BEREA: Browns coach Rob Chudzinski shook up the depth chart at quarterback by choosing Brian Hoyer over Jason Campbell as the starter for Sunday’s road game against the Minnesota Vikings, casting a larger shadow of doubt on Brandon Weeden’s future in Cleveland.
As expected, Weeden has been ruled out for Week 3 with a sprained right thumb. He is scheduled to be evaluated by a hand specialist Thursday.
Although Chudzinski said Weeden is not expected to be out long, he did not commit to giving the starting job back to Weeden once he’s able to return.
“I’m going to leave all the options open,” Chudzinski said. “Really, it’s a matter of where [Weeden is] at from a health standpoint and all that plays into it and where we’re at and how guys are playing as well.”
Weeden didn’t know Chudzinski’s stance on the situation until reporters told him.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Weeden said.
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 don’t even know anything. I will know more tomorrow.”
Chudzinski said the decision to start Hoyer was solely his, and the choice was a bit surprising because Campbell had been listed second on the depth chart and Hoyer third since the organization signed them in the spring. Both players have taken second-team reps since the spring, though Campbell has received the vast majority of them.
“I have the utmost confidence in all three of our guys,” Chudzinski said. “Each one brings something different to the table. 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 the best chance for a win.”
Chudzinski was part of another early season quarterback change when he was offensive coordinator of the Browns in 2007. The team benched Charlie Frye at halftime of the season opener, traded him shortly after, replaced him with Derek Anderson and finished the season with a record of 10-6.
“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.”
The leapfrogging also suggests the Browns want to test whether Hoyer is a diamond in the rough who simply needs a good look as a starter in the NFL to prove it. The organization knows what to expect from Campbell because he has 71 starts under his belt. On the other hand, Hoyer has started only one regular-season game, but is a well-documented favorite of Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi.
“I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters,” Lombardi said in 2011 when he served as an analyst for NFL Network. “I’ve said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I’d rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he’s got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team.”
If Hoyer surprises most of the league and shows he’s a bona fide starter, the Browns will be glad they heeded Lombardi’s words and gave him a shot. If not, they’ll move forward with what seems to be a much more realistic scenario — use the ammunition they have in next year’s draft to pursue a franchise quarterback.
After trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday evening in exchange for a first-round selection next year, the Browns have 10 picks in the 2014 draft, including two in the first, third and fourth rounds.
But the draft won’t start until May 8, and for now, it’s Hoyer’s time to shine. He will become the 19th quarterback to start for the Browns since their expansion era kicked off 1999. Chudzinski informed Hoyer on Tuesday afternoon, and the team announced the decision Wednesday morning.
“I’m definitely excited,” Hoyer said. “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.”
Hoyer, who’s in his fifth NFL season, spent three years backing up New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals cut him in the past year.
Hoyer, 27, made his lone NFL start this past season for the 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. In his career, Hoyer has completed 57-of-96 passes (59.4 percent) for 616 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. 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.”
Hoyer’s arm isn’t as strong as Weeden’s or Campbell’s. But Chudzinski is confident that 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 flulike symptoms. 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.
Campbell was not made available for comment Wednesday, but Chudzinski said he reacted the way he expected.
“He’s a real pro,” Chudzinski said. “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.
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.