By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: As Browns training camp closed its gates to the public for good this year, coach Rob Chudzinski made it clear Tuesday that he’s not finished pushing projected starter Brandon Weeden and the rest of the team’s quarterbacks.
Not only did Chudzinski tell reporters he’s not ready to name a starting quarterback, but he also described the competition as a tight race.
Evidence suggests otherwise.
Weeden has taken all the snaps with the first-team offense throughout spring practices, camp and the preseason opener last week, but the bottom line is that Chudzinski wants to see more before making a formal commitment.
Weeden, second-string quarterback Jason Campbell and third-stringer Brian Hoyer will continue their auditions Thursday night when the Browns face the Detroit Lions in the second exhibition game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Chudzinski plans to play most of the starters until midway through the second quarter and possibly the entire first half.
“I think it’s still close, and we’re finding out every game,” Chudzinski said of the quarterback contest. “These games are important opportunities for guys to show what they can do.
“I think we’ll see them more and get more time with them on the field, and there’s still three preseason games left out of the four. There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve got plenty of practice time as well. Every day is an evaluation and we’re looking at them every day. They each have done well and showed good things along the way.”
Weeden impressed in the Browns’ 27-19 win over the St. Louis Rams in the preseason opener, completing 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown and posting a passer rating of 127.7. In each of his two series against the Rams, he led the Browns on scoring drives.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Chudzinski and Browns CEO Joe Banner made it known they were challenging Weeden to demonstrate an ideal work ethic in the offseason and improve in every facet. During a radio interview Tuesday with 92.3 The Fan, Banner acknowledged that Weeden is on the right track.
“We want to give Brandon every opportunity to succeed, and we’re doing everything we can,” Banner said. “Whether it’s the quality of the coaching, the reps, anything else to support him in that success, it’s a hugely important thing for the team that he is successful, but I think time will tell. He’s got to get out there, and I think he’s come in and put in tremendous work and clearly shown that he’s willing to do what it takes to be the best that he can be.”
Weeden, who’ll start again Thursday, believes he’ll secure the starting job if he continues to progress during camp.
“I’m confident that I’m going to be [the starter],” said Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft. “But I’ve got to prove it to the other guys, the guys upstairs that I am the guy. The only way I can do that is play well and keep continuing to get better.”
Because the new regime and coaching staff didn’t draft him, Weeden knows he’s still in the process of earning trust.
“I have to show these guys that I can play and show these guys that I can be the man,” Weeden said. “[It’s] just one more obstacle I’ve got to overcome, but I’ve just got to worry about what I can control.”
Is there something Chudzinski has seen from Weeden that has caused him to question whether Weeden is worthy of sitting atop the depth chart?
“I don’t look at it like that,” Chudzinski said. “I think you look at maybe a day or a play or a throw or this or that, that maybe something you’d like to improve on, and you see it. You see the improvement with him. You see him make the corrections and you see the progress.”
Although Campbell hasn’t gotten any looks with the first-team offense, Chudzinski said he has “shown well.” Campbell completed 6-of-7 passes for 37 yards, posting a passer rating of 88.7, and scrambled for a 12-yard gain against the Rams.
“He had a grasp on the offense, has played in an offense that’s been similar,” Chudzinski said. “So that familiarity, I think, has been good. In terms of leadership, you see him doing all the extra things with helping receivers out, helping young guys out, helping getting guys lined up, a lot of little things that veteran quarterbacks and a guy who’s really unselfish and a team player demonstrates.”
Campbell understands why Chudzinski wants to keep the quarterbacks in a fighting mode.
“I think the one thing Coach wants to do is just keep pushing all of us and not to get complacent and not to get comfortable,” Campbell said. “When you have a competitive environment, I think it makes everyone better because that way you’re not sitting down and not just becoming settled or becoming complacent. You have to continue to push and push and get better because we’re all still being watched.
“So you always have to prepare as if you’re the starter, even if you’re not getting the first team reps, just because the season is so long and you just never know what happens during the course of a season.”
Weeden realizes he can’t afford to take his foot off the gas or become rattled by Chudzinski’s unwillingness to officially anoint him the starter.
“He makes all the decisions,” Weeden said. “All I can really control is what I do out here and get all the work put in, and if I continue to impress and do all those things, then everything will take care of itself. I’ve got to worry about me, and the rest will kind of follow suit.
"I can’t really say [Chudzinski is] challenging me, but I can’t worry about it. I’ve got a lot of other things to worry about. I’m about to go play a game in two days. That’s my main focus — playing against Detroit and playing well. If I can do that, then hopefully things will take care of themselves.”