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Browns start week with more uncertainty at QB; coach Hue Jackson stresses QBs must protect themselves from unnecessary hits

BEREA — Hue Jackson began to formulate the game plan for Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets without a vital piece of information: the identity of his starting quarterback.
That would be alarming if Jackson hadn’t been here before during his 0-7 start as Browns coach.
“We will figure that out as we go,” he said Monday. “We have been through this.
“We are just going to keep working and be prepared for many different scenarios as we go through it and make sure that we can field a good offensive football team on Sunday.”
Rookie Cody Kessler, who started the last five games, remained in concussion protocol after taking a Domata Peko shoulder to the helmet Sunday in a 31-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He hasn’t been ruled out and hopes to play against the Jets, but concussions can be tricky and he must pass every test.
Veteran Josh McCown, who started Week 2 but broke his left collarbone, hasn’t been cleared for contact. He will be re-evaluated before the practice week begins Wednesday.
“There are some things we need to still take a look at to make sure he is ready to go,” Jackson said.
Then there’s rookie Kevin Hogan, who made his NFL debut Sunday and replaced Kessler midway through the second quarter.
He was drafted in the fifth round by the Chiefs, cut after the preseason and spent the first five weeks on Cleveland’s practice squad.
If Kessler and McCown aren’t cleared, Hogan will make his first NFL start. He was the sixth quarterback to play this season, including receiver Terrelle Pryor, and would be the fourth starter.
The Browns obviously aren’t convinced either Kessler or McCown will be cleared, because they claimed rookie Joe Callahan off waivers from the Saints.
Callahan (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) was undrafted out of Division III Wesley College, signed with the Packers and completed 54 of 88 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns during the preseason, including going 16-for-23 for 124 yards with a touchdown and 97.0 rating in the opener against the Browns. He spent five weeks with the Packers during the regular season then the last two with New Orleans.
He threw for 5,063 yards as a senior, the first Division III quarterback to surpass 5,000.
With all the uncertainty, Hogan is getting ready to start. He rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals and went 12-for-24 passing for 100 yards with two interceptions.
“I don’t know what is going on,” Hogan said. “I know Cody is trying to get back, but he is in the protocol for concussions, and I know Josh is fighting to get back, too.
“That is up to the coaches and how the week of practice goes, but I am definitely going to spend all the time I can preparing as if I am the starter.”
Jackson’s rough start to his Browns tenure is epitomized by the nearly unprecedented problems at quarterback. Jackson was hired in part because of his history coaching the position, but he’s been unable to stabilize it.
Robert Griffin III suffered a broken bone in his left shoulder in the opener in a collision as he reached the sideline on a fourth-quarter scramble. McCown took several huge hits in his start against the Ravens, suffering a non-displaced fracture.
Kessler was forced to leave two of his five starts. His ribs and chest were injured against the Patriots on Oct. 9, then the concussion Sunday.
Even veteran Charlie Whitehurst injured a knee against the Patriots in his only action before being released with an injury settlement.
Jackson has always preached to his quarterbacks they need to protect the ball and themselves. The rash of injuries has caused him to further stress safety first — to whomever’s healthy enough to play.
“It is a hard lesson to learn sometimes,” he said. “You throw the ball away or you take a sack just because it is the right thing to do for your football team. This is not about one individual. This is about your team. If you are not playing, then we are hurting the team.”
Kessler held onto the ball for a while in the pocket, then tried to move right. He completed a backhanded flip to tight end Gary Barnidge but was met by the Bengals and hurt.
“I don’t think Cody was trying to do anything to hurt his football team,” Jackson said. “He was trying to do everything he could to help his team score. There is a fine line, but right now in the situation that we have been in losing quarterbacks, I think the quarterbacks all have to say to themselves, ‘Hey, look, maybe I need to throw this ball away or go down because it is the best thing for our team right now.’”
Hogan said he’s received Jackson’s message. He said he tried to be more careful once Kessler was hurt and he was the only healthy quarterback.
“It is extremely vital,” Hogan said. “It is not a pride thing. For your team, you want to protect yourself so that you can stay in the game and put yourself in a good situation to execute the offense.”
Pryor played quarterback at Ohio State and in the NFL before making the switch to receiver. He was asked how to find the balance between trying to make a play and protecting yourself.
“There is no balance. It’s football,” he said. “We’re trying to make a play and Cody tried to make a play and actually got us in great position to score.
“I know Coach Hue. We’re having a little history with these quarterback things going on. What Hue’s saying is, ‘Be smart, don’t take the hits. Maybe throw it away.’ But it’s tough because you’re on the line. We’re out here fighting for the fans, for this city, for our coaching staff, for the teammates and all you want to do is advance and score so everybody’s happy. And that’s what this game’s all about is making everyone happy, doing your job and doing it to the best of your ability, and that’s what Cody did. He took a hit, took a helluva hit, but he has the heart of a lion.”
Jackson’s frustration over the winless start and loss to his former team was obvious during — he finished without his headset — and after the game. He made it clear Monday he’s not a beaten man.
“I get disappointed for our players, for the franchise, for all involved, our fans and everybody because I want everybody to experience winning because that is what we came here to do and that is what we want to get accomplished,” he said. “We have nobody to blame but us, starting with me. We know we have some things to fix.
“At the same time, being disappointed is different than being about to jump over the fence. I say it all the time, but I’m not discouraged. I’m more determined than ever and going to stay that way to get this football team where it needs to be. Nobody is pouring sand over our head or dirt over our head. We are going to go to work and get this thing better.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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