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Cleveland Browns: Finding Positives in the Return of Brandon Weeden
When the Cleveland Browns ended the 2012 season, the fanbase finally felt as if they had some continuity at quarterback. Under rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, the Browns showed some signs of progress. Despite finishing with a disappointing record of 5-11, Cleveland flashed hope that 2013 could be the year they turn it all around.
With a cannon for an arm, Weeden was looked at to be able to stretch the field in a gunslinger-like fashion, reminiscent of Brett Favre. With a stable offensive line, a dynamic receiver in Josh Gordon and a punishing running back in Trent Richardson, the table was set in 2013 for a breakout year for the offense.
The notion became even more believable when the Browns brought in an offensive head coach in Rob Chudzinski, and a well respected offensive coordinator in Norv Turner. The team then made trades for Miami slot receiver, Davone Bess, and Eagles running back Dion Lewis. The fanbase had bought in all around, setting attendance records in NFL training camp and the preseason. Yes, Believeland was in full swing.
Then, it began to unravel. Gordon was handed a two-game suspension, Lewis was placed on season-ending injured reserve and the offensive line was decimated after injuries to Shaun Lauvao and Jason Pinkston. As if it couldn’t get worse for Browns fans, beloved star running back Richardson was shuffled off to Indianapolis in exchange for a first-round pick, and Weeden fell victim to injury.
What happened next was both confusing and unexpected. Cleveland kept winning. With backup quarterback Brian Hoyer at the helm and the return of Gordon, the Browns fired off two straight victories over the Vikings and Bengals, and the fanbase began to believe again. Then, in stereotypical Cleveland fashion, Hoyer went down for the season with a torn ACL. Weeden then came back in and helped the Browns notch their third straight win, defeating the Buffalo Bills.
Entering Week 6, the Browns once again find themselves with Weeden under center. The season optimism has dropped, as frustrated Cleveland fans saw light at the end of the tunnel in their quarterback search, beginning to believe that Hoyer was the answer. With Weeden back, the Browns front office is back to their original plan of starting Weeden over the course of the 2013 season. While many fans still are not excited about Weeden back in control of the ship, there are many positives that can be looked to by having him under center.
1. Proper Evaluation
In Weeden’s first two games, he was severely understaffed and struggled significantly. Now, against the Detroit Lions, the offensive line is healthy, Gordon is back and newly-signed running back Willis McGahee appears to be finding his legs. While it seems that the front office is dead-set on a new quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft, it is still important to see what they already have on the roster. The team feels like they know what they have in Hoyer, Jason Campbell has a long work history of average results but Weeden’s potential still largely remains unknown. If he surprises and has a solid season, his trade value would go through the roof comparatively.
2. Freedom to Draft
The general consensus is that Weeden is not the answer, but neither is Hoyer. While Hoyer looks like an above-average backup and adequate starter, his ability to completely change a team and elevate a team around him simply does not appear to be there in the small-sample size shown. He showed the ability to move the chains, make quick decisions, and possesses leadership that players respond to.
Can he put a team on his back though? We have not seen that so far. Everyone knows that without a franchise quarterback, making a return to relevance is but a pipe dream. Take a look at the 2012 QB class of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill. Their teams tightened up their defense, drafted a stud passer, added playmakers and immediately made an impact in their respective divisions. Now the Browns will have their chance in 2014 with their two first-round picks, without clouded vision of their franchise passer potentially being on the roster already.
3. Knowledge of the System
It was reported that Turner simplified the playbook and installed quick reads for Hoyer due to his lack of reps and experience in the system. While it was successful, it stunts the growth of the offense as a whole. Players that presumably will be here in 2014, like Gordon, Greg Little, Bess, Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge must become more experienced with the system in preparation for a hopeful playoff run next season with their new franchise quarterback. With a limited playbook under Hoyer, it drastically undercut their ability to gain experience with the playbook. Weeden returning puts the full book back into play, and that can only benefit the other players on the offense.
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