BEREA — Running back Willis McGahee, in his 11th season, has never seen a quarterback scenario like the one the Browns face this week.
“Unfortunately, bad things have been happening to our quarterbacks,” he said Wednesday.
Record-setting receiver Josh Gordon has caught passes from three starting quarterbacks in 10 games and could very possibly see a fourth Sunday in New England — one he just met.
“It’s definitely not normal,” he said.
Rookie coach Rob Chudzinski used his own vocabulary to describe the predicament — two healthy quarterbacks who are new to the team, two experienced quarterbacks who are recovering from concussions and not allowed to practice.
“It’s a very fluid situation, unique, one that I haven’t necessarily been around,” he said as the practice week began. “I’ll name the starter later in the week.”
Chudzinski, who said he could delay the decision until Sunday, is faced with too many variables to have firm decisions or timetables.
Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden, who’ve started four and five games this year, remained sidelined. Both were cleared for activity, but not practice. They will be re-evaluated every day and could return if cleared by an independent neurologist.
“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.”
While he waits on the quarterbacks who have been with the team all season, Chudzinski held a competition during practice between Alex Tanney and Caleb Hanie. Tanney arrived last week off the Dallas practice squad. Hanie showed up Monday night from a high school field in Forney, Texas, where he’d been staying in shape.
“It’s part of this league, and it’s a crazy league,” said Hanie, who went 0-4 in his only NFL starts in 2011 with Chicago. “One week you’re sitting at home eating Thanksgiving with your family. The next week you could be playing for the Browns.”
Make that, starting for the Browns.
With the uncertainty surrounding Campbell and Weeden, Chudzinski seemed inclined to pick a starter from his healthy options.
Tanney, 26, has potential and a strong arm but has never played in an NFL game. He had a small package of plays as the backup to Weeden during Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville and may not be ready for his first NFL action to come against coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots (9-3).
The other option is Hanie, 28, who worked out for the Browns last week, wasn’t signed, then got another call Monday. He has appeared in 11 NFL games in six years, including replacing Jay Cutler in the 2010 NFC championship game, and might give the coaching staff greater peace of mind.
“It’ll be a good opportunity to see them running our plays and preparing with our game plan, getting ready to play New England,” Chudzinski said. “I think we’ll get a better sense as we get into practice and as those guys are getting the reps.”
Chudzinski prefers to know his starter by Monday night, because the game plan is built Tuesday. Pushing the decision to Wednesday was bad enough, but he’s prepared to wait as long as it takes.
“We can wait until Friday or all the way up to gameday, if we have to,” he said.
The Patriots defense ranks 10th in scoring (21.8 points per game) and 20th in yardage (362.2). Belichick is arguably the best defensive mind of his generation and shouldn’t have much problem confusing a quarterback with an extremely limited playbook and hardly any time in coordinator Norv Turner’s system.
“He’s really creative and you never really know what you’re going to get from him,” said Tanney, who set Division III passing records with 14,249 yards and 157 touchdowns at Monmouth College in Illinois. “Every week he kind of throws something new at you and you’re not really sure what it is.”
Tanney (6-foot-3, 223 pounds) spent all of Tuesday – the players’ off day – at team headquarters studying. He’s starting to get acclimated to the playbook and his surroundings, and the giant next step could be taking his first NFL regular-season snap.
“Obviously if you’re in this league you want to play,” he said. “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.”
Hanie (6-2, 222) said last week’s tryout was his first for a team since the Ravens cut him following the preseason. He’s completed 50.9 percent in his career with three touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 41.6 rating, but believes the game experience gives him a distinct advantage over Tanney.
“It’s better that I’ve at least been there,” Hanie said. “I at least kind of know what to expect out there and know I can do it and have confidence in myself.”
Chudzinski wants to gather as much information as possible before making the decision. He didn’t rule out preparing packages for Tanney and Hanie and playing them both. Or starting Campbell or Weeden even if they’re not cleared until the weekend.
“At this point, I would keep all of the options open,” Chudzinski said. “Obviously, that wouldn’t be ideal. I would like to see them back practicing, but we’ll have to weigh that with seeing the other guys practice.”
Belichick said the Patriots always prepare for every quarterback on the opponent’s roster, because you never know when one will get hurt.
“I would say that no matter who the quarterback is, Cleveland is going to run their offense,” he said. “Their offense is their offense. Whoever it is — and I’ve looked at all of them — I think they all can do what the quarterback needs to do, which is make all the throws. What we’ll have to do is prepare to defend the Cleveland Browns offense and whoever the quarterback is, it is.”
Receiver Davone Bess believes the team will make the best of the difficult situation.
“It’s easy to go south and be sour about it,” he said. “But we’ve still got the game to play. Guys in this locker room still got character, and we want to get after it.”