December 18, 2014

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Browns: Weeden back in saddle, embraces second chance

BEREA — For nearly two weeks, Brandon Weeden was unable to do what he does best — throw a football. As he stood on the side and watched Brian Hoyer take his starting job, Weeden had plenty of time to think.

“You dig deep and you try to find yourself and you do a lot of soul-searching,” he said Wednesday. “I think that’s part of adversity and facing adversity. It makes you stronger as a person, and that’s life.

Brandon Weeden is back as Cleveland’s starting quarterback. (AP FILE PHOTO)

“Like I said a couple weeks ago, you’ve just got to find a way to take the positives and build on them.”

Weeden has embraced his second chance. Hoyer is done for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Weeden is back where he started.

Coach Rob Chudzinski sees a changed man.

“I think it’s been a learning experience for him,” he said. “I think he’s grown from that experience.”

Chudzinski ran through the timeline of Weeden’s last three weeks. Sidelined by a sprained right thumb; dropped below Hoyer on the depth chart after a return to health; thrust into the game against Buffalo last week after Hoyer was hurt; booed by the hometown fans after his first incompletion; rallied the Browns to a 37-24 win with some clutch throws.

“I think that’s growth, and I think that he has a sense of confidence of what he’s been able to do,” Chudzinski said.

When Weeden jogged to the locker room in Baltimore after banging his thumb on a helmet, the Browns were minutes from an 0-2 start. When he takes the field Sunday to face the Lions at FirstEnergy Stadium, he will lead a team on a three-game winning streak and tied for first place in the AFC North.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “Our main focus is keep doing what we’re doing and keep it rolling. Our focus is on Detroit and then whoever we’re playing next. Just keep taking it week to week.

“Chud does an unbelievable job of keeping us really dialed in each and every week and focused on what’s in front of us. Guys listen and stay the course.”

Weeden could’ve gone to the dark side after the injury and demotion. The season was supposed to be about proving himself to the new front office, yet the opportunity appeared over after two games. His future with the Browns was uncertain at best.

But Weeden kept a clear head and acted like a professional. He complimented Hoyer, deftly handled delicate questions from reporters and vowed to work and stay ready in case he was called upon.

“I think his head was in a good place,” Chudzinski said.

His best friend on the team, receiver Josh Cooper, said he never saw Weeden get down.

“He was preparing the way he should, just staying on top of the offense,” Cooper said. “He was just waiting for another chance. You never know when you’re going to go back in.”

Returning to the field wasn’t the final obstacle. After Weeden’s first pass sailed out of bounds — long and wide of receiver Travis Benjamin — the sellout crowd booed.

“Obviously, I heard them, but I personally think we have the best fans in the National Football League,” Weeden said. “This is some of the best people, the smartest football fans in the league, and I get it. They get it.

“So obviously you don’t want to hear those, but I think if you can make a couple throws and put a couple drives together, hopefully you turn those into cheers and as a player that’s what you want. It’s why I love playing in Cleveland. The people here, the fans here have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

Chudzinski heard the boos and watched to see how his quarterback would handle them.

“I thought it was impressive that he dealt with it the way he did,” he said. “He didn’t listen to it. It didn’t affect him at all.”

Weeden has plenty of work to do to become a consistent winner and prove he’s the answer to the franchise’s quarterback question. The first priority is quickening his decision-making and cutting down on sacks.

Weeden has been sacked 16 times in nearly three games; Hoyer took six in two. Weeden noticed how quickly Hoyer got the ball out of his hand.

“There’s times where I can get the ball out quicker and take the pressure off the guys out front,” he said.

Chudzinski said getting rid of the ball is a point of emphasis.

“It’s something that he’ll work on and I think he’ll get better at,” Chudzinski said.

Weeden’s teammates believe he can continue the winning ways that began under Hoyer. The Buffalo game is their proof.

“You see how he stepped in and did what he had to do,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “He made throws. He came in there third-and-20 and was converting. He came in and did what he had to do, handled adversity, people were booing him and all.

“So that spoke a lot of what Weeden can do and his confidence and just him as a pro.”

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.