|Browns QB Weeden planning for strong second season|
|Saturday, July 27, 2013 12:00 AM|
BEREA — His hair is still orangey, just a shade off the color of the Browns’ helmets. He’s still got that cannon right arm, the one that made the New York Yankees draft him and enabled him to throw 75 touchdown passes at Oklahoma State.
Outwardly, Brandon Weeden looks the same.
But he’s no longer a wide-eyed NFL rookie. And as Weeden enters his second pro season, he’s got experience, an offense catered to his strengths and a brand new outlook.
Cleveland’s quarterback says he’s a changed man.
“I feel like a completely different player,” he said.
The Browns have their fingers crossed that Weeden, who was both efficient and erratic last season, can develop into the long-term starter he was projected to be when the club selected the 29-year-old with the No. 22 overall pick in 2012. Weeden showed signs of being that guy last year, just not enough of them.
He passed for 3,385 yards — a franchise rookie record — with 14 touchdowns but there were too many moments when the game seemed to be moving much faster than Weeden, who may have been unfairly judged as part of an elite rookie QB class headlined by Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill. Weeden was held to a standard he wasn’t quite ready to reach.
However, Weeden believes he grew from last year and is eager to show the Browns — and prove to some skeptical Cleveland fans — that he’s ready to take a major step forward.
Weeden seems to have the backing of Cleveland’s new coaching staff and an overhauled front office that didn’t draft him. Although first-year coach Rob Chudzinski has not yet named Weeden his starter, the rifle-armed QB opened training camp with a leg up on Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer, two experienced veterans who give the Browns quality depth in case Weeden falls on his face.
So far, he’s standing tall. It’s his starting job to lose.
The Browns have been impressed with the way Weeden immersed himself into learning Chudzinski’s complex offense, which should better allow him to spread the ball around the field to his receivers.
There was a perception last season that Weeden, who played four seasons of minor-league baseball before going to college, wasn’t a great student or hard worker. But that hasn’t been an issue whatsoever as Weeden has shown a strong desire to improve and to lead. The Browns have spent months evaluating Weeden; to this point, he’s passed every test.
Weeden’s first day of training camp didn’t start so well. He looked tentative on some early passes, forcing the ball into tight spots — one of his issues last year.
But he settled in and before long, Weeden was threading completions all over the field, hooking up on long passes to wide receivers Greg Little, Davone Bess and Josh Gordon.
“I’m going to go out there with confidence,” he added. “I’m not going to be timid. I’m going to go out there and play hard and leave it on the line and take the chances I did and always have. I’m going to throw the ball and throw the ball in tight windows and trust my arm.”
The change in Weeden has been noticeable to his teammates.
“Brandon’s a workhorse,” running back Trent Richardson said. “I had no problem with Brandon last year and I have no problem with him this year. All the guys are comfortable with him. He’s trusting us; he’s trusting himself. He’s making throws. He’s making corrections and that first year was our first year. We put that behind us; we’re not going to look back at that.”
Norv Turner agrees. Cleveland’s new offensive coordinator, who has a proven track record of developing young QBs, has been impressed by Weeden’s growth and sees his potential. Turner reeled off a list of quarterbacks — Jim Everett, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, Brad Johnson — who blossomed under his tutelage and he feels Weeden may one day be added to that list.
Turner said Weeden’s ability to make a big leap in his second year depends on a variety of factors.
“It’s totally based on No. 1, the guy, and then the situation he was in,” Turner added, “and so many people get caught up in where a guy is. A lot of it depends on the situation he’s put in, the offensive line, the playmakers around him, how good a defensive football team you have. … But I think Brandon is fortunate; he’s had the experience of starting 15 games in this league. That’s a plus when you start working with a player who hasn’t played a lot and then I think he’s taken to what we’re doing.”
NOTES: WR Josh Gordon was not limited and didn’t seem to have any issues after going down with a cramp in Thursday’s practice. … WR David Nelson was activated from the PUP list and was limited in drills. He missed last season with Buffalo after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Bills’ opener. Nelson signed with Cleveland as a free agent. … OT Oneil Cousins rolled his ankle and left practice early. Chudzinski said Cousins will be evaluated. … The Browns will practice in pads for the first time today. … DT Phil Taylor remained sidelined with a calf strain but Chudzinski expects him back in the next few days.
Schwartz among NFL coaches on hot seat
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Jim Schwartz stepped into perhaps the NFL’s worst job of all time, inheriting its first 0-16 team.
When the Detroit Lions gave him his first shot to be a head coach at any level in 2009, he talked about taking on and tackling challenges his entire life.
Then Schwartz helped the hapless franchise improve in each of his first three years. He led the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade in 2011.
The Lions, though, took a big step back last year by losing their last eight games to flop to a 4-12 finish. With the slide, Schwartz lost his status as a coach with stability and acknowledged getting a dose of humility.
The coach often pays the price for a team’s failures. So Schwartz, with a 22-42 record in Detroit, needs better results and fewer life lessons if he wants to stay in Detroit.
And he’s hardly the only one in the league with his job on the line.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, Dallas’ Jason Garrett, Tennessee’s Mike Munchak, Oakland’s Dennis Allen and Carolina’s Ron Rivera also face a sense of urgency to win — or else.
Ryan, hired the same year as Schwartz, may not get a second chance to bounce back from a losing season. Unlike Schwartz, Ryan is working for a general manager who didn’t hire him. Ryan’s contract runs out after 2014.
The Jets were 6-10 last year under Ryan, following a .500 season that didn’t build upon an 11-win 2010 or a winning season in his debut with the franchise.
Jets’ owner Woody Johnson fired GM Mike Tannenbaum a day after last season and hired John Idzik. While Johnson does seem to be fond of Ryan, he’s not sold enough on him to extend his contract a second time.
Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones insisted several times during the offseason that Garrett isn’t on the hot seat and addressed his situation before being asked about it on the eve of training camp.
Garrett, though, has failed to make the franchise anything more than average with a pair of 8-8 records since taking over during the 2010 season. In fact, no one has lately. Dallas is 128-128 since the start of the 1997 season and 1-6 in the playoffs.
The Titans haven’t had a great team since winning an NFL-high 13 games in 2008 when Schwartz was Jeff Fisher’s defensive coordinator.
Munchak has been their head coach for just two seasons but he almost surely has to have a record more like his first than his second to improve his shot to stay. The Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman led the Titans to a 9-7 mark in 2011 and slipped to a 10-loss season last year.
Titans’ owner Bud Adams, who turned 90 in January, fired chief operating officer Mike Reinfeldt at the end of last season. Adams allowed GM Ruston Webster to spend nearly $110 million signing veteran free agents such as left guard Andy Levitre and safety Bernard Pollard.
Oakland didn’t make a change with its coach, giving Allen another opportunity with the perennially rebuilding franchise after winning just four games in his debut. Allen has little talent at his disposal because about 40 percent of this year’s salary cap will be spent on bonuses to players who are no longer on the team.
A week after Carolina closed with a 7-9 record, Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson decided Rivera would return for a third season. There’s promise on the Panthers with Cam Newton at quarterback and Luke Kuechley at linebacker — both won rookie of the year awards in the last two seasons — but it needs to turn into production.
And quickly. The Rivera-led Panthers have started 1-6 and 1-5 but he’s trying not to focus too much on how his possibly pivotal season begins.