What Can the Browns Expect from New Starter Brian Hoyer?
The Cleveland Browns have announced that Brian Hoyer, not Jason Campbell, will be the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, thanks to Brandon Weeden's thumb sprain on his throwing hand.
Hoyer will be Cleveland's 19th starting quarterback in 196 games since 1999, per Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.
Hoyer gets the nod over Campbell because, according to head coach Rob Chudzinski, his "strengths are the best fit for this week":
Chud on Hoyer over Campbell: I feel based on our current situation offensively, Brian's strengths the best fit for this week.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) September 18, 2013
The choice of Hoyer over Campbell makes sense based on general manager Mike Lombardi's longstanding interest in the quarterback, and the timing of the two backups' signings seem to hint at Hoyer being the preferred passer.
Hoyer didn't become available to the Browns until his release from the Arizona Cardinals in May. The Browns had already picked up Campbell in March, and the choice to keep both was easy. Hoyer had the upside the front office was looking for, while Campbell had the veteran leadership necessary on a team so young and inexperienced on offense.
But what can Hoyer realistically do for the 0-2 Browns on the road Sunday?
Though Hoyer has appeared in 15 games in his career, which began as a backup for Tom Brady with the New England Patriots, he has only one start to his name—last year with the Cardinals. He completed just 19 of 34 passes in that outing for 225 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
His career yards per pass attempt is 6.42, which is the biggest hint of what we may see from Hoyer on Sunday.
Low pass-attempt yards can indicate many things—a lack of a deep passing option, a terrible offensive line, weak arm strength or a conservative game plan.
Through two games this season, Weeden is averaging six yards per attempt. This is owed partially to receiver Josh Gordon's two-game suspension, as well as the pressure Weeden has been facing.
Weeden hurt as starter, + the Browns OL has surrendered FIFTY ONE total pressures through 2 games— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 18, 2013
Hoyer's relative inexperience—combined with the offensive line's struggles in pass protection (particularly the right side, with Oniel Cousins and Mitchell Schwartz)—will mean a conservative offensive approach this week. This should therefore not only mean less passing, but also more runs for Trent Richardson, which is something the Browns have needed to do regardless of the quarterback.
Granted, Gordon is back, which gives Hoyer a better option should he attempt to go deep.
In passes of 20 or more yards last year, Hoyer performed the best out of the four (yes, four) quarterbacks to take the field for the Cardinals, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Of his seven attempts in two games, he connected on three for 95 yards and a touchdown. If the Browns ask him to go to Gordon, which they should, he won't have trouble getting the ball where it needs to be.
In the preseason this year, Hoyer had appearances in all four games, including the start in Week 4. Though these were situations in which the full extent of Cleveland's offense was not to be trotted out, and in which Hoyer was facing stripped-down versions of regular-season defenses, he performed quite well. He had 37 completions in his 56 attempts for 437 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
When he was the starter in Week 4, tellingly, his yards per attempt climbed to 8.5, an ideal number for an NFL quarterback. Granted, he was throwing to players who may not even be on the Browns roster at present in the softest (yet, for many, most important) of the preseason games.
Even if this is something he can accomplish against the Minnesota Vikings, don't expect it to happen—Hoyer's leash is going to be short this week.
It's important to note that the move to Hoyer is in no way a response to how Weeden has looked through the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season, but only to the injury he sustained (one that cannot be played through).
This does not mean, however, that Hoyer cannot win the starting job outright with the opportunities he's been given thanks to Weeden's injury.
Two foreboding statements made by Chudzinski when the team made the formal announcement of Hoyer's promotion indicate that the door is wide open for Hoyer to keep the job for the long term.
First, this (via Grossi):
Chud on Weeden keeping starting job when healthy: We're going to leave all the options open.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) September 18, 2013
And this (via Scott Raab of WaitingForNextYear.com):
Doesn't say much for Brandon Weeden that Rob Chudzinski feels that there "isn't much separation" with his three quarterbacks.— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) September 18, 2013
There's a clear possibility that Hoyer could be the Browns' starter for the year based on how he handles the starts he's given during Weeden's recovery. So expect to see a quarterback fighting for his career on Sunday and for however long he's under center.
If Alex Smith could get benched for Colin Kaepernick last year following his concussion, despite completing 70.2 percent of his passes and throwing 13 touchdowns to five interceptions, then Hoyer can certainly make an argument for being the starter for the rest of the 2013 season based on what he does on the field in Week 3.
While Hoyer may not be asked to do a lot against the Vikings, how he handles himself could mean much for his future and the future of the position in Cleveland.
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