Weeden Holds The Key To The Speed Of The Browns' Rebuilding Project
By Steven King
The Cleveland Browns likely won’t make the playoffs in 2013.
It would be an encouraging sign – very much so, in fact -- if they’re making enough progress with their rebuilding so that they are still in contention down the stretch. But in reality, that’s not the prime focus of the regular season that begins Sunday with a game against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Rather, it is to find out definitively one way or another if Brandon Weeden is the franchise quarterback the team has searched for since it came back into the NFL way back in 1999. Quarterback is the most important position not just in football, but also in all of team sports. If a team has a good one, then it has a chance to be successful. And if a team doesn’t, then it doesn’t.
It really is that simple.
The Browns are in the AFC North, a division full of teams with established, quality quarterbacks. The list is made up of the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who has helped lead the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl wins, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton, who has been a big key to the Bengals reaching the postseason for two straight years – a feat that had eluded them for three decades.
So if Cleveland is to close the gap on those teams, then it has to find its quarterback. Until that happens, the franchise really can’t move forward to any appreciable degree.
Weeden, selected in the first round at No. 22 overall out of Oklahoma State in the 2012 NFL Draft, was mediocre as a rookie last year in throwing 14 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. But he was operating in the short passing game of a West Coast offense that really didn’t suit his skill set.
Now Weeden – whose best asset is his arm strength and the ability to throw long – is playing in the vertical passing attack of coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Norv Turner. So if Weeden is ever going to make it in this league, this is it. This is the year. The stars are all aligned for it to happen. There will be – there can be – no third chance for it to occur in 2014. It’s either now or never. He’ll be 30 years old on Oct. 14, so the clock is ticking. His time to prove himself is short – much shorter than other second-year quarterbacks who are in their early-to-mid 20s.
It helps that the Browns have a good offensive line to protect Weeden and seem to have been able to fill their void at right guard by moving Oniel Cousins there. It helps that RB back Trent Richardson, who will be the centerpiece of the offense, appears to be healthy and ready to go. It helps that Jordan Cameron seems to be developing at tight end, a major position in Turner’s offense. It helps that coordinator Ray Horton’s blitzing defense will likely force more than its share of turnovers, setting up short fields for Weeden and the offense.
But it doesn’t help that backup RB back Dion Lewis, whose quickness had been one of the highlights of training camp and the preseason, is out for the season with a broken leg. It doesn’t help that none of the running backs has stepped forward to be the answer as the new No. 2. It doesn’t help that WR Josh Gordon, the No. 1 deep target, will miss the first two games after being suspended by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy. It doesn’t help that the other starting wide receiver, Greg Little, continues to have some off-the-field issues. It doesn’t help that Weeden seems to lock onto his receivers and fails to look off defenders. It doesn’t help that Weeden appears to lack the leadership qualities of a good quarterback.
But none of that – either good or bad – matters. At the end of the day, it all boils down to Weeden – and Weeden alone -- being able to get the job done. He can’t depend on anyone else to do it for him, nor can he blame others if it fails to happen. If at some point in 2013, Weeden is sent to the sideline either because of poor play or injury, it will have become a lost season and force the Browns to look elsewhere for their franchise quarterback next offseason.
So as you watch the scores of Cleveland’s games this year, also watch Weeden with as much or even more scrutiny. It is his play that will determine if this will be a productive season in the big picture.