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Can Hoyer Turn Into The Browns' Franchise QB?

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Quarterback Brian Hoyer is playing like a savior in his native Cleveland. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer is playing like a savior in his native Cleveland. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

When the then 0-2 Cleveland Browns traded RB Trent Richardson to Indianapolis on Sept. 18, it was figured by nearly everybody that they had hoisted the white flag on the rest of this season and, in getting the Colts’ first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and adding it to the ones they already had, were positioning themselves even more firmly to pick one of the top quarterbacks available.

And oh, by the way, in light of the fact that Brandon Weeden would be out indefinitely with a sprained right thumb, the club announced the day before that No. 3 QB Brian Hoyer would leapfrog second-stringer Jason Campbell and start the Sept. 22 game at Minnesota.

No Richardson and a quarterback in Hoyer who had all of one regular-season start in four previous NFL seasons. Yikes!

To say that the outlook for the team was bleak at that point would be greatly sugar-coating it. It was far, far worse than that, viewed as another notch on the wall in this never-ending nightmare of a struggle that’s called the expansion era.    

Now, almost two weeks – and two straight wins – later, including Sunday's 17-6 decision over the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, thinking that the Browns will remain in the fetal position for the next three months is the last thing on anyone’s mind. After all, the now-2-2 Browns are tied for first place in the anybody-can-win-it, very average AFC North with the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.

That, along with the fact the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night will play their first postseason game in seven years, has made the entire Northeast Ohio area electric. Sports-wise, and maybe just overall, this is as much fun as this community has had in a long, long time.

But the great Browns storyline that’s bubbling underneath the surface continues to be the quarterback. That position always seems to be a storyline in this town, going all the way back to the days of Otto Graham in the early 1950s as he was finishing his Pro Football Hall of Fame career.

Forget about what the club has said, or not said, or will say, or not say from here on out. Know this: Weeden has no future with the Browns, as least as a starter for the long haul. The organization — the team — has lost faith in him. Coupled with the mediocre way he played in 2012, everybody has seen enough. Weeden was not looked upon favorably by CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi when they took over as a tandem this year. They were talked into going forward with Weeden to start the year by head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. But when Weeden struggled mightily in losses to the Miami Dolphins (23-10) and Baltimore (14-6) and then got hurt, all bets were off. The experiment with Weeden was over — period, even when he returns to health — and the club was going forward with Hoyer, a Cleveland St. Ignatius High School product.

When it’s all said and done, maybe the Browns will still be scouring the college ranks for their franchise quarterback next offseason. But maybe – just maybe – they already have their man in Hoyer.

Other than Lombardi, few people thought Hoyer had any chance at all to be in the running for such. He was a third-stringer with Cleveland. There’s a reason why players are third-stringers.

But he has played well enough in these last two games to at least get that conversation going – to open up that possibility. There’s also the fact Hoyer is this regime’s quarterback. Banner and Lombardi brought him in, so they will give him all the chances in the world to prove himself – or not – over these last 12 games, if he can stay healthy.

That’s what acquiring Hoyer was all about in the first place. Banner and Lombardi were willing to take a chance and roll the dice with the 27-year-old Hoyer and, with what he’s done thus far in this small test sample, they will continue to do so with even more interest than when all this started.

If it’s not Hoyer, then it’s not anyone on the Browns roster right now who will fill the void regarding this search for a franchise quarterback. As is the case with Weeden, it’s also not Campbell, a veteran backup whose strength is managing the game, not making plays.

It’s Hoyer or bust. It’s Hoyer or no one.

Banner and Lombardi would love for Hoyer to end up being the man. That would be the perfect scenario, especially considering that Cleveland has been looking for a franchise quarterback since it took the field again in 1999. It would save the Browns from having to draft a quarterback in the first round next year, thus freeing them up to attack any number of other positions that need help. That would — or at least, it should — speed up this rebuilding plan exponentially.

What has been impressive about Hoyer the last two weeks is his ability to see the entire field and make good decisions, throwing accurately, getting the proper touch on the ball, firing it like a fastball when that is what’s needed and then feathering it in when a softer throw is required, and having a penchant for escaping trouble and making plays.

Those are all the things with which Weeden has struggled since taking over at the beginning of 2012. Weeden has a big arm – he can throw it a country mile – but he doesn’t know when to back off on the RPMs, or he can’t.

Hoyer and Weeden have each played two games this year. That allows a fair look at how they compare in the tangible aspects of the game such as season passing statistics:

Attempts – Hoyer 92; Weeden 85.

Completions – Hoyer 55; Weeden 47.

Completion percentage – Hoyer 59.8; Weeden 54.7.

Yards – Hoyer 590; Weeden 518.

Yards per attempt – Hoyer 6.5; Weeden 6.0.

Touchdowns – Hoyer 5; Weeden 1.

Interceptions – Hoyer 3; Weeden 3.

Long gain – Hoyer 47 yards for a touchdown; Weeden 53.

Sacks – Hoyer 6 for 48 yards loss; Weeden 11 for 84 yards lost.

Quarterback rating – Hoyer 83.2; Weeden 62.0.

Won-loss record – Hoyer 2-0; Weeden 0-2.

Yes, Weeden leads – sometimes by comfortable margins – in nearly every category. And while that’s telling, the last category is obviously the most important one. It’s the No. 1 job of the quarterback to win games. The fact the Browns have never had a long-term answer at quarterback is why they’ve not been able to find a long-term solution to the losing.

So far, so good for Hoyer.

It will continue Thursday night when the Browns host the Buffalo Bills on national TV. And we’ll know much more by New Year’s Day as the season comes to a close, or maybe not. The Browns – especially Banner and Lombardi – are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that they catch a break.

Now, in the 15th year of this expansion mess, doesn't Cleveland deserve to finally get a break of this magnitude?