BEREA — Browns quarterback Jason Campbell was cleared to return to practice Thursday, putting him in the mix to start against the New England Patriots.
The ninth-year pro suffered a concussion on Nov. 24 when Pittsburgh cornerback William Gay delivered a left-handed blow to his facemask. The play went unpenalized by referee Terry McAulay, but Gay was later fined $15,750 by the NFL office for striking Campbell’s “head and neck area.”
“It’s very encouraging, but Jason still has not — and will not — pass the independent neurologist test until we see how he does,” Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski said prior to practice.
“In the next 24-48 hours, obviously, we would have more information on that. He would need to pass that before he would be cleared to play in the game.”
Campbell worked as the top quarterback during early positional drills, returning to the role that he held for four weeks after taking over for Brandon Weeden in late October.
His comeback was welcome news to the Browns, who were preparing to start either Alex Tanney or Caleb Hanie at New England — neither of whom was on their roster two weeks ago. Cleveland plays the Patriots on Sunday afternoon.
“Just getting Jason back in the walk-through, I think everyone felt a sense of relief in terms of continuity,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “Now, we’re going to work all three guys and make sure we’ve covered all the bases in terms of getting ready.”
Chudzinski and Turner both made it clear that they aren’t rushing Campbell back, even though Weeden has not practiced since absorbing a concussion Sunday in the Browns’ 32-28 loss to Jacksonville.
Tanney has never appeared in a regular season game, while Hanie is 0-4 as a starter with a 41.6 passer rating in five previous NFL campaigns.
“It’s obvious we have to make sure we do the right things with Jason, but we also have to make sure that the other guys know what they’re doing,” Turner said, adding that this is the first time in his 29-year pro career that he didn’t know which quarterback was starting this late in the week.
Chudzinski agreed, saying, “As far as Tanney and Hanie, we’ll continue to evaluate them in practice.”
Campbell is 1-3 as a starter this season, while Weeden is 0-5. Brian Hoyer went 3-0 before suffering a torn right anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 3 against Buffalo.
Next man up
Rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant could make his first NFL start against the Patriots, replacing Desmond Bryant on the right side.
The seventh-round pick has appeared in eight of the Browns’ first 12 games in a reserve role, making 12 tackles with one pass defensed.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a while, so I’ll be ready if the opportunity comes,” Bryant said. “My future goal is to be a starter in this league, and I’m excited about the challenge.”
The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder from East Central (Okla.) arrived in Cleveland with a checkered legal past, but has walked the straight and narrow since the start of training camp.
Bryant said he plans on continuing to live the clean life, largely because he is living out his dream right now.
“It’s an amazing job to wake up and do what you love every day,” he said. “It’s incredible. Everyone here is so dedicated to the sport. Just being a part of it, I know I’ve been blessed.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton would not reveal whether Bryant or Billy Winn would get the nod, but said he plans on giving them both between 22-35 snaps.
“We don’t have a starting defensive line because they all play about the same,” Horton explained. “It might matter to some players if they start, but it doesn’t to me and I don’t think it matters to the guys that we have here.”
Horton minced no words in discussing the Browns’ home loss to the Jaguars, which saw his unit allow a nine-play, 80-yard drive in the closing minutes.
Jacksonville wide receiver Cecil Shorts III hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne with 40 seconds left, beating Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden for the game-winning score.
“It was very disappointing on everybody’s part, especially our defense,” Horton said. “If you want to make a statement as a defense, you should say, ‘Hey, put it on us at the end of the game.’ Situations like that are how you make a name, a reputation in this league. We didn’t do it.”
Haden fought back tears when discussing the play immediately after the game, which his coordinator said shows how much he cares.
“Everybody was highly, highly disappointed, probably nobody more than Joe, who took it really hard,” Horton said. “To me, that shows outstanding character.
“If you had asked him before the game, he would have loved to be the guy that they threw at in that situation. Those are the kind of players we want on this team.”
Browns linebackers Tank Carder (shoulder) and Craig Robertson (knee), running back Willis McGahee (knee) and tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) were limited in practice. Weeden did not participate, while Campbell was limited.
Tackle Mitchell Schwartz (toe), punter Spencer Lanning (knee) and linebacker Paul Kruger (finger) were full participants.
• Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (personal reasons) and wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) did not practice.
Limited were tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) and Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), linebacker Brandon Spikes (personal reasons), safety Steve Gregory (finger, back, forearm), wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), tackle Will Svitek (ankle) and cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (groin), Aqib Talib (hip) and Marquice Cole (shin).
Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden — a third-round selection — is one of 26 Browns to play in their first 12 games. He could make his first start at New England in place of Chris Owens (knee sprain).
“Definitely, I’ll take full advantage of it,” the San Diego State product said. “The next four weeks, I want to compete at the highest level.”
• Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker will call the Browns/Patriots game on CBS. It is scheduled to air in Cleveland, Toledo, and Youngstown, along with the entire states of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine.
• New England re-signed veteran wide receiver Austin Collie, who was on its 53-man roster from Oct. 3-Nov. 5.
Quote of the day
“Our red zone (defense) needs to be fixed. We’re below average in it, no question. Is that number bad? It’s awful. It’s hideous to me.” —Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.