By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The new leadership of the Browns made it clear that if Brandon Weeden wanted to retain the starting quarterback job, he would need to do everything in his power to prove himself worthy.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski eliminated any sliver of doubt that Weeden accomplished the mission, naming him the starting quarterback Tuesday morning during a news conference.
“Brandon has earned this job,” Chudzinski said. “That’s extremely important to me that he did. He has gained my complete trust. He has gained his teammates’ complete trust and this organization’s trust. We are all behind him, and we will all be there to support him.”
Chudzinski said he wanted to wait for training camp to end before making the announcement. The team held its final practice of camp Sunday, and Chudzinski broke the news to Weeden on Monday before revealing the decision to the media.
“It’s exciting,” Weeden said. “I feel like I’ve worked my tail off during the offseason, this spring, throughout OTAs [organized team activities] and up until this point. So, yeah, it’s rewarding.
“I’m excited moving forward. Now my main focus is going out and winning as many games and helping this offense do as much as we can to be top notch throughout the year.”
Even though Chudzinski characterized the competition between Weeden and Jason Campbell as “still close” on Aug. 13, all signs pointed to Weeden securing the top spot on the depth chart. He took all of the first-team snaps throughout spring practices, camp and the first two preseason games, excelling against the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions.
“I don’t think it was in question,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “So I guess I haven’t been worrying about it.
“I think there’s no doubt in my mind that we can definitely win with Brandon. He’s shown that he can be our guy for sure.”
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, will continue to lead the starting offense Saturday when the Browns visit the Indianapolis Colts in the third preseason game, otherwise known as the dress rehearsal. He’s also on the verge of becoming the fourth Browns quarterback since 1999 to start the season opener in consecutive years.
“I’ve always put the pressure on myself that I was going to be the guy,” Weeden said. “I was going to do everything I could to be the guy. I can’t say that I ever doubted it.”
Chudzinski said Campbell will serve as Weeden’s main backup, followed by third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer. The Browns, Chudzinski said, will likely keep all three quarterbacks when rosters are cut to 53 players Aug. 31.
“I am very pleased with all three of them,” Chudzinski said.
Earlier this year, there were legitimate questions about whether the new regime would ever be pleased with Weeden, who was drafted by former Browns President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert. Weeden went 5-10 as a starter last season, completing 297-of-517 passes (57.4 percent) for 3,385 yards and 14 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and posting a passer rating of 72.6, fourth-worst in the league.
On Feb. 1, owner Jimmy Haslam publicly vowed to create a quarterback competition. Later that month at the NFL Scouting Combine, CEO Joe Banner and Chudzinski told reporters that Weeden needed to demonstrate an excellent work ethic during the offseason to show them he deserved the job.
“I knew I had to impress the people that were going to ultimately make the decisions,” Weeden said. “But my mind-set didn’t change. My mind-set was getting better focus, just doing the things I needed to do to become a better player.
“I knew I was going to work hard. I wasn’t worried about my end of the stick. I knew I was going to do what it took for me to get better in the offseason to do the things that I needed to do. So I wasn’t concerned about me. It was just proving to those guys that that hard work did pay off.”
The Browns didn’t draft a quarterback, but they signed Campbell in March and Hoyer in May. The team’s brass preached about the new quarterbacks pushing Weeden.
As the offseason progressed, Haslam, Banner, Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner started to compliment Weeden more and more, citing his strong arm as a reason he could thrive in the team’s vertical, downfield passing game.
Still, no one committed to him as the starter until Tuesday.
“Responding to the challenges is an accurate way to say how he has been all along,” Chudzinski said. “He has taken every day as an opportunity to show what he can do and to improve his trade. That is what he has done, and I have been pleased with that part of it very much so. He has shown up and has produced in the games in the preseason so far.”
Weeden’s teammates have seen him grow heading into his second NFL season.
“He’s shown improvement ever since he got here, every day, every week, his commitment and work ethic,” wide receiver Josh Gordon said. “He’s definitely stepped up into that leadership role that everybody expects him to [embrace]. He’s doing a great job, and we’re glad to have him. I’ve got 100 percent faith in him.”
Although Weeden has formally been named the starter for the upcoming season, it remains to be seen whether he can make a significant leap in progression and convince the new regime that he can be the team’s quarterback of the future.
For what it’s worth, he’s off to a strong start through two preseason games. Weeden has completed 18-of-25 passes (72 percent) for 229 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His passer rating is 139.8, ranked second in the NFL behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (156.2).
“He has really gained a good grasp of what we are trying to do,” Chudzinski said. “He has been able to manage the games and go out and make good decisions, lead his teammates and, obviously, succeed. He has made the personal technique improvements that he has needed to make. There are going to be ups and downs along the way, but overall, the general trend has been upward.”
After finishing 5-11 this past season, the Browns know they have a realistic shot at reversing their fortunes if Weeden continues to excel.
“We’re happy with Brandon,” running back Trent Richardson said. “We’ve always been a big believer in him. … So I think I can see him taking us to the next level.”
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.