Say this for the Browns — they’re dithering less than they used to, and that's a nice change of pace. They are a work in progress, but at least they picked a lane and stepped on the gas. I don’t know if Brandon Weeden will be the long-term answer at quarterback, but I do know that a summer-long quarterback competition between Weeden, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy would have been a mistake.
Here is something I’ve learned over the years about QB battles: the longer they go, it’s uncomfortably likely a club doesn’t know what to do at the position. I mean, look at what the Browns did five years ago, when Charlie Frye started the opener, bombed and was traded two days later. Three years ago, head coach Eric Mangini didn’t name Brady Quinn the starter over Derek Anderson until the week before the season opener. Quinn lasted 2½ games before he was benched.
Could Weeden struggle early? Sure. Growing pains are likely in a West Coast scheme that can take multiple years to master. I suspect there will be moments where the Browns’ passing game looks just awful. Nevertheless, I have no problem with deciding to go with the 28-year-old Weeden from the start, because it’s a decision. The Browns saw what they needed to see from Weeden early in camp, and they are going with him.
Is this unfair to McCoy and Wallace? You could build a case, but I won’t. It wasn’t as if both quarterbacks didn’t have their chances to impress coaches and management. McCoy started 13 games in 2011 and eight the previous season. Wallace made three starts a season ago, four in 2010. Now, were these optimal opportunities for both quarterbacks? Of course not. Neither will have the supporting cast Weeden will have at his disposal. It’s possible both could be more productive this season than they were the last two campaigns with Trent Richardson in the backfield and more playmaking ability at wideout, with supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon the latest addition.
If you’re mad about the Browns naming a rookie as the starting QB right off the bat in 2012, that is reasonable, but you should be livid about their inaction on adding skill-position talent the previous three seasons. Only in the last couple of months have the Browns really revamped their offensive depth chart. The decision to pass on Julio Jones in the 2011 draft looks shaky considering Jones’ rookie production, obvious upside and relative low cost. Also, why didn’t the club add more veteran pass-catching help the past two offseasons? While president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have done well to rework the roster, the offense, even with the recent additions, still looks like the AFC North’s worst on paper.
About that: Those waiting for the rest of the division pack to start fading toward Cleveland best be patient. The Steelers and Ravens won’t go quietly, even with some of their defensive stars closer to the end than the beginning of their careers. Both teams, of course, have quarterbacks in their primes, too. The Bengals cannot be discounted, either, and appear capable of sustained success.
The Browns were going to have it tough in the division this season no matter the quarterback. Cleveland has won only one divisional game in the past two seasons — a 2010 win vs. Cincinnati in which Wallace started. The Browns were 0-8 in McCoy’s starts vs. the North in his first two NFL seasons.
These statistics should be viewed with some context. The context? The Browns have struggled recently, and they have struggled mightily.
So, can you blame them for going a different route at quarterback? The Browns will learn more about what they have in Weeden, and that is the beauty of it. Let’s see if the kid … er, man … can play.