BEREA – At this time last year, Brandon Weeden was only three months removed from being taken No. 22 in the draft. He had the full support of the coaching staff and front office. He hadn’t thrown an incompletion or interception that mattered.
He was the latest answer to the Browns’ long-running unsolved question at quarterback.
Fast-forward a year, and the situation is vastly different. He’s playing for a coaching staff and front office that didn’t draft him. He’s coming off a rookie season in which his 72.6 passer rating ranked 29th in the NFL, he threw 17 interceptions and went 5-10 as the starter. He’s two months from turning 30.
He still has a grip on the starting job, but the long term is in doubt.
That’s the backdrop as Weeden enters his second preseason tonight against the Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I know I have to play well, so I’m not putting any added pressure on myself,” he said Wednesday after practice.
Weeden has taken every repetition with the first team throughout the offseason and in the first two weeks of training camp. He’s largely looked better than backups Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer, but has been plagued by inconsistency – often within the same practice.
He admits he’s still making mistakes, but is trying to learn from them. When he watches film, he sees himself getting stuck looking on one side of the field and not taking advantage of his outlet receivers underneath.
“I’m an aggressive thrower. That’s just my personality. I like to make throws in tight windows,” Weeden said. “But I think knowing when to take those shots and knowing when to be aggressive and knowing when to check it down, that’s one thing I’ve missed a lot of. I’ll try to throw a corner route or something when I may have something underneath that may get 6 or 7 or 8 yards.”
Coordinator Norv Turner likes to stretch the field with passes downfield, but he knows that must be balanced with sustained drives, which are fueled by completions. That’s been a focus for Weeden, who has said for months one of his top goals is to raise his completion percentage from .574 last year, which ranked 27th in the league.
“You’ve got to get completions,” Weeden said. “Whatever it may be, first down, third down, get completions. We’ve got great backs, we’ve got great guys underneath who can catch the ball and make plays.”
Weeden had an ugly debut last season, going 3-for-9 for 62 yards with a sack, fumble, interception and 19.0 rating in the preseason opener vs. Detroit. He has simple goals for tonight, when he is expected to play a quarter.
“Just string together consecutive good plays, string together a couple good drives, just get the feel of the game,” he said. “It’s a little different than practice, obviously there’s going to be some emotions, there’s going to be a lot more adrenaline and stuff like that.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski has yet to officially name Weeden the starter for the regular season but has repeatedly said he sees progress.
“Ultimately, performing and seeing how much he can transfer from the practice field to the game is critical,” Chudzinski said.
As the players try to master Turner’s scheme, Weeden says they’re making strides but still have a long way to go. He remains optimistic the offense will be clicking by the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against Miami.
“Yeah, I’m confident, absolutely,” he said. “These are the dog days of camp. The defense is going to have their days where they win, and we’re going to have days where we get them.
“I still feel good about the guys we have. I’m excited about the potential we have offensively. Once you get in the game and you get those live reps, you can get a better understanding.”
Most of the early attention tonight will be focused on Weeden, but Chudzinski shouldn’t be ignored. He’s making his unofficial debut as a head coach and must deal with the hectic nature of the sideline.
“I think the biggest thing, and one of the things that is important to me, is having two coordinators calling the game that you have faith in,” he said of Turner and Ray Horton, who will both be in the pressbox. “I can focus more on game management, whether that’s situational calls, whether that’s replay, whether it’s timeouts. Those are the big things that come up.”
Chudzinski spent part of his vacation studying a thick book of scenarios that might arise during a game.
“I had a chance to look at them and study the situations that would come up and think through how I would handle them,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not easy. There are things that come up that can go either way. You want to have good reasons for what you do. Ultimately, it’s decided whether it was a good decision or not by whether it works. You are looking to have the right reasons to make those decisions.”
Cornerback Joe Haden has no worries about Chudzinski keeping the proper temperament amid the storm of the sideline.
“I like Coach’s whole vibe,” Haden said. “He hasn’t changed since he got here. He’s been the same. He’s never too high, he’s never too low. He’s a great people person and you’re able to talk to him all the time.
“When we see him at the game I expect to see the same thing we’ve been seeing at practice. If he needs to yell, he yells. If he needs to coach you up, he’ll pull you aside and talk to you. I expect to see the same thing we’ve been seeing since we got here.”
Horton’s blitzing 3-4 scheme will also be on display for the first time, even though he will save some of the surprises for the regular season. The Browns are counting on a disruptive pass rush that will force negative plays and turnovers.
“They want to get that good pass rush,” Haden said. “That’s going to help us out a whole lot. When quarterbacks are uncomfortable, they won’t be able to step up in the pocket and make those great passes.”
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WHO: Cleveland vs. St. Louis
WHAT: Preseason opener
TIME: 8 o’clock
WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium
TV/RADIO: Channel 3; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM