Browns' turnaround could
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Browns' turnaround could
By tuggjery on Nov 01, 2013 02:21 AM
Browns' turnaround could hinge on QB Weeden
It wouldn't be a Cleveland Browns preseason if it didn't come with challenges.
One of the NFL's most snakebitten franchises took another hit this summer when Dion Lewis, expected to be a weapon out of the backfield and in the return game, underwent seasonending surgery after breaking his leg.
That came on the heels of top wideout Josh Gordon's twogame suspension for violating the league's banned substance policy, leaving the Browns shorthanded for Sunday's season opener against the Dolphins and a big Week 2 showdown at the Ravens.
Ordinarily, this would be cause for serious concern. And while the Browns will miss Lewis this season and Gordon for the next two weeks, there is a prevailing sense of optimism in Cleveland.
It's not just the rosy afterglow of native Ohioan Rob Chudzinski's hiring as the team's seventh head coach since 1999, but the sense that, after so many misses, the franchise might finally have found a quarterback for the long haul in Brandon Weeden.
"Brandon has earned this job," Chudzinski said two weeks ago in announcing that Weeden had emerged the winner of a camp competition with journeyman Jason Campbell. "That's extremely important to me that he did. He has gained my complete trust. He has gained his teammates' complete trust and this organization's trust."
Weeden, the 29yearold former Oklahoma State star whose learning curve figured to be shortened by his age when the Browns selected him with the 22nd overall pick in 2012, has flourished so far in the offensive system brought in by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
He completed 60 percent of his passes during the preseason, throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions and posting a 99.9 efficiency rating. Just as telling was his work in practice, where Weeden excelled on the deep routes required in Turner's more vertical passing game. Christine Michael Black Jersey
Unlike last season under Pat Shurmur, when Weeden was asked to make short timing passes in a West Coaststyle system, Weeden has been freed up to be a little more of a gunslinger.
Weeden said he knew his age and the fact that he was drafted by the previous regime meant he needed to make a strong impression on Chudzinski and Turner, and that meant immersing himself in the system Turner has used to become one of the league's most respected quarterback tutors. His list of pupils includes Troy Aikman, Rich Gannon and Philip Rivers.
"I knew I had to impress the people who make the decisions," Weeden said. "My mindset was getting better, focus and do the things I needed to do to become a better player."
A year ago, Weeden made his first NFL start at home against the Eagles. It was highly forgettable. Weeden completed 12of25 passes for 118 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions in a loss that sent the Browns on their way to a 511 record that cost Shurmur his job and kicked off another round of rebuilding.
The perception was that Weeden wasn't a good fit for the system Shurmur wanted to run and that he was hamstrung by a lack of talent at the wideout position.
The Browns made a modest move to upgrade their receivers by adding Davone Bess from the Dolphins. But the biggest difference in Weeden so far, Turner said, has been an offense that fits the things he did well at Oklahoma State, where he set records for attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns.
"He was an accurate passer in college," Turner told reporters in Cleveland shortly before Weeden was announced as the starter. "When you watched him and he got set and got his sights on someone and the guy was running open, he didn't miss him very often. That's what he's done here."
Until Gordon returns, Weeden's top targets figure to be Bess, who caught only one pass during the preseason while dealing with a minor knee injury, and Greg Little, who caught 53 passes for Nike Christine Michael Jersey 647 yards and four touchdowns in 2012.
Lewis would have given the offense another dimension as a receiver out of the backfield, but Weeden will have the benefit of a healthy Trent Richardson and an underrated offensive line that didn't give up a sack during the preseason when he was in the game.
But the biggest benefit, Chudzinski said last week, is the pairing of Weeden with Turner at a critical stage in the quarterback's development.
"Norv is a great teacher," Chudzinski said. "He understands quarterbacks; he has done it before. He can tailor his teaching to how guys best respond. As much of the process was Brandon getting to know the offense is that we got to know Brandon. . Norv has done a great job of that."
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BROWNS AT A GLANCE
2012 record: 511, last in AFC North
Best win: 2014 Christine Michael Jersey over Pittsburgh in Week 12
Worst loss: 2320 in overtime to Christine Michael Jersey Ebay Dallas in Week 11
In: Head coach Rob Chudzinski (from Carolina), LB Paul Kruger (from Ravens), QB Jason Campbell (from Bears), RB Dion Lewis (from Eagles), WR Davone Bess (from Dolphins), TE Gary Barnidge (from Panthers), OT Rashad Butler (from Texans), DT Desmond Bryant (from Raiders), LB Quentin Groves (from Cardinals), K Shayne Graham (from Texans), LB Barkevious Mingo (1st round, LSU), CB Leon McFadden (3rd round, San Diego State).