By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
If concussed quarterbacks Jason Campbell or Brandon Weeden can’t play Sunday, the Browns will start either Caleb Hanie or Alex Tanney against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.
Hanie is a journeyman coming off the street who hasn’t appeared in a real NFL game since 2011, and Tanney is a second-year pro who has never taken a snap in the regular season.
Losers of six of their past seven games, the Browns (4-8) signed Hanie on Tuesday. He worked out for them last week, but instead of acquiring him then, they opted to pluck Tanney off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad Nov. 26.
Welcome to Cleveland, where quarterbacks have been unmercifully chewed up and spit out since 1999. The franchise has started 20 quarterbacks during its expansion era and three this season — Campbell, Weeden and Brian Hoyer.
The Browns have yet to determine who’ll start at quarterback against the Patriots (9-3), a team spokesman said Tuesday. Coach Rob Chudzinski is expected to announce his decision Wednesday.
During a news conference Monday, Chudzinski didn’t rule out the possibilities of signing a veteran free agent like Hanie, 28, and starting him Sunday or giving Tanney, 26, the nod against the Patriots.
“All of the possibilities are open right now,” Chudzinski said.
Campbell or Weeden could also start if they’re medically cleared in time, but as of Tuesday, both of them were still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, the spokesman said. They would need to pass a series of tests and receive clearance from an independent physician before returning to practice.
If healthy, Campbell would be the team’s top choice to start. On Monday, Chudzinski said Campbell, 31, had been medically cleared for activity but not to practice. Campbell, who’s 1-3 as a starter this season, suffered a concussion Nov. 24 in the third quarter of a 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Weeden, 30, started in Campbell’s place Sunday in a 32-28 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and was diagnosed with a concussion after he reported symptoms following the game. Chudzinski said he didn’t know when the injury occurred or what affect it had on Weeden’s performance. The team sent Weeden, who’s 0-5 as a starter this season, home Monday after he reported to its headquarters.
To make room for Hanie on the 53-man roster, the Browns placed backup linebacker Brandon Magee on injured reserve Tuesday. He suffered a pectoral injury Sunday.
Hanie was a backup for the Chicago Bears from 2008-11 after signing with them as an undrafted rookie from Colorado State University. He made all four of his NFL starts in 2011 and went 0-4. In his career, he has thrown three touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, posting a passer rating of 41.6.
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Hanie spent last season with the Denver Broncos but never left the bench. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in April, was cut in August and had been out of the league all season.
Tanney, who’s best known for the viral trick-shot YouTube video he was featured in two years ago, spent last season on injured reserve with the Kansas City Chiefs after hurting a finger, and Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer became familiar with him while working as the Chiefs’ director of pro personnel. The Chiefs cut Tanney in May, and he signed with the Cowboys in July. With Campbell out this past weekend, Tanney served as Weeden’s backup.
Despite Weeden’s two interceptions and one lost fumble late in the first half against the Jaguars, Chudzinski said he didn’t want to summon Tanney from the bench Sunday because he had only three practices with the Browns to prepare. Still, Tanney might not be exempt from being thrown into the fire against Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Co.
“If Alex is the guy, then we’ll have him ready and have him working,” Chudzinski said. “And he’ll have a package [of plays] he can be successful with.”
The 6-3, 223-pound Tanney completed 40-of-73 passes (54.8 percent) for 423 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, posting a passer rating of 65, in five preseason games for the Cowboys. He entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie from Monmouth College in Illinois, where he set NCAA Division III career records with 14,249 passing yards and 157 touchdowns, the highest total of all divisions.
Last week, Tanney joined a team with one of the most absurd quarterback situations in the NFL. The Browns have switched starters four times this season and are likely on the verge of doing it again.
Weeden began this season atop the depth chart and suffered a sprained right thumb Sept. 15 that opened the door for Hoyer to start. Hoyer, 28, led the team to back-to-back wins in September before suffering a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 3. Weeden re-entered the starting lineup for two games but Chudzinski benched him in late October after consecutive poor performances. Campbell took over and held the job until he suffered a concussion. Weeden then filled in and suffered a concussion of his own.
So with four games left this season, who’s next?
The Browns placed nickel cornerback Chris Owens on season-ending injured reserve and promoted cornerback Julian Posey from the practice squad to the active roster, the team announced Tuesday.
Owens suffered a knee injury Sunday with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter while tackling running back Maurice Jones-Drew during the Jaguars’ game-winning touchdown drive.
Owens, who signed a one-year deal with the Browns in March after spending the previous four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, appeared in 12 games and made three starts this season. He tallied 54 tackles, including 2½ sacks, three passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He added seven special-teams tackles.
With Owens sidelined, rookie cornerback Leon McFadden is expected to receive the most extensive playing time of his young NFL career. A third-round pick in this year’s draft from San Diego State University, McFadden is the leading candidate to fill Owens’ role as the nickel corner. In other words, when the Browns deploy three cornerbacks, McFadden will likely join starters Joe Haden and Buster Skrine on the field. McFadden had been used sparingly until Sunday, when he played 31-of-74 defensive snaps.
The New York Jets placed wide receiver and kick returner Josh Cribbs on injured reserve, the team announced Tuesday. Cribbs suffered a shoulder injury Sunday in the second quarter of a 23-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
A Kent State University graduate, Cribbs spent eight seasons with the Browns before the new regime let him walk in free agency this year. Because of his injury, Cribbs won’t get a chance to face his former team Dec. 22 when the Browns visit the Jets.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.