It's Week 1 of our training camp preview coverage for the Cleveland Browns. This week, the theme is "offensive attack," meaning we'll highlight the quarterback and running back positions. First, we start with the quarterback position.
A lot of things have changed at quarterback heading into this year's camp. First off, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, the two players who battled each other over the past two seasons, are no longer with the team. Quinn was traded to the Denver Broncos for a fullback, and Anderson signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent.
If the Browns had not brought Mike Holmgren on board this offseason, we probably wouldn't have either Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace on the roster. As a starting quarterback, neither of these players would have much of a chance at starting on any other teams in the NFL. There was some initial disappointment from fans that we seemingly settled on a quarterback that no other teams wanted, but I think most fans have already started to "deal with it," understanding that we're not projected to be a prolific passing offense anyway.
1. JAKE DELHOMME - STARTING QUARTERBACK
I've always been a fan of Delhomme's. I remember the first game in which he saw his first real NFL action, and it came in a Week 1 game in relief of starting quarterback Rodney Peete during the 2003-2004 season. Down 14-0 at halftime, Delhomme started the second half and led the Carolina Panthers to a 24-23 victory, including the game-winning touchdown pass with 16 seconds on the clock. A recent Panthers FanPost here on Dawgs By Nature mentions how Delhomme has had quite a few fourth quarter comebacks. Although they've become far and few between over the past couple of seasons, the guy has shown that he can be a leader in the huddle. His teammates respond to him.
From 2004 until a few weeks into the 2007 season, Delhomme had a stretch where he threw 78 touchdowns to only 43 interceptions. That's nothing to sneeze at in the NFL. Three games into the 2007 season though, Delhomme suffered an elbow injury. He later opted for Tommy John surgery and did not play the rest of the season. In 2008, Delhomme came back from his injury fairly strong. His touchdown passes for the year were down, but I think that can be largely attributed to the fact that the team had begun relying on their running game to score touchdowns in the red zone. When the playoffs came though, Delhomme's downhill spiral in Carolina began.
In the Divisional round, Delhomme had one of the worst meltdowns in playoff history. He had six turnovers against the Arizona Cardinals -- 5 interceptions and 1 fumble. He had a few other passes that could have been picked off as well. There's such a thing as it not being your day, but this was beyond that -- Delhomme looked like he had no confidence, which was a surprise considering he did a fine job in the postseason a few years earlier when Carolina made the Super Bowl.
Last year, Delhomme never seemed to regain his confidence after the postseason meltdown. In 11 games, he threw 8 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, with a Browns-like accuracy of just 55.5%. The Panthers couldn't stay with Delhomme's lack of production for another year, so they released him. The teams interested in him were the Saints (as a backup) and Cleveland. It was an easy decision for Jake -- he went where he would be getting paid a lot of money, and on top of that he had quickly found another starting job. Not many quarterbacks get that opportunity after having the season he had a year ago.
When the signing first occurred, I wrote a piece highlighting some of the positives on signing Delhomme. With those positives in mind, let's take a quick look at Delhomme's best and worst attribute...
Worst Attribute: Lack of Confidence - As described above, this is the biggest issue with Delhomme. Over the past season (plus the one playoff game), Delhomme has been a headcase at the quarterback position. It's almost the same thing we saw with Derek Anderson last year -- he began thinking that the answer was to start slinging passes just for the sake of slinging them. He lost faith in his ability to make reads on the fly and adapt to what the defense was showing him.
Hopefully this is an attribute that can be wiped clean by coming to not only a new team, but a new conference. Expectations are low for him in Cleveland, whereas expectations were high for the Panthers. Perhaps not having that weight on his shoulders has allowed him to clear his head. Also, it has to help his confidence that amidst Holmgren's massive revamping of the Browns, he believed that Delhomme was the right player to lead the team this season. If Delhomme absorbs the confidence that Holmgren has shown in him, then maybe he can return to his roots and be a decent quarterback again.
Best Attribute: Veteran Leadership - Delhomme has led the Panthers to playoff seasons, and he's done so without having a strong receiver besides Steve Smith. Whatever situation he has been placed in though, again excluding last season, he has always been able to get the players around him to look up to him as their leader. He has seen a lot more NFL action than Anderson and Quinn did and should have more knowledge, and therefore leeway to make some of those "veteran" adjustments on the fly.
I think he also has a better understanding that he needs to approach certain receivers differently when throwing them the ball -- he might have enjoyed the plays where he could lob a ball in the vicinity of Steve Smith, but he'll understand that until some of the Browns' receivers come along, he'll have to tone his game down and reduce himself to making safer throws that suit the individual abilities of players -- no more situations where Anderson rockets a fastball to Robert Royal or Lawrence Vickers.
