By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: A week ago, Caleb Hanie was cramming turkey into his face. Now he’s cramming the Browns’ playbook into his memory in case he’s summoned to start at quarterback Sunday against the New England Patriots.
“One week, you’re sitting at home eating Thanksgiving [dinner] with your family. The next week, you could be playing for the Browns,” said Hanie, whom the organization signed off the street Tuesday, less than a week after he spent the holiday with his wife and two young children at their home in Dallas. “It’s pretty crazy. I just try to take it in stride and just prepare the best I can.”
When practice resumed Wednesday, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski still didn’t know who would serve as his starting quarterback this weekend on the road against the Patriots (9-3). Chudzinski described the situation as “very fluid” and “unique.” He conceded he has never been previously involved in such an absurd scenario, and neither have most, if not all, of his players.
“Never,” wide receiver Davone Bess said. “But you’ve got to adjust. That’s what this league is about — midstream adjusting.”
“It’s easy to go south and be sour about it, but we’ve still got the game to play. Guys in this locker room still got character, and we want to get after it.”
Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden have been medically cleared for activity, but not for practice as they recover from concussions, Chudzinski said. Campbell suffered a concussion Nov. 24 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Weeden suffered a concussion Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Hanie and Alex Tanney, whom the Browns plucked off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad Nov. 26, received reps with the first-team offense Wednesday as they prepared to start. Hanie hasn’t played in a real NFL game since 2011 and has been out of the league all season. Tanney, a second-year pro, has never appeared in a regular-season game in the NFL.
“We can wait until Friday or all the way up to game day [to name a starter], if we have to,” Chudzinski said. “I think we’ll get a better sense, though, as we get into practice and as those guys are getting the reps. We can go either direction once we get into that and once we get a feeling for one way or another. I’d like to see more of them and see them actually doing and going through the course of the game plan this week.”
There is also a chance Campbell or Weeden could pass the concussion tests required by NFL protocol and be cleared by an independent neurologist in time to start Sunday.
“All of those things are possible, but not predictable,” Chudzinski said. “Really, it’s out of my hands, and it’s really a difficult thing to determine. It just is how they feel and how the medical team evaluates them.”
Chudzinski said it wouldn’t be ideal for Campbell or Weeden to start without practicing, but he didn’t want to rule it out. He also didn’t eliminate the option of planning to use Hanie and Tanney.
Hanie worked out for the Browns (4-8) last week before they opted to sign Tanney instead. Hanie said it was his first audition for an NFL team since the Baltimore Ravens released him Aug. 30.
Tanney, 26, delivered sharper, crisper passes than Hanie, 28, and displayed better footwork Wednesday in the half-hour portion of practice open to the media. But Hanie is more experienced, as evidenced by his four regular-season starts, all of which were losses in 2011 with the Chicago Bears, and the relief appearance he made that season during the NFC Championship Game after Jay Cutler left the game with an injury.
“I’ve at least been there and kind of got those nerves out of the way,” said Hanie, who has thrown three touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, posting a passer rating of 41.6 in his six-year career. “There will be nerves either way, but I at least kind of know what to expect out there, and know I can do it and have confidence in myself.”
Hanie is also somewhat familiar with the system used by Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He grew accustomed to similar terminology while playing for ex-Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz and ex-Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Still, Hanie and Tanney have been studying Turner’s offense at a rapid pace. Hanie said he slept about five hours Tuesday night and Tanney said he got only a couple hours of sleep.
“Obviously, if you’re in this league, you want to play,” said Tanney, who completed 40-of-73 passes (54.8 percent) for 423 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, posting a passer rating of 65 this year in five preseason games with the Cowboys. “I’m preparing like I have been my entire life. I’m not sure it’s going to happen, but I’ll be ready if they call on me.”
No matter who starts, he won’t have much prep time before encountering a defense guided by coach Bill Belichick.
“It’s daunting on its own, just because it’s the NFL and every team is going to have good players and good schemes and it’s going to go fast,” Hanie said. “That would be why it would be daunting.”
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.