To quote Heath Ledger's character from the legendary The Dark Knight, "And here...we...go."
It's Week 1 of our 2009 Cleveland Browns training camp preview here at Dawgs By Nature, where the theme will focus on the offensive attack -- quarterbacks and running backs. Today and over the next two days, we'll talk about the quarterbacks Eric Mangini has to choose from this year in camp, as well as whether we can finally put this quarterback debate to an end.
Right now, I can almost guarantee you that the majority of fans want Brady Quinn to be Mangini's choice as the starter. That is a lot different than last year. At the beginning of July last year, when I ran a poll on Dawgs By Nature asking how many fans thought Quinn should be named the starter heading into the 2008 training camp, only 18 out of 433 people gave him their approval. What happened over the past year to change everyone's opinion? Derek Anderson laid a big-fat egg.
Let's take a look at the quarterbacks that are scheduled to be in camp this season, and the position on the depth chart I expect them to hold initially...
1. BRADY QUINN - STARTING QUARTERBACK
After a collapse to the Baltimore Ravens last year with a below average 3-5 team record, Crennel finally yanked Anderson from the starting lineup. In a short week, Quinn made his first start of the season against the Denver Broncos. Quinn played very well, completing 66% of his passes and tossing two touchdowns. Unfortunately, after a late defensive collapse, Quinn was unable to muster a game-winning drive.
The following week, in a much less impressive performance, Quinn picked up his first and only career win at the NFL level against the Buffalo Bills. Shamefully, Quinn broke a finger against the Bills. He tried to give it a go one week later against the Houston Texans, but something was clearly wrong with his game. Quinn and the offense stalled against the Houston Texans, with Quinn tossing two costly picks. Quinn did not play for the rest of the season, but he did win over the hearts of may Browns fans with the potential he showed.
Worst Attribute: Lack of Experience - Two years in the NFL for a team that hasn't made the postseason, and this first-round draft pick basically sat on the bench? Thanks a lot, Romeo Crennel. For all of the training and preparation that Quinn had from Notre Dame's "NFL-like offensive system", that potential sure went to waste. The experience factor is a huge disadvantage for Quinn because Mangini has no obligation to utilize a first-round draft choice that he was not responsible for selecting. Quinn was not a star in training camp last year, so he will have to step his game up to make an impression on Mangini this year.
Best Attribute: Mobility - This should be the factor that ultimately results in Quinn getting the job over Anderson. Anderson was outstanding two years ago when the offensive line protected him well on every play. When the pass protection broke down last year, so did Anderson. Quinn, on the other hand, does a better job evading pass rushers. Even a quick side-step, followed by an accurate short throw (jab at Anderson), is enough to provide Quinn an advantage in an offense that will put more emphasis on the short passing game.
Various Concerns / Comments - To be fair, you can't blame Crennel for starting Anderson last year; after all, the guy came off a Pro Bowl season. Nonetheless, Crennel just never seemed to show enough respect for Quinn, to the point where he almost seemed sickened to play him. I know we're under a new regime now, but Anderson had his chance last year and blew it; if we waste Quinn's talent on the bench much longer, before you know it, his contract will be up and he won't have a proper evaluation on him. I expect Quinn to have a lot better chemistry with Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi in training camp than Anderson too, which will play to his advantage if the rookies can't handle Anderson's errant short throws.
Job Security: B
Player Quality: B
Final Roster Odds: 99%
2. DEREK ANDERSON - BACKUP QUARTERBACK
I still consider myself a fan of Anderson. There is even a part of me that believes that with the right coaching in the right system, he would be a better quarterback than Quinn.
Here's the problem(s) for Anderson though: (1) We're not running an offense suited for him, (2) the offense we are running specifically seems to play against Anderson's strengths, and (3) we don't have the same player personnel Anderson had two years ago.
Worst Attribute: Carrying a Team - Last year, the primary weakness I listed for Anderson was "middle zone throws". This year, I'm listing a broader weakness, something of which is often affected by those middle zone throws: his inability to carry a football team. Braylon Edwards was awful last season. Jamal Lewis was pretty bad last season. Jason Wright made an awful play every time he was in the game. The offensive line was shaky. Through all of that, a quarterback can be defined on whether or not he can put the team on his shoulders and keep them in the game.
How many comeback victories do you remember Anderson having? After our defense worked so hard last season in several games keeping some of the better offenses in the league to a minimum of points, how many times did Anderson strike with a game-cushioning score? In both cases, I'm sure the answer is zero. Now, compare that to the number of times you remember the game on the line and Anderson being involved in a play that sealed our fate (in a bad way), and you'll see why Anderson relies too much on the talent around him to be successful.
