BEREA — Brandon Weeden was back in familiar territory Wednesday.
Back in front of the pack of reporters. Back in the huddle with the first-team offense. Back in the spotlight.
Much to the consternation of many Browns fans.
Coach Rob Chudzinski said Weeden will start Sunday against Jacksonville, as Jason Campbell tries to recover from a concussion suffered Sunday against the Steelers. Campbell is feeling better, hasn’t been completely ruled out, but is “extremely doubtful” to be active, Chudzinski said. He wasn’t at team headquarters.
Weeden’s long, strange season hasn’t exactly come full-circle. But the man who opened the season as the starter and with so much hope will get at least one more chance to salvage something from the year.
“I’m still extremely confident,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve never been through this circumstance and situation before. I’ve got a lot of people around me and there for me and I think people around me are feeling worse.
“Like I tell them all the time, listen, I have to fight through this and see what kind of man I am and see what kind of person I am to persevere throughout a lot of this adversity.”
Weeden is 0-4 as the starter, dropping his mark to 5-14 in two seasons. He’s thrown six touchdowns, seven interceptions and ranks at or near the bottom of the league in a number of categories: 34th in completion percentage (51.5) and average gain (6.00), 33rd in rating (66.0), 31st in third-down rating (50.0), fourth-quarter rating (63.1) and touchdown percentage (3.1) and 26th in interception percentage (3.1). Thirty-four quarterbacks with at least 160 attempts are included in the NFL’s statistical leaders.
Weeden sprained his right thumb in Week 2 and missed two weeks, during which time Brian Hoyer won his job. Weeden started two more games after Hoyer got hurt, played terribly and was benched for Campbell.
Weeden has become a popular, and easy, target for fans. He was booed again Sunday by the hometown crowd when he replaced Campbell, and was asked how he deals with it.
“It’s pretty simple for me, I don’t listen to outside noise,” he said. “Gotten rid of Twitter and all that junk. I don’t need 5-year-old kids telling me how to play the quarterback position, so it’s made it really easy. It hasn’t been an issue.
“I’ve got great support in this locker room. Great support from family and friends back home. My wife has been remarkable, so it’s not a distraction for me.”
But it’s impossible to completely ignore the boos and the criticism.
“I’d like to think I’m mature enough to handle all that stuff, but I learned a long time ago you can only control so much,” he said. “Before I even throw a pass, or we have a trick play and the trick play didn’t work and I have to throw it away and I still get booed. You have to laugh it off and use it as ammo to go out and play well.”
Weeden has refrained from ripping the fans or complaining about his personal misfortune. He accepted the backup role and continued to stay ready.
“He’s really kept his head into it. He’s been a professional through it all,” Chudzinski said. “I think it’s put him into a position where he stood into it and was going to be ready for his opportunity if it came up, and it’s come up.”
Chudzinski said “at this point” there hasn’t been consideration about putting Campbell on season-ending injured reserve, but his return to the lineup is uncertain. The Browns signed Alex Tanney, who’s never been in a regular-season game, as the backup Tuesday and the front office may want to see him play once he’s up to speed.
In the meantime, this start belongs to Weeden, who was asked if he views it as an opportunity to prove to the decision-makers he should be kept.
“Going beyond that, just to prove to everybody that I’m continuing to grow to become a better player and learning from mistakes and doing things better week in and week out,” he said. “This is a tough position to play.”
When Weeden was benched earlier in the year, he declared his love for Cleveland and how much he wanted to stay. Does he still feel that way after all the struggles and boos?
“I’m a Cleveland Brown. For the next five weeks, I’m a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “After that, whatever happens is out of my control.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been on as far as just the group of guys in this locker room, the atmosphere we have going on, the friendships we have and the camaraderie, it’s great. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it as long as I’m here, and then if they tell me to beat it, then we’ll see. Right now, my main focus is the Cleveland Browns and winning this Sunday.”
Cornerback Joe Haden said after the loss Sunday that the team was deflated by Campbell’s injury. He was asked Wednesday if that was a reflection of the confidence level in Weeden.
“Usually at the beginning of the game if you see your starter go down you’re going to be upset,” Haden said. “You know what I’m saying? Now we got Weeden in here and he’s going to do what he can do. He’s going to get the first-string reps, he’s going to practice with the starters, he’s going to be able to study Jacksonville and he’s going to be able to go into the game like he’s starting. That definitely helps a whole lot.”
Does the team still believe it can win with Weeden?
“Yeah. I mean if they don’t, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not sitting here asking everybody. I feel like we can.”
“I’ve got Brandon’s back,” linebacker Paul Kruger said. “He’s a good player. He’s out here working hard every day. He’s got a strong arm. He’s smart.
“It’s a really hard position, and there’s only a few guys in the league who are exceptional at it.”
Weeden appreciates the support and said the boos bother his teammates more than him. He’s focused on being back in the lineup.
“I want to be out there as much as possible with these guys preparing and going through the weekly process of going out and playing a game,” he said. “I’m excited about it. See if we can get back on track and win a couple games.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Jacksonville
WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM