There's No QB Controversy In Cleveland
By Steven King
Cleveland Browns quarterback controversies are as old as the team itself. For instance, here’s a great trivia question: who started at quarterback in the Browns’ first-ever game in 1946?
No, not Pro Football Hall of Famer Otto Graham, although he was on the roster and entered the game early. Rather, it was Cliff Lewis – a Lakewood, Ohio native. And anytime that Graham had a bad game – an atypical game -- in the 1950s, some fans would begin to clamor for backup George Ratterman.
Taking that into consideration, we really shouldn’t be surprised there is a perception that a quarterback controversy is brewing in Cleveland, even when that’s not the case. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
There was a recent local story quoting an anonymous NFL source that stated Jason Campbell – the well-traveled journeyman the Browns signed this offseason – would be given every chance to win the starting job. Campbell himself has said he’s confident he will get that opportunity. But unless Brandon Weeden gets hurt or struggles mightily in training camp and the preseason, that’s probably not going to happen. And even if Weeden falls on his face before Week 1, the Browns would still be hard-pressed to unseat him going into the regular season.
There are two things – and only two things – the Browns are attempting to accomplish this year.
The first goal? Win games and ultimately a championship. The second? Get some clarity on the quarterback situation to determine if Weeden is the long-term answer at quarterback.
Since the first one – the championship part of it, at least – isn’t going to happen in 2013, the real focus of the season will be to take a hard, long look at Weeden, the No. 22 overall choice in the 2012 NFL Draft who started all of last season and threw for 14 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
Cleveland is confident they have built a cocoon around Weeden by placing him into the situation that gives him the greatest chance to succeed:
1) He will get good coaching from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Norv Turner and coach Rob Chudzinski, both of whom have shown they understand the quarterback position as it is played in this day and age. Turner’s voice will be the only one Weeden will really hear on a daily basis. Last season, there were a lot of different people giving him mixed messages, which only served to confuse him.
2) The Browns have instituted a vertical passing game that plays into Weeden’s strength as a downfield passer. He was stuck in an antiquated pitch-and-catch, short-passing attack last season, making him look bad even when he wasn’t.
3) Cleveland has given him another weapon in veteran WR Davone Bess, who is excellent on those drive-sustaining, third-down situations. The Browns had no such player in 2012.
4) The Browns did not draft a quarterback this year, especially in the first round at No. 6 overall. There was plenty of speculation they would pluck West Virginia’s Geno Smith. Weeden also doesn’t figure to hear the clamor for Colt McCoy following his trade to the San Francisco 49ers.
If Weeden is going to make it in the NFL, this will be the year he does it. If he fails, then he may never cut it in the league – certainly not in Cleveland, at least. Campbell is just a stop-gap measure in case something happens to Weeden. The Browns simply don’t view Campbell as a legitimate starting candidate in 2013. If Campbell ends up quarterbacking this team in 2012, then it will be a lost season in terms of the big-picture quarterback search because he wasn’t brought in to be the starter.
Campbell is a competitor and, as such, believes he can be the man. He’s not afraid to say that in public. No one would expect an experienced veteran like Campbell to automatically concede the job to Weeden without a fight. Cleveland can’t just hand the job to Weeden now either, which is pretty much what they did a year ago. They feel a pressured Weeden – one who has to do something to win the job and put an exclamation point behind his candidacy – performs better. Call it dangling the proverbial carrot in front of him. So the Browns are making it look like a competition even though it is anything but that.
Somewhere Graham is looking down on his beloved Browns, shaking his head and chuckling.