Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and Cleveland’s Jason Campbell go back a long way.
They were first-round draft picks in 2005 and befriended each other at the NFL scouting combine and other pre-draft functions after Smith led Utah and Campbell guided Auburn to undefeated seasons.
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“We’d talk about who would have beat who if we played,” Smith said of those college days.
Smith and Campbell will get a chance to go head to head this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium now that the Browns have announced Campbell will start in place of benched Brandon Weeden.
Campbell, with his third team in three years, will be the third backup quarterback in four weeks who has been elevated to starting status in the week of a game against the unbeaten Chiefs.
First, it was Tennessee’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started for an injured Jake Locker in the Chiefs’ 26-17 win Oct. 6 in Nashville.
Last week, Houston’s Case Keenum made his NFL debut in place of injured Matt Schuab in the Chiefs’ 17-16 win at Arrowhead.
And now, Campbell will try to breathe life into the Browns, 3-4, who have lost two straight since Brian Hoyer left the lineup because of a season-ending knee injury.
Smith, the first overall pick by San Francisco in 2005, knows what it’s like to come off the bench after an extended period of time.
“It’s different for every guy,” Smith said. “Sometimes it can be a good thing. He’s gotten a chance to sit there and watch other guys play. He’s in his first year there in their system and got a chance to get comfortable.
“Then again, you haven’t played with real bullets in a while, probably going back to preseason, and even that’s not quite the same.”
Campbell, the 25th overall pick in 2005 by Washington, where he spent five seasons, has made one start in the past two seasons. While with Chicago, he replaced an injured Jake Cutler last year and was sacked six times in a 32-7 loss to San Francisco on Nov. 19, the first game Colin Kaepernick played in place of Smith, who was out because of a concussion.
Chiefs safety Quintin Demps, who played at Houston last season, faced Campbell the previous week when Cutler was injured against the Texans.
“He does his best not to turn it over,” Demps said. “He doesn’t take sacks. He throws a lot of check downs and quick passes.”
Taking sacks and throwing interceptions were problems for Weeden, a first-round pick by the Browns in 2012 out of Oklahoma State by the club’s previous regime. In four starts, Weeden was sacked 21 times and threw six interceptions, and that’s not a good combination going into a game against the Chiefs, the NFL leaders in takeaways and sacks.
Weeden completed just 17 of 42 passes for 149 yards, an interception and a touchdown, prompting new coach Rob Chudzinski to make the move.
“The things I like about Jason are his experience and the leadership he brings,” Chudzinski said of Campbell, a 6-foot-5, 230-pounder. “He’s been able to win in this league and be productive. He has a good arm and mobility and has shown to be a play maker. From a game-plan standpoint, his skill set gives us what we need.”
Campbell, 31-40 as a starter in his NFL career, has experience against both the Chiefs and Andy Reid-coached teams in Philadelphia.
Campbell was 3-4 in games with Washington during 2006-09 against Reid’s teams and went 2-1 against the Chiefs in 2009-10 as a member of the Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs beat Washington 14-6 for Todd Haley’s first win as a head coach in 2009 but Campbell quarterbacked the Raiders to a sweep in 2010, including an ugly 31-10 win in the 2010 regular-season finale on Jan. 2, 2011, at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I remember it was cold,” Campbell said. “Arrowhead is always a tough stadium to play, always one of the loudest in the NFL. Having some experience there helps.”
Campbell, 31, doesn’t feel like he has to prove anything to a coaching staff that passed him over in favor of Weeden twice and Hoyer.
“It was a situation where we were trying to see what the growth of our football team was,” Campbell said. “It didn’t have anything to do with me as a player or as a person. When you’ve been in the league for a while, I understood what was going on.
“Now it’s my turn. I have to play with confidence and within myself. I still feel young. I know my age says one thing. But I feel fine and confident. I’m healthy. That’s the most important thing.”