Quarterback Brian Hoyer will start for the Browns (0-2) Sunday on the road against the Minnesota Vikings (0-2) while Brandon Weeden sits out with a sprained right thumb.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski informed Hoyer on Tuesday afternoon that he will start, and the team announced the decision this morning. Hoyer will become the 19th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999.
“I'm definitely excited,” Hoyer said today. “I talked to Chud yesterday. This is an opportunity you practice for, you prepare for. Obviously, I'm excited, and I'll try to take advantage of it and try to give this team everything I've got to help us get that first win.
“This is what I came here for -- to play. You don't come here to be just a guy, and I think anybody who plays this position in this league, they want to be on the field. There can only be one quarterback out there, and you want to be that guy. And if you don't have that drive, then you really don't belong.”
Chudzinski said the decision was solely his, and it’s a bit surprising because quarterback Jason Campbell was listed second on the depth chart and Hoyer was listed third.
“I feel like based on our current situation where we’re at offensively as well as getting into the game planning for Minnesota that Brian’s strengths are the best fit for this week and that he gives us our best chance to win,” Chudzinski said. “The things that he does well fit what we need.”
Chudzinski did not commit to giving the starting job back to Weeden when he returns from injury.
“I’m going to leave all the options open,” Chudzinski said. “Really, it’s a matter of where he’s at from a health standpoint and all that plays into it and where we’re at and how guys are playing as well.”
When told about Chudzinski’s comment, Weeden said, “I don’t worry about that stuff.”
Weeden injured the thumb on his throwing hand when he inadvertently smacked it against left guard John Greco’s helmet Sunday in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 14-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. X-rays were negative, he underwent an MRI Monday and Chudzinski refuted a report by WTAM (1100-AM) that Weeden could miss most or even possibly all of the season.
“Brandon Weeden will be out this week,” Chudzinski said. “Early indications are that it is not a long-term issue. Everything has been positive up to this point. He’ll follow up with a hand specialist tomorrow, and we’ll see, get a better indication later on this week on his status going forward.”
Is there any chance Weeden will undergo surgery?
“I don’t know,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll see tomorrow with the specialist, what he says. But everything’s been good. He’s been making progress and improving in the last few days.”
When asked about the prognosis for his thumb, Weeden said, “I dont even know anything. I will know more tomorrow.”
Chudzinski said Monday he would consider starting either Hoyer or Campbell in Weeden’s place if he couldn’t play. Hoyer and Campbell signed with the Browns in the spring and have both taken second-team reps since then, though Campbell had been listed ahead of Hoyer on the depth chart all along.
“We’re 0-2 right now,” Chudzinski said. “So we’re looking to shake things up so we start winning games. And hopefully this will give us the spark that we need.”
When Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi worked as an analyst for NFL Network in 2011, he said Hoyer was a starting-caliber quarterback.
Chudzinski was asked how much his decision was based on wanting to see what Hoyer can do as a starter.
“For me, it’s about who gives us the best chance to win this week,” Chudzinski said.
Hoyer, who’s in his fifth NFL season, spent three years backing up New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Hoyer made his lone NFL start this past season for the Arizona Cardinals, completing 19-of-34 passes (55.9 percent) for 225 yards and one touchdown with an interception during their 27-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17.
Hoyer, 27, has thrown two touchdown passes and three interceptions in his career. His passer rating is 72.2.
Hoyer, a St. Ignatius High School graduate, started and played the entire preseason finale Aug. 29 against the Chicago Bears. He completed 24-of-35 passes (68.6 percent) for 307 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, posting a passer rating of 81.5 in an 18-16 win.
“Brian does a number of things well,” Chudzinski said. “Certainly playing in Chicago, he gave us a spark there, and that’s what we’re looking for is a spark.”
Hoyer's arm isn't as strong as Weeden's or Campbell's. But Chudzinski is confident Hoyer can operate well in the vertical, downfield passing game offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to feature.
“He can make every throw that you need,” Chudzinski said. “There’s no limitations from that standpoint.”
Campbell did not play in the preseason finale because he was experiencing flu-like symptoms, Chudzinski said. Campbell sitting out then had nothing to do with Hoyer getting the nod this week, Chudzinski said.
Campbell, 31, has a career record of 31-40 as a starter, but he hasn’t been a full-time No. 1 quarterback since 2011, when he played for the Oakland Raiders. He has thrown 76 touchdown passes and 52 interceptions, posting a passer rating of 82.5.
How did Campbell react to the news he had been leapfrogged by Hoyer?
“Like you would expect,” Chudzinski said. “He’s a real pro. He’s a team player. He said he’ll be ready if we need him.”
After Weeden hurt his thumb Sunday, Campbell replaced him with 3:34 left in the fourth quarter and completed 1-of-4 passes for 6 yards in his lone series.
But this time, Hoyer will get a shot. And he has a chance to turn it into an extended audition.