BEREA — Brandon Weeden returned from a few days in Oklahoma with a live arm, fresh outlook and seven games left to show new CEO Joe Banner he should be the starting quarterback in 2013 and beyond.
“I’m not a moron. I know I’ve got to play better,” Weeden said Wednesday. “And I’ve got to do my part to help this team win.
“I think lost in all of this is that I’m a rookie, I’m still playing teams for the first time, I’m still seeing things for the first time. I’m making a lot of mistakes that I’m making for the first time. I’m trying not to repeat them. But I’m not a nine- or 10-year veteran. I think some people might lose track of that sometimes. But I’ve got to play better.”
Banner told the Plain Dealer last week he will use the rest of the season to determine if Weeden is the quarterback of the future, and labeled it one of his most important decisions. Banner wasn’t involved in the drafting of Weeden with the No. 22 pick in April, and a new coach or general manager — if Banner moves on from Pat Shurmur and/or Tom Heckert — would also have an opinion.
Weeden, who’s 2-7 and ranks No. 31 of 33 with a 67.9 rating, said Banner’s comments don’t add pressure.
“I would’ve expected him to say that,” he said. “They’re taking over this organization and they’re going to do the moves to help this team win, and I obviously want to be the guy that they have a lot of confidence in going forward and I’ve got to play like it.
“I’ve got to go play well and keep the team growing and keep the team making better plays and let the rest kind of take care of itself.”
Shurmur has been resolute in his support of Weeden since draft day. While he’s been critical of the mistakes, Shurmur continues to point to progress made and a bright future.
“He’s got a chance to be an outstanding player,” Shurmur said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it.
“He’s going to lead us to victories.”
Shurmur was just as succinct when asked for the one area in which Weeden needs to improve.
“Don’t throw interceptions,” he said. “Done. End of story.”
Weeden has 12 interceptions, tied for second-most in the league with Kansas City’s Matt Cassel and San Diego’s Philip Rivers. Tony Romo of Dallas, the Browns’ opponent this week, tops the NFL with 13.
“We never want to throw interceptions,” said Weeden, who’s completed 55.1 percent for 2,088 yards and nine touchdowns. “That’s kind of been my priority since I played peewee football.
“I agree, I’ve got to take care of the football, I’ve got to cut down on them. But I think guys that are aggressive like that sometimes that’s one category they unfortunately may have a couple more than they’d like. It’s not good, but we’re just being aggressive and sometimes making that aggressive throw, sometimes it catapults you to get momentum. You make a big throw to spark a drive or something.”
Weeden bragged about his gunslinger mentality when he arrived from Oklahoma State but has backed off since the rash of interceptions to begin the season. He opened with four against Philadelphia and had nine through five weeks. After a three-week stretch where the only pick was a tipped ball, he threw two against the Ravens heading into the bye.
“It’s in my forefront, but I don’t let it get to the front of my mind, where I’m so paranoid about throwing interceptions that I don’t take shots,” he said.
Shurmur said he isn’t worried about Weeden becoming more tentative after hearing so much about the interceptions.
“The essence of a quarterback is you have to be a good decision-maker,” Shurmur said. “You have to decide when it’s important to try to be aggressive with a throw.
“I’ve looked at all those interceptions, and there are times where he could have made better decisions. You don’t want to play anxious football, but you also have to be smart. That is something we all have to come to grips with.”
Romo is the perfect example of trying to balance on the tightrope. Cowboys fans alternate between cheering for his long touchdown throws after escaping trouble to booing because he threw a boneheaded interception.
“It’s a challenge every coach and every quarterback has around this league,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said on a conference call. “The guy has the ball in his hands every play. You need him to make some plays. At the same time, he has to be good with the football and take care of the football in order to give your team a chance to win ballgames.”
Garrett likes what he’s seen of Weeden, including his arm strength, accuracy and composure.
“It doesn’t seem the situation is a little too big for him, so we have a lot of respect for him,” he said.
The Dallas defense is led by ex-Browns coordinator Rob Ryan, who takes pride in his original game plans. It ranks eighth overall, 13th against the run and seventh against the pass. But the Cowboys are tied for last with four interceptions.
Weeden said the bye week came at the perfect time. He hung out with family, attended Oklahoma State’s win over West Virginia and rested his arm.
“My arm feels great and you can tell that the time’s definitely helped me,” he said. “It’s nice to have a fresh wing.”
Weeden will rely on it often in the next seven games, which could decide his future in Cleveland. Despite turning 29 in October, he insists the learning curve remains steep.
“I could be 34, and it doesn’t matter. I’ve still only played nine games,” he said. “Everybody’s got a different opinion on it and my opinion is, I’m busting my tail day in and day out to try to get better.
“This position at this level, you’ve got to argue is one of the toughest in all of sports for sure. Ask Brett Favre. He finished in his 40s and I guarantee he still said it was hard.”