Week 3. Quarterback No. 3.
The Browns are up to their usual changes, just a lot earlier than normal.
With Brandon Weeden out with a sprained thumb for at least one game, and Cleveland’s offense unable to score, coach Rob Chudzinski shockingly named third-string QB Brian Hoyer his starter for Sunday’s game at Minnesota and demoted troubled wide receiver Greg Little.
But it wasn’t even the Browns’ most stunning move of the day. Also on Wednesday, the Browns shocked their fan base and the NFL by trading Trent Richardson — the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft — to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round draft pick.
Chudzinski’s decision to start Hoyer is a surprise since he picked him ahead of experienced backup Jason Campbell, who came off the bench last week after Weeden was injured in Baltimore. Hoyer had been listed as Cleveland’s third-team quarterback behind Campbell since training camp opened, and it had been assumed that if Weeden couldn’t play, Campbell would move one spot up the depth chart.
But Chudzinski decided to go with Hoyer to help the Browns (0-2) get their first win.
“I feel like based on our current situation — where we’re at offensively as well as getting into the game planning for Minnesota — that Brian’s strengths are the best fit for this week and that he gives us our best chance to win,” Chudzinski said. “The things that he does well fit what we need. For me, it’s about who gives us the best chance to win.
“We’re 0-2 right now, so we’re looking to shake things up to start winning games. We’re hoping this is a spark we need.”
Chudzinski added another layer of alarm to Wednesday’s news by failing to guarantee Weeden would get his job back.
“I’m going to leave all the options open,” Chudzinski said. “Really, it’s a matter of where he’s at from a health standpoint and all that plays into it and where we’re at and how guys are playing as well.”
Browns general manager Michael Lombardi has long admired Hoyer, but Chudzinski said the choice to start him was “absolutely my decision.”
Hoyer will be the 19th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999, a troubling figure that maybe best explains why the club is 73-154 since its expansion return with one playoff appearance.
As Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2007, Chudzinski oversaw the benching of starter Charlie Frye after the opener for Derek Anderson, who led the Browns to a 10-6 record with a high-scoring offense.
“It’s just evidence that a change can be good,” Chudzinski said. “It remains to be seen how Brian plays. I’m expecting him to play well.”
Weeden injured his thumb when he banged it on the helmet of a teammate while throwing a pass in Sunday’s 14-6 loss to Baltimore. The second-year starter will visit a hand specialist on Thursday, when he should get a better sense of how long he will be out.
“You never want to get hurt,” said Weeden, who was sacked 11 times in Cleveland’s two losses. “I don’t care when it is, could be the 16th game or the first game. As a player, you want to be out there. So, yeah it is frustrating. Even though the results weren’t there offensively, we were starting to do some better things.
“I want to be out there with my guys.”
Glancing at the black brace on his right hand, Weeden quietly answered questions. He seemed caught off guard when told about Chudzinski’s comment that his job may not be waiting for him.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Weeden said.
Hoyer, 27, grew up in Cleveland. It will be the second career start for the fifth-year QB, who appeared in Arizona’s season finale last year against San Francisco and completed 19 of 34 passes for 225 yards.
“Every situation is unique and this what I came here for — to play,” said Hoyer, who signed with Cleveland in May.