Various Concerns / Comments - Even though Delhomme has had some Pro Bowl caliber years statistically, he's really never been more than an average to an above average quarterback. As the Browns continue to rebuild, that's really all we need this year -- someone who can manage the ship; someone who can get the ball in the vicinity of our young receivers so they can gain some experience; someone who has tasted victory and would love nothing more than to prove all of his doubters wrong. I don't think Delhomme will be as bad as he was last year, and I'm not even sure he'll last the whole season as the starting quarterback. If his throws are kept to a minimum though and he continues to buy into his new role in Cleveland, then I can live with him being a one- to two-year holdover.
Some of our receivers have reportedly looked better this year in minicamp already, particularly Brian Robiskie. I have to believe that part of that has to do with Delhomme. If someone knows how to deliver a football in your vicinity, apparently it's easier to catch. In camp, it's important that Delhomme gets as many reps with the first team. There's no use in doing what we did last year -- forcing rookie receivers to learn the playing styles of two erratic quarterbacks, and then expect them to build in-game chemistry with both of them. I think the most important one-two punch in the passing game will inevitably be between Delhomme and Ben Watson due to their experience.
Job Security: A
Player Quality: C-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
For the record, I rated Quinn a B last year, and Anderson a B- in my training camp previews. I've learned from that mistake. My ratings this year will be tougher on players, especially if they need to prove themselves, which is why Delhomme received a C-.
2. SENECA WALLACE - BACKUP QUARTERBACK / WILDCAT OPTION
I've always been intrigued by the thought of Wallace being a full-time quarterback in the NFL. In the past, I wondered, "what team would give Wallace a shot, because Seattle seems sold on Hasselbeck?" Little did I ever realize that the Browns would be the team to give Wallace that shot.
For all intents and purposes, Delhomme is the starting quarterback. Mangini didn't officially label him as the starter, but this isn't like last year where we legitimately don't have a clue who "the guy" will be. Wallace was brought in to be the fail-safe key for Mangini should Delhomme's ineffectiveness continue. Holmgren knows there's a chance that Delhomme is simply done as an NFL quarterback. If that's the case, he'll have the same backup from his former team ready to come in and run a system that he's at least vaguely familiar with.
Worst Attribute: Long Dropbacks + Pressure - Although he's never been a full-time starter, Wallace has enough starting experience under his belt to be evaluated. In watching him, I've always noticed the extra-long dropbacks he takes from under center, especially if he's running a playaction fake. In Seattle, a porous offensive line would force him to be worrying about evading a pass-rushing defender because too much time had been wasted on his dropback, and he doesn't have a clear view of where his receivers are on the field. Reports have indicated that he's actually more effective when throwing on the run than when he stays in the pocket, but that's more so on rollouts in which he chooses to roll out on his own. Maybe this wouldn't be as big of an issue with the blocking on the Browns' offensive line, but then again the right side of our line isn't something to brag about.
Best Attribute: Utility Role - This is a funny one, because I'm basically saying that Wallace's best attribute is that he's capable of throwing a football. He might not have enough assets to be a full-time starting quarterback, but it looks like the Browns plan on getting creative with him and taking his quarterback abilities and mixing them into the offense. It is an extension of the Wildcat, because Wallace can pass, run, and catch the ball. It's almost as if the reps that Wallace has taken at receiver the past few years with the Seahawks was a set-up for his eventual pairing with Joshua Cribbs in Cleveland.
Various Concerns / Comments - How the utilization of Wallace unfolds throughout training camp will be one of the top stories of camp. Will the Browns run plays with both he and Delhomme in the game? Will there be a lot of situations where Delhomme is running the offense and then Wallace enters the game for a play when we're within five yards of the end zone? If the front office thinks that Delhomme and Wallace are equally effective near the goal line in terms of passing, then why not take advantage of Wallace's extra threat of using his legs? I just hope that all of this "hype" surrounding the utilization of Wallace doesn't turn out to be some "reverse psychology gag for opponents to gameplan harder for us." That wouldn't make any sense to me -- if we're not going to use formations that include Wallace during a game, then why waste valuable practice time on a decoy?
Player Quality: D+ (does not include Wildcat abilities)
Final Roster Odds: 99%
Part II of our training camp quarterback preview will feature rookie Colt McCoy and the only quarterback returning from last year's roster, Brett Ratliff.
It's not really fair to try to compare Quinn/Anderson last year to Delhomme/Wallace this year. In terms of comparing current NFL starters, neither tandem would draw praise from the media. The major difference though is that this year's tandem has a more defined purpose: we're not looking for a long-term starter between either of these guys. We're hoping that we have a veteran leader, and a backup who is serviceable and won't force Delhomme to be looking over his shoulder. If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out -- at least it's not like we invested the near-future of our franchise on either guy. That investment will come in a year or two. Until then, all we can do is hope for the best and cheer for whoever is under center.