Best Attribute: Arm Strength - Anderson has zero touch, but man can he throw a football through two or three defenders like no other quarterback. That's an advantage when you have big targets who run effective routes 20-30 yards down the field.
Various Concerns / Comments - Practice after practice last season, we kept hearing about Anderson throwing the deep ball to Edwards in training camp. I expect a lot less of that this year, and a lot more of hearing about how our rookie receivers are struggling to hold on to Anderson's short passes because they are either too fast or off-target. Again -- it's just not the system for Anderson this year. As a backup quarterback though, I cannot complain. That's where Mangini will have to be the person who makes the adjustments and plays to Anderson's strengths in a situation where Quinn needs to leave a game.
Player Quality: B-
Final Roster Odds: 90%
3. BRETT RATLIFF - EMERGENCY QUARTERBACK
Last year, a young quarterback named Brett Ratliff was the No. 3 quarterback the entire season for the New York Jets. He wasn't even the best "Brett" quarterback on the team though; that title would've belonged to starter Brett Favre.
We can't go off of much in terms of Ratliff's abilities. I recall seeing him face the Browns in the preseason last year, and he did leave enough of an impression to the point that I knew who he was as soon as Mangini acquired him in the big draft-day deal in April. Ratliff had two bowl victories during his college career at Utah:
At the very least, Ratliff should be an upgrade over last year's disaster of a third-string quarterback in Ken Dorsey. Ratliff's arm strength might not be the strongest, but it got old making jokes about how any of us could throw the ball better than Dorsey had. Here is what a Jets' fan had to say about Ratliff back in December; I picked this quote because it seemed to be a sentiment that many Jets fans shared:
[Ratliff] has a smooth throwing motion and has increased his accuracy tremendously from college. He has a strong arm (nowhere near Cutler but strong enough). Ratliff has excellent pocket presence and moves around in the pocket well. Not a scrambler. Doesn't get much depth on his drops due to inexperience in taking snaps under center as opposed to in shotgun (ran spread in college), but this will correct over time, especially with actual game reps. From limited observation in the preseason he makes good decisions and has excellent accuracy on his touch passes. He perfectly looped quite a few passes over the heads of linebackers this preseason.
Here's some footage of last year's preseason game against the Browns, if you don't remember:
Final Roster Odds: 80%
Practice Squad Odds: 5%
4. RICHARD BARTEL - PRACTICE SQUAD ELIGIBLE
Last year, the Browns only had three quarterbacks in camp. Thankfully, it looks like we'll have a fourth this season to make things interesting. Bartel actually joined the Browns late last season in November. He was signed to the practice squad after Quinn was placed on the injured reserve. He was then promoted to the 53-man roster for the final game of the season after Ken Dorsey was placed on the injured reserve.
Bartel had a little stint in the MLB farm systems (excerpt from Wikipedia):
Bartel was drafted as a pitcher by the Cincinnati Reds in the 14th round (516th overall) of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft.
He appeared in one game for the Gulf Coast Reds in 2001 and pitched a shutout inning. The following season for the GCL Reds, Bartel allowed 19 hits, eight runs (five earned) and four walks with nine strikeouts in 14.1 innings. He finished his career with a 1-1 record and a 2.98 earned run average in eight games.
Bartel had some work in camp last year with the Dallas Cowboys, but he didn't receive anywhere near the same glowing remarks that Ratliff did with New York fans. If Bartel makes the team, it'll be due to an injury. Mangini didn't have Ratliff thrown into the draft-day trade for nothing. In a scenario of Anderson being traded, I can't imagine Bartel jumping up to third-string either. He's an arm in camp with an outside chance to draw some praise; nothing more at this point.
Final Roster Odds: 5%
Practice Squad Odds: 25%
QB Position Quality (Overall): B-
I overestimated our quarterback rating last season, giving our guys a cumulative "A" heading into training camp. After Anderson's off-year, Quinn still not having a lot of NFL experience, and both quarterbacks having to learn a new system, it's only fair that I pull back.
Feel free to weigh in on the quarterback debate here, especially your feelings on how you would react if Mangini ends up choosing Anderson to start over Quinn. Don't forget to check out our training camp preview schedule; and if you'd like to contribute a piece this week, send me an email with your idea at firstname.lastname@example.org.