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Browns quarterback Jason Campbell shifting roles again, this time as starter in showdown against undefeated Chiefs

By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer

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BEREA: About two weeks ago, Jason Campbell stood in front of his locker at the Browns’ training facility and sounded as if he was resigned to serve as a backup quarterback for the rest of his career.

The Browns, after all, had passed him over twice, and he hasn’t been a full-time starter since he was with the Oakland Raiders in 2011. He’s 31 and past his prime, the type of veteran most teams stash on their rosters because of his value as a mentor.

“At some time comes a point in your career where you have to shift gears, kind of got to understand your role a little bit and just keep moving forward,” Campbell said Oct. 11. “I understand helping these younger guys is part of my role.”

His role, though, is different now than it was that short time ago. A season-ending injury to Brian Hoyer and the demotion of Brandon Weeden have led to Campbell being thrust into the limelight again. He’ll become the 20th starting quarterback for the Browns (3-4) since 1999 when they face the Kansas City Chiefs (7-0) at 1 p.m. today at Arrowhead Stadium.

“It’s tough switching over like that,” said Campbell, who has thrown 76 touchdown passes and 52 interceptions, posting a passer rating of 82.4 in his nine-year NFL career. “But at the same time, being in the league for a while, I think that’s helped me a lot from having to adapt through different changes.

“It’s still all about rhythm and consistency. So hopefully having a full week to prep and to run plays with these guys and grow, hopefully that can give me the opportunity to get back to where I once was.”

After Weeden sprained his right thumb Sept. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens, coach Rob Chudzinski elevated Hoyer from third on the depth chart and named him the Week 3 starter, leapfrogging Campbell in the process. And once Weeden was medically cleared to play again, Chudzinski chose him over Campbell to fill the primary backup role behind Hoyer, who led the team to back-to-back wins in Weeden’s absence, for an Oct. 3 game against the Buffalo Bills.

Hoyer, though, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first quarter against the Bills. Weeden replaced him and helped the Browns come from behind to beat the Bills 37-24, but Chudzinski has benched Weeden in the wake of two consecutive losses marred by poor quarterback play.

Now the Browns are adjusting to Campbell, their third starting quarterback in eight games. His cadence is different. The way he takes snaps from center Alex Mack is different. The way he hands the ball off to the running backs is different. His passes are different. It’s a lot to grow accustomed to in a short period of time.

“It’s something I’m used to,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “It’s not like I’ve ever really played with one quarterback for the whole season, so I think most of the guys that have been here for any length of time know that it’s just part of doing business. You’ve got to be ready to have a different quarterback behind you.”

Chudzinski is pleased with the way his players, including Campbell, have responded to the change.

“They’ve rallied behind him like they have every time that somebody else has been in,” Chudzinski said. “Regardless of position, it doesn’t matter. This group is excited to play, and they love playing football. So I’m excited to get this opportunity and go play.”

The Chiefs should provide a difficult test for an offense trying to jell with a new starting quarterback on the fly. Their defense is ranked fifth in the NFL (304.6 yards allowed per game) and leads the league in points allowed per game (11.6), sacks (35), third-down conversion percentage allowed (25.3) and red-zone touchdown percentage allowed (22.2). Not to mention Arrowhead Stadium is considered the loudest venue in the NFL, so false start and delay of game penalties are common.

In other words, Campbell will be charged with spearheading a turnaround for a struggling offense in adverse conditions.

“It’s not about one person,” Campbell said. “I know everyone wanted to say it’s about Brandon, but it really wasn’t about one person. We all, as a collective group, have to do a better job — play in and play out — of doing our own job. I think the only thing I should do is just try to be a leader. At the same time, just try to do my job to the best of my abilities, not try to do anything to the extreme, just try to stay within the game and find your rhythm. I just think it’s time for us to have a sense of urgency all together.”

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner believes Campbell can get the job done.

“I think Jason gives us the best chance to go have success,” Turner said. “It’s not easy when you change quarterbacks. We’re working hard to get everyone on the same page as far as snap count, the way Jason operates in the huddle, all of those things. I’m confident we’ll get those things together. I don’t think he’s going to get rattled by different situations. The challenge for us is getting him on the same page in a short period of time.”

Campbell, who joined the Browns by signing a two-year, $3.75 million contract in March, has a career record of 31-40 as a starter. During his last two seasons as a full-time starter, he went 11-7 with the Raiders, including 3-2 in 2011 before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone against the Browns in Week 6. He started one game last season for the Chicago Bears and lost 32-7 to the San Francisco 49ers.

“He knows what he’s doing,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “He’s won in this league, and he’s a great leader. He’s vocal, and he gets guys going. So it’s good to have him back there. He’s big, physical, he’s got it all. He’s got the tools to make all the throws.”

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Campbell, though, has played just one series for the Browns this season, completing 1-of-4 passes for 6 yards, the result of an underhanded attempt he tossed to Cameron after Weeden hurt his thumb in a 14-6 loss to the Ravens. He didn’t play in the preseason finale because he experienced flu-like symptoms, giving Hoyer a chance to showcase his skills. The audition eventually contributed to the Browns giving Hoyer the nod over Campbell in Week 3.

“We didn’t pass over Jason because he missed the game and was sick,” Turner said. “But we got to see Brian in there, and that was a little bit of a spark and there was some energy. In that case, we were right.”

It’ll be difficult for the Browns to capture lightning in a bottle with Campbell the way they did with Hoyer. But there’s definitely one thing Campbell has that Hoyer and Weeden don’t — extensive NFL playing time.

“You can’t coach experience,” wide receiver Davone Bess said. “He’s seen a lot, played a lot of football. Now it’s time to relax and let it loose.”

Roster move

The Browns promoted linebacker Darius Eubanks from their practice squad to the active roster and waived linebacker Brandon Magee.

Eubanks, a 6-foot-2, 222-pound undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern, had spent all season on the Browns’ practice squad.

Eubanks started 51 of 52 career games in college. A first-team All-Southern Conference selection in 2012, he started 13 games at safety and had 77 tackles. As a junior, he started all 14 games as a linebacker.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.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.


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