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Can Brandon Weeden be a championship-level QB? Let's find out

Aug 21, 2013 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

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The Morning Kickoff …

Select company: Brandon Weeden, who officially was named Rob Chudzinski’s starting quarterback on Tuesday, defied long odds just to return for a second season as Browns starter.

Only three others have started season openers in consecutive seasons since 1999 – Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb and Charlie Frye. Couch, the expansion franchise’s original No. 1 draft pick, started the 2000 and ’01 openers, but was injured for the '02 first game. That enabled stand-in Holcomb to string together two in a row, as he took over in '03. Frye started the 2006 opener and held on for ’07, though he was dismissed after one half in Game 1 and traded a day later.

Besides that ignominious history, Weeden had to overcome the pervading sentiment that new owner + new CEO + new GM + new coach = new quarterback.

Weeden was written off nationally as soon as Mike Lombardi was introduced as CEO Joe Banner’s choice as top football lieutenant. Lombardi was a stern critic of Weeden in his previous role as NFL Network analyst. There was the belief that Lombardi’s views merely echoed those unstated of Banner, who observed Weeden up close last season in the torturous, 1980s-era, West Coast offense of former coach Pat Shurmur.

Weeden’s rookie season was a classic case of forcing a square peg in a round hole. Former NFL GM Bill Polian said on the team’s official radio show, no less, that no quarterback in the sterling rookie class of 2012 was forced into a system more different and challenging from his college offense than Weeden.

Given all of that, Weeden did throw for 3,385 yards – the seventh-most EVER for an NFL rookie – and won five games, which was more than Bernie Kosar as a rookie. Yet he was derided for not being Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III,  Russell Wilson – even, yikes, Ryan Tannehill.

Banner then applied more pressure on Weeden by questioning his work ethic at the NFL combine in February.

The breakthrough for Weeden was the series of events that led to Chudzinski being named head coach – after Nick Saban, Chip Kelly and Doug Marrone deferred -- and bringing along Norv Turner as offensive coordinator.

Fortunately, Banner had the wisdom to allow the coaches to supervise the quarterback selection process.

Chudzinski and Turner favored a big-armed quarterback to attack defenses with downfield throws, and they were amenable to the shotgun formation in which Weeden thrived at Oklahoma State.

What’s not to like?:  Weeden’s prodigious arm sets him apart from every other Browns quarterback in the expansion era.

I can’t overstate how relevant arm strength is in today’s NFL, especially in northern cities without domes like Cleveland, Buffalo, Green Bay and Foxboro, MA.

Intangibles such as leadership, anticipation and reading the field will always be important to separate great QBs from average ones. But delivering the ball ultimately is the No. 1 task of the quarterback. And with the speed of the game at an all-time high, quarterback arm strength looms larger than ever. Throwing windows are tighter than ever and pass rushers are in the backfield in the blink of an eye. Receivers need the ball on time, in stride.

Rag-armed passers may survive in domes and warm weather cities. Not here. Ty Detmer, Jeff Garcia, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy … they had no chance in Cleveland, primarily, in my opinion, because of mediocre arm strength.

Stability is next: Joe Thomas has never missed a snap in his six years as the Browns’ left tackle. In that time, 10 different quarterbacks have started games for the Browns. I asked Thomas if he has a helmet or jersey as a mementoe of each of the quarterbacks for which he has blocked.

“I’d need a couple more lockers,” he said, laughing. “More storage space.”

Seriously, though, the few players left in the Browns’ locker room who have suffered constant losing here know that they have no chance of experiencing winning until the team establishes stability at the quarterback position.

“I think that’s one of the things that separates the teams that consistently win from the teams that are on the bottom in the NFL,” Thomas said. “So if you get those key players in the right positions, and you put some consistency together with the coaching staff and management and players, I think that’s how you build long-term success in this league.”

This week, reporters were given a tour of the Browns’ refurbished headquarters. In the team’s personnel “war room” was a painted inspirational message titled “The Critical Path To The Super Bowl.” The second item was: We will have a CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL QB.

I don’t know if Weeden is a championship-level quarterback. I know he has the No. 1 ingredient – arm strength. He now has the right offense, the right coaches and, possibly, the right supporting cast. So let’s find out.

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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