffed out in a 27-11 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. Campbell is following the NFL’s concussion protocol and must pass a series of tests before being medically cleared to return to practice.
The Browns (4-7) don’t have any quarterbacks other than Campbell and Weeden, so they’re seeking support at the position.
“There’s a good chance that we’ll sign another guy before the game,” Chudzinski said.
The Browns made plans to work out Hanie, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. If the Browns sign Hanie, he’ll back up Weeden against the Jaguars (2-9), who have won two of their past three games.
Hanie, 28, was a backup for the Chicago Bears from 2008-11 after signing with them as an undrafted rookie from Colorado State. He made all four of his NFL starts in 2011 and went 0-4. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Hanie spent last season on the Denver Broncos’ bench. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in April, was cut in August and has been out of the league ever since.
Unless Campbell, 31, is cleared to play earlier than anticipated, Weeden, 30, will make his fifth start this season. He’s 0-4 as a starter this season and 5-14 in his career.
Weeden went 0-2 to start this season and sprained his right thumb Sept. 15, opening the door for Brian Hoyer, 28, to spark back-to-back victories before suffering a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first quarter Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills. Weeden helped the Browns rally to beat the Bills and became the starter again, but consecutive poor performances against the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers prompted Chudzinski to bench him in favor of Campbell a month ago. On Sunday, Campbell fell to 1-3 this season.
“This year’s been kind of a crazy story with the quarterback position,” inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “We can’t keep guys healthy, and it’s part of the game. I’ve always been behind Brandon from Day One. It’s the back-and-forth game. As a pro, you have to always prepare whether you’re a starter or a backup.”
With 3:31 left in the second quarter Sunday, Browns fans booed Weeden when he entered the game for one play in the first half because Campbell aggravated the bruised ribs he suffered Nov. 3 in a win over the Baltimore Ravens. After Campbell suffered a concussion with 7:46 left in the third quarter, Weeden played the rest of the game and received more boos.
“It’s difficult,” Chudzinski said. “I understand the fans, the perspective and where they’re coming from on things. At the end of the day, [Weeden is] a Cleveland Brown, and we need him to win and to help us win. I know that that’s how the team feels about him.”
Added Jackson: “You could hear the boos around the stadium, but you have to block that out. That comes with the territory. He plays a tough position. He takes all the credit when you win, and unfortunately he takes all the credit when you lose. I’m more than confident he can get it done, if he’s up or if Jason’s up. It doesn’t matter to me who’s back there. I know both guys are more than capable enough to help us win some games.”
But following the game, cornerback Joe Haden said the thought of losing Campbell proved to be deflating for the entire team.
“Yes, you saw it. That’s what happened,” Haden said. “They were making plays. They were playing aggressive. When [Jason] Campbell goes down, that’s our guy, but [Brandon] Weeden is always ready to play. But when a guy has something going, the thinking is you have your guy.”
Chudzinski, though, believes that Weeden still has confidence in himself, and he doesn’t think a crisis of confidence about Weeden exists among the other players.
“I’ve got Brandon’s back,” outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “He’s a good player. He’s out here working hard every day. He’s got a strong arm. He’s smart. It’s a really hard position, and there’s only a few guys in the league who are exceptional at it. I think it’s not too late for anything for us. We have five games left. We can finish strong.
“People win games 7-6. If our defense doesn’t give up some of those points, there’s just a number of things that can happen in a game. So that’s all we’ve got to focus on, what we can do as individuals to make the best for our team? Can we win next week? Can we win two weeks from now? Absolutely.”
Chudzinski has yet to rule out Campbell for Sunday. Campbell reported to the team’s headquarters Monday morning but was gone by the time Chudzinski held his news conference at noon.
“I think he was OK, felt OK,” Chudzinski said.
Campbell suffered a concussion when William Gay zoomed toward him unblocked on a cornerback blitz and whacked him across the face mask with his left hand, causing Campbell to fumble and smack the back of his helmet on the ground. Safety Will Allen returned the fumble 49 yards to the Browns’ 4-yard line, and the Steelers scored a touchdown on the next play to capture a 20-3 lead with 7:43 left in the third quarter.
Gay should have been flagged for roughing the passer, though he was not penalized. Such plays are not subject to replay review under league rules.
“It doesn’t seem like they miss that call very much,” Kruger said.
Chudzinski said he would ask the NFL to look at the play and provide the Browns with clarification. If the penalty had been called, the Browns would have had first-and-10 at the Steelers’ 24 behind 13-3. Instead Allen’s fumble return set up a touchdown that virtually sealed the outcome.
“This is a game of inches, and those plays make a world of difference when a call’s missed or you miss a play,” Kruger said.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.