Moffitt Sent Packing, But Weeden Will Get A Chance To Grow
By Steven King
The Cleveland Browns did something Tuesday that everyone had long expected by naming Brandon Weeden as their starting quarterback.
Later in the day, they did something that no one expected when – because of unspecified health concerns – they suddenly voided the trade they had made Monday with the Seattle Seahawks to get G John Moffitt, who had met with the media and seemed set to go before the startling news broke. As a result, Cleveland gets back third-string DE Brian Sanford.
Shortly after the trade that wasn’t, Seattle reportedly traded Moffitt to its former AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos, who apparently have no health concerns about him and are hoping he will bolster their injury-ravaged line.
The Browns line is beat up as well, with the top two right guards – Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston –
out with injuries. In their stead, rookie Garrett Gilkey has been working as the starter while Moffitt was expected to compete with him for the job. The team is set at left guard with Youngstown Boardman High School and University of Toledo product John Greco, who just signed a new five-year contract.
So Gilkey will start Saturday night’s dress-rehearsal preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, but Cleveland is expected to have signed another guard by then to battle Gilkey going forward. The Browns like Gilkey, but they fear he’s too raw to play 16 games, especially considering the fact he’s stationed alongside second-year RT Mitchell Schwartz. That’s not a lot of experience at those two spots and if Weeden and this No. 1 offense is to continue their good play, then the right side of the line has to hold up.
It was hardly a surprise that Weeden was named a starter by coach Rob Chudzinski. The second-year pro went into training camp and the preseason as the presumed starter and more than fortified his hold on the position with impressive performances in victories over the St. Louis Rams (27-19) and Detroit Lions (24-6) the last two Thursday nights at FirstEnergy Stadium.
In Weeden’s six drives, the Browns have scored five times, including three touchdowns. Overall, he has completed 18-of-25 passes for 229 yaqrds and three touchdowns with no interceptions, giving him a 139.8 passer rating.
It is the best a Browns quarterback has looked since Derek Anderson had his Pro Bowl season in 2007 operating an offense coordinated by – you guessed it – Chudzinski. While backups Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer have done some good things, they are light years behind Weeden.
But the surprising thing about Weeden being named the starter is what Chudzinski said about how the quarterback did it: “He earned the spot.”
The Browns wanted Weeden to earn it. He was given the position last season as a rookie without any real competition and it may have limited his thirst to get better. New Cleveland CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi were hardly Weeden fans when they took over as a tandem in the offseason. They wanted to jettison Weeden, but Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner persuaded them not to by saying they believed he could develop into a good player in an offense that is suited to his skills.
Banner and Lombardi agreed, but the stipulation may have been that Weeden had to earn the job. And earn it he has.
Weeden must stay motivated and build upon the foundation he has laid by performing well again against the Colts. It is the team’s first road game and will provide Weeden with his longest test since he and the other first-teamers are expected to play into, if not all of, the third quarter.
RB Trent Richardson, who had 33 yards rushing on six carries against Detroit, will see some action again and hopefully come away with no injuries as the club tries to nurse him into the regular season with a clean bill of health. Cleveland is also expected to get its first look at WR David Nelson, the free-agent signee from the Buffalo Bills who missed the first two games with a bruised knee.
Of course, there will also be a microscope on Gilkey. Is he good enough – and a quick-enough learner – to take advantage of the golden opportunity he has to win a starting job when he had been viewed as merely a project? We’ll know more by about 10 p.m. ET Saturday.
In fact, the Browns will probably have a pretty good idea about a lot more things than just the battle at right guard by the time they get on the plane to head home this weekend.