By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Comeback player of the month: To borrow a phrase, reports of Brandon Weeden’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The longer the Browns look at him – and at the quarterbacks available to them -- the better he looks.
There are three major reasons why Weeden is now more likely to be the first Browns quarterback to start in back-to-back opening days since Charlie Frye in 2007.
(Frye’s second season as starter lasted all of two quarters, by the way. He lost the job at halftime of Game 1 and was traded two days later.)
Weeden’s biggest asset is his big arm. It plays into the wheelhouses of both coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner. They treasure quarterbacks who can fit the ball through the tiniest of openings. Chudzinski, too, knows how important it is to have a passer to spin the ball through the icy Lake Erie winds in December.
Mike Lombardi should know it, too. He saw Bernie Kosar’s skills “diminishing” after a wrenched elbow injury in the 1988 season opener took 10 mph off Kosar’s better-than-average fastball. Then he saw Bill Belichick ride Vinny Testaverde’s pretty arm – and a suffocating defense – to a wild-card playoff berth in 1994.
The big arm of Ryan Mallett, Belichick’s current backup QB with New England, appeals to Lombardi. But trading for Mallett – still not out of the question – is problematic because the Browns expended their second-round draft choice nine months early in the supplemental draft to take receiver Josh Gordon.
Not having a second-round pick severely restricts the Browns from giving up a No. 3 for Mallett. That may explain why Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner are so hard on Gordon. I believe Tom Heckert’s bold move on Gordon, which has paid dividends, ultimately may save Weeden his job for a second year.
There’s one other reason why Weeden may hang on. The 2013 quarterback draft class is underwhelming at best, and positively stinks at worst.
But Weeden may have won by default only a one-year trial. Because Banner and Lombardi and even Chudzinski believe the future at the quarterback position is the read option executed by Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin 3.
The future at QB?: Nobody at the NFL scouting combine believed the read option offense is a fad, except maybe new Arizona coach Bruce Arians.
“I don’t think it’s a fad,” Banner said. “But I think for some teams it’ll be right and for some teams it’ll be wrong.”
In other words, if you don’t have a quarterback who can be respected to run and be respected to throw – and do both equally well – you shouldn’t dabble in the read option.
Chudzinski, who was coordinator with the Carolina Panthers the past two years, was smart to utilize Newton’s running skills to ease him into the pro game. The flexibility that Chudzinski showed in Carolina – and his willingness to explore the read option – helped land him the job in Cleveland.
What’s appealing to a coordinator about the read option?
“Most of the time, defenses don’t have to account for the quarterback as a runner,” Chudzinski said. “So you actually add a number to your run game and your blocking schemes even out. It’s hard for (defenses) to outnumber you in the box. Obviously, it just one more possibility of a guy who can carry the ball.
“It just gives you one more option as an offensive coach. In Carolina, we were on the front end of that, on the cutting edge of really incorporating that as part of our offense. It started as not really knowing how it would work. We worked our way through it and it really helped us a lot and helped Cam in his development.
“Obviously, the question you start asking is what about the long-term possibility of doing it as a guy gets older. Those were things we would have had to work through, and anybody that’s doing it has to work through. Defensively, we’re going to end up playing teams that do it, so we have to have answers. Hopefully my experience doing it will help us defensively, as well.”
I asked Chud if he would explore using the read option in Cleveland.
“It’ll depend on the guys who are playing,” he said. “Do they have the capabilities of doing it, and some of the background of doing it? We’ll just have to see once we get out there what the guys can do.”
In the meantime: At the Super Bowl, coaches said the best situation to implement the read option is with a quarterback who’s been trained doing it in college. You want a young guy with young legs and a strong arm who knows how to do it. The read option doesn’t mean running all the time – but it may mean up to 10 quarterback runs a game for the option to be so respected.
Weeden can’t do that. But if the Browns plow into 2013 with Weeden at the helm, they still can be progressive by employing more of the pistol formation – which stations the QB four yards behind center in sort of a half-shotgun.
Weeden used the pistol on occasion at Oklahoma State. Pat Shurmur tried it a few times last year. The pistol gives a pocket quarterback a better view instantly of the defense in the passing game and enhances a team’s downhill running game because it gives the back the ball at a deeper “mesh point.”
The pistol also is the final link to the read option. Using them both is the ultimate. The Browns are not at that point yet. But it’s coming. Unless Weeden can win everyone over in 2013. The pistol and the shotgun give him a better chance of doing that.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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