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Browns' Teachers Unlikely To Accept Another Incomplete From Weeden

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Whether he performs well or not, the Browns need Brandon Weeden to stay healthy in order to determine if he is their future at quarterback. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Whether he performs well or not, the Browns need Brandon Weeden to stay healthy in order to determine if he is their future at quarterback. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Although the Cleveland Browns ended the 2012 season with 13 players on injured reserve, that’s not what hurt their season the most. To be sure, the balance of power in the AFC North was not going to be swayed by the absences of unproductive WRs Mohamed Massaquoi and Jordan Norwood.

Rather, it was the loss of a player who never ended up on IR that was the biggest health issue faced by Cleveland not just last year, but also going forward in a certain respect. It laid the most waste to the Browns’ season. The player was QB Brandon Weeden, who exited in the third quarter at Denver in the next-to-last game of the year and did not return.

The shoulder injury he incurred back on Dec. 23 has healed completely. He is not bothered by it at all, nor does he expect to be at any point this year. That’s good. Weeden, the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, started the first 15 games of the year. That’s good, too. He had all but 49 of the 517 passing attempts – and 14 of the 16 touchdown throws -- the Browns had in 2012. That’s another positive. He played a lot and had the opportunity to see a lot of different things, which is exactly what’s needed in order for a rookie quarterback to mature. That’s also good, obviously.

All of this wasn’t enough, though. That’s because he didn’t play the whole season.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Cleveland’s No. 1 problem in this pitiful expansion era has been the inability to find its franchise quarterback. The Browns drafted Weeden in hopes he would finally be that guy. As such, they wasted no time in training camp naming him the starter and putting to rest any talk of a controversy with Colt McCoy. But, like many Cleveland quarterbacks who have failed to last the season because of injuries since 1999, Weeden gets an incomplete grade for 2012.

He did not get to finish the game against the Broncos, who did everything but defeat the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the AFC divisional playoffs. He also did not get to play at all the following week in the season finale at Pittsburgh, which has long been a tough place for the Browns to win. Even with Baltimore’s success last season and the rise of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers have usually had a lot of say as to what teams travel along with them on the road to the division title – something that is likely to remain the case going forward.

So we don’t know how Weeden would have done in the final 19 minutes at Denver, another death trap for Cleveland over the years. It would have been invaluable for him to have been able to finish a game against a tough team in a tough venue. Those are the bumps and bruises that a young quarterback has to endure. The more bumps and bruises, the better for the knowledge and experience it breeds. In addition, Weeden will have to wait until this season to make his debut at Pittsburgh. That hurts – much more than the shoulder injury.

Late in the game in his debut at old Three Rivers Stadium in his rookie season of 1985, a miscommunication with C Mike Baab caused a snap to hit former Browns QB Bernie Kosar in the face mask when he wasn’t looking. The lost fumble was a key play in a 10-9 loss to the Steelers. So even the great ones must first get their feet wet at Pittsburgh to succeed there.

Weeden still has to go through all that at Pittsburgh – the crowd noise, the need to use a silent snap count and be on the same page with C Alex Mack. Cleveland can only hope that in the process of learning all that this season, it doesn’t cause another fumble that is crucial in a one-point defeat.

The Browns – and Weeden – don’t have time to waste opportunities like the ones at Denver and Pittsburgh when they present themselves. Weeden isn’t getting any younger – he will be 30 before the halfway point of the season – and the Browns and their fans have already waited too long in this expansion era for their franchise quarterback to materialize.

The best thing for Cleveland and Weeden is for him to stay completely healthy this year and take every snap so he can learn and grow as much as possible and prove definitively that he is the guy – or isn’t – at the all-important position of quarterback.