By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
BW3a: I liked what I heard from Brandon Weeden on the first real work day of his second season.
He talked about being “the man” in his second season, about being more vocal and embracing the leadership responsibility that is part of the job description of being an NFL starting quarterback.
He talked about leaning on Jason Campbell’s eight years’ NFL experience, about forming a relationship with the 31-year-old acquisition to make himself better.
He talked about cleaning up some sloppy fundamentals, such as stop patting the ball and moving his feet quicker, to put himself in better throwing positions and improving his completion percentage.
And he talked about having to win over the new coaches – Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner – in the classroom, but more importantly, on the field.
“I think this is probably the biggest time of my entire career,” Weeden, 29, said. “The rookie year’s tough. Going into Year Two, you have to show you can play and grow from Year One.”
It’s now or never: Weeden is on a one-year trial as Browns quarterback.
There is no doubt in my mind that if left to their own devices, CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi would replace Weeden with Geno Smith or another quarterback in the draft. With any quarterback in the draft.
Many national observers – including former Browns GM and current executive director of the Senior Bowl Phil Savage – believe this can still happen. I don’t.
I don’t believe that Banner and Lombardi have the courage of their convictions to pull rank over Chudzinski and Turner, who own the only expertise on quarterbacking in the current management regime.
This is not to say that Chudzinski and Turner are enamored with Weeden. But they must see in him the fundamental skill-set they look for in a quarterback. I suspect that if Weeden were just coming out in next week’s draft, Chudzinski and Turner would rank him at or near the top of the quarterback class.
“As I’ve said before, you see a young guy who has some tools,” Chudzinski said after Tuesday’s first minicamp practice. “He has a good arm and has the ability to get the ball down the field. We look and project that into the things we are going to try to do and obviously teach him. You are looking for progress from a guy who was a rookie and showed progress during his rookie season. You want to see him take the next step to his second year. Hopefully, he will do that and we have to teach him a new offense in the meantime.”
Chudzinski said at the NFL owners meetings in Arizona last month that Turner has a way of challenging a quarterback and bringing out the best in him. The way Weeden talked on Tuesday was a direct result of Turner’s lectures, I believe.
True excitement and new energy: Weeden always talks at a fast clip, which connotes excitement and energy. But it rang hollow in his rookie year because he never seemed comfortable with the concepts of the Pat Shurmur West Coast offense. Who could blame him?
Mike Holmgren and Shurmur tried to wedge Weeden -- a shotgun, quick-read, hard-throwing passer -- into an under-center, seasoned operator of an intricate, timing-based, intermediate-route, cerebral offense. Ryan Tannehill would have been a wiser pick for that system, but Holmgren and Shurmur didn’t like him enough to take him fourth overall, which was the right call. So they force-fed Weeden into a system that brought out the worst in him (i.e. batted passes, indecisive reads, ill-timed throws).
The Chudzinski-Turner offense is more of the “let ‘er rip” style that allowed Weeden to ring up big numbers at Oklahoma State. If Derek Anderson can put together a Pro Bowl-alternate season in this offense, shouldn’t Weeden – given his college credentials and his obvious physical skills – do better?
“I think this offense possesses a lot of the strengths that I have,” Weeden said. “Throwing the ball downfield, throwing deeper routes. I think I’m gonna be in the shotgun a little bit more. You look at (Turner protege) Philip Rivers, he was in the shotgun over 70 percent of the time. Stuff like that, stuff that I’ve done in the past.
“I think Norv’s been in this offense 25-30 years, so he’s a great resource. I trust everything he’s saying. It’s a great scheme. I love this offense. I think it’s a great fit, not only for me but for the other guys we have.”
The other reason Weeden exudes more confidence in Year Two is from taking ownership of the position.
“I don’t care (that) I was 28 last year,” he said. “It’s still different coming into a (new professional) locker room. It’s still hard to be the vocal guy. You have to kind of understand your role and see how you fit. Now it’s my second year. It’s my job to take control and be ‘the guy,’ be the leader on offense, be the leader in the locker room. For me, I lead by example. But there’s a comfort level there now that maybe wasn’t there last year because I was still learning. I was learning week to week and learning new guys, how each guy responds. I’ve seen a difference. This year I’m a little more proactive and just kind of being ‘the guy.’”
|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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