Today, we kick off our month-long preview for Cleveland Browns training camp. In Part 1 of the Offensive Attack series, we will take a look at the team's quarterback situation.
Browns fans have certainly thought about a lot of possibilities at the quarterback position over the past nine months or so. At the beginning of last season, it was known that Colt McCoy would receive a full season as the team's starting quarterback to see if he was the long-term answer. When it was revealed that Peyton Manning would not play in 2011, every team in the NFL fell out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. As the season progressed, many Browns fans idolized Baylor's Robert Griffin III so much that you would have thought he was already a member of the team -- signed, sealed, and delivered. Not so. That all changed on March 9, 2012, when the Washington Redskins shoehorned their way into the mix, outbidding the Browns in a trade with the St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Prior to the Griffin situation, you had your rumblings that Cleveland might be interested in a free agent quarterback like Manning, Matt Flynn, or Jason Campbell. The Browns never appeared to make a move for any of them. Leading up to the draft, speculation began running wild that the Browns would settle for Ryan Tannehill in the draft, bypassing the opportunity to draft a player like Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon. As the draft got even closer, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden entered the mix as well. The Browns took Richardson with their first pick in round one, bypassing Tannehill. Just when we thought McCoy would remain the team's starter for 2012 (he had even tweeted a welcome message to Richardson), the Browns decided to draft Weeden with their second first-round pick. With McCoy and Weeden both on the team, what is the outlook heading into training camp?
1. BRANDON WEEDEN - STARTING QUARTERBACK
Being taken at No. 22 overall typically does not guarantee that a quarterback will start. Last year, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder were taken 8th, 10th, and 12th overall, respectively. None of them began the season as their team's starting quarterback. Even when Cleveland drafted Brady Quinn several years ago, the team deferred to Derek Anderson.
Why, then, is Weeden pretty much guaranteed to start over last year's starter, McCoy? It is the fact that Weeden is not exactly a spring chicken. At 28 years of age, the Browns hope the development time with Weeden is minimal. They hope his maturity level will allow him to be a leader in the huddle and in the locker room from Day 1. At the same time, his age is not a huge concern. If he ends up playing well with the Browns for ten years, isn't that more important?
The Browns have not officially named Weeden as their starting quarterback, but the writing is on the wall. He received more first-team snaps than any other quarterback in minicamps and organized team activities. General manager Tom Heckert has practically admitted that Weeden will start. Pat Shurmur is not even making a big deal about their being some form of a competition; not naming him the starter is just a formality to, perhaps, keep McCoy motivated once camp begins.
The main asset that Weeden brings to the table is his arm strength. He might not have the strongest arm in the league, but fans won't be having to question whether he has what it takes to make certain throws. The downside to that is that the confidence he has in his arm can lead to some mistakes (i.e. trying to fit a ball into a tight window). The thing I like about that is that he will at least be giving his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball down the field. He might not be the most mobile guy when it comes to taking off down the field, but Cleveland patched the right side of their offensive line in the second round with Mitchell Schwartz, and they have four other starters returning to the left of him. Hopefully that gives Weeden all the pass protection he needs.
The guy wins, too. People said "Colt McCoy is a winner" when he came out of college. Well, Weeden's 23-3 record at Oklahoma State isn't too shabby either. The fear is that Weeden will be "just another guy" to join the embarrassingly long list of quarterbacks Cleveland fans have had to endure over the years. In order to break that trend, you have to keep plugging guys in until you find one who succeeds. If Weeden is that guy, this will be the defining draft of the Browns front office.
Job Security: A
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. COLT MCCOY - BACKUP QUARTERBACK
In 13 games last season as the team's starter, McCoy threw for 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on 2,733 yards. He completed just 57.2% of his passes, which was down from his rookie season. One of McCoy's strengths was that he was supposed to be accurate, something that was ideal for a team implementing the West Coast Offense in 2011. Instead, he was too erratic at times. There were other times when receivers simply failed to execute (see the stretches during the season when Montario Hardesty and Greg Little couldn't hang on to anything). Overall, McCoy needed to deliver on a more consistent basis, and he didn't.
McCoy's arm strength at the NFL level always came into question. I think it is clear that the guy was capable of airing the ball out down the field, but again, it came down to the consistency factor. Fans shouldn't be exclaiming, "wow, maybe he does have the arm to make that throw!" when they see one down field throw -- it should be a given that a quarterback can do that if the play is available. For McCoy, it never was a given.
It is a shame that McCoy was not able to get the throwing side of things down last year, because he offered a good amount of mobility. In the 13 games he played, McCoy ran 61 times for 212 yards. He did have some issues holding onto the ball last year, fumbling 11 times (but only losing 2 of them). McCoy's season took a turn for the worst in Pittsburgh. Just as he was leading the potentially game-winning drive, James Harrison drilled him in the head, knocking him out of the game for a few plays. We all know the big controversy that "McCoy returning with a concussion" created, so I won't recap that here. When McCoy got back into the game, he looked dazed, took a sack, and threw an interception. If McCoy had any chance of remaining the team's starter in 2012, it died when he was taken out of the game.
Should McCoy even remain with the club in 2012? I would say "yes." Although we want Weeden to succeed, you always have to consider the fact that he could get injured, or could end up being worse than a Derek Anderson. You never know. McCoy is still young and needs to keep his head held high for whenever he receives another opportunity to start in the league. Given Cleveland's quarterback situation since 1999, the odds are in his favor that it would be some time this year.
Job Security: C
Player Quality: C
Final Roster Odds: 80%
For each training camp preview post, we will try to include a poll. The poll below asks a hypothetical question. If Cleveland was offered a fifth-round draft pick (a premium!) in the 2013 NFL Draft for McCoy, would you make the deal?