By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns quarterback Jason Campbell took the first reps during individual drills Thursday after being medically cleared to practice, a positive step on his comeback trail from the concussion he suffered Nov. 24 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a sign he might start Sunday on the road against the New England Patriots.
Although Campbell practiced in a limited capacity, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said an independent neurologist has yet to clear him for action on game day. If Campbell receives the green light, he’ll be expected to start. He could be cleared today.
“He still has not and will not pass the independent neurologist test until we see how he does [Thursday], and in the next 24-48 hours, obviously, we would have more information on that,” Chudzinski said. “But he would need to pass that before he would be cleared to play in the game.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Brandon Weeden was the only player on the Browns’ active roster who did not practice Thursday. He has been cleared for activity, but he’s still not permitted to practice after suffering a concussion Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chudzinski said.
The Browns continued to prepare recently signed quarterbacks Caleb Hanie and Alex Tanney to start in the event Campbell and Weeden cannot play. After Campbell took reps in drills, Hanie got the next turn, followed by Tanney during the half-hour portion of practice open the media.
Campbell is not guaranteed to be cleared for Sunday, but Chudzinski said his return to practice was “very encouraging.” Campbell’s passes were sharp and his footwork was smooth.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was pleased to see Campbell back.
“It’s the next step, and I was relieved,” Turner said. “But I do know that he’s got another step to go to be cleared. We’ve been meeting extra with [Hanie and Tanney] and doing everything we can to cover all the bases.
“I’m not a doctor, but [Campbell has] been real sharp in the meetings and seems to be doing well. Obviously, the doctors have to confirm that, and then we’ll see how he is, if he is able to play and how he can go through it.”
Turner said he’s never been involved in a quarterback situation like the one the Browns (4-8) are dealing with this week as they prepare for the Patriots (9-3).
“There’s a lot of firsts this year for a lot of us,” Turner said. “It’s hard on the quarterbacks. It’s hard on the receivers.”
Rookie Armonty Bryant and Billy Winn should receive increased playing time as a result of starting right defensive end Desmond Bryant’s season being cut short by an irregular heartbeat.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, though, sidestepped a question about who would start. Armonty Bryant played 21-of-74 snaps Sunday, and Winn played 16. Winn is ahead of Armonty Bryant on the depth chart.
Desmond Bryant will undergo a procedure this week to correct the issue.
“You want players to be healthy, and we’re taking care of that step for him,” Horton said. “For us, I think we just keep going, and I believe that we won’t miss a beat. Is he a good player? Is he one of our better players? Yes, he is. But I also have trust and faith and belief that the guys behind him, who are really just starters in waiting, it’s their time now.”
Horton revealed that he wants Armonty Bryant, a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft, to receive 22-35 snaps per game moving forward.
“We’ve just got to step it up to be at that level that [Desmond Bryant] had on the field, just continue to produce,” said Armonty Bryant, who has played in eight games this season and has 12 tackles, including two sacks. “We’ve all got to bring something to the table.”
Desmond Bryant started all 12 games this season and has 45 tackles, including 3½ sacks. In March, the Browns signed him to a five-year, $34 million contract. The organization expects that he’ll be able to resume his career.
“It’s disappointing,” Chudzinski said. “He’s been playing at a high level for us, and certainly right now the most important thing is for him to get that taken care of and be ready to go. We’re expecting a full recovery.”
Winn declined to speak to reporters.
Horton expressed frustration in his men for allowing the Jaguars to orchestrate an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive and beat the Browns 32-28 on Sunday.
“For us to not seal the deal was very disappointing,” Horton said. … “That’s how you make a name, a reputation, in this league of big-time players making big-time plays in big-time games.
“I would hope most of our guys would want to be in that situation. I know I did. Those are the kind of drives, if you will, that cement or help build that legacy, that legend, that ability to be mentioned as a good, top defense.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick worked with Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi in Cleveland from 1991-95. They are still good friends.
“Mike does a good job,” Belichick said. “He’s very smart, very well-prepared, very thorough, does a great job with evaluating players, putting together a team, just generally finding talent.”
Former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer is one of the players Lombardi brought to the Browns. Hoyer signed with the Browns in May and led them to back-to-back wins in September before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 3.
“Brian works hard, very well-prepared, got a good playing style,” Belichick said. “He’s a tough, competitive kid that’s smart and sees the field well. Wish him well. Hope things are going well with his recovery. Communicated with him and his family a couple times and hope his rehab is going smoothly.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.