The Cleveland Browns entered training camp this summer with a clear plan for rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Take some practice reps, get some playing time in the preseason, then spend the fall building on that knowledge as the third quarterback behind starter Deshaun Watson and backup Joshua Dobbs with an eye on taking over the QB2 role in 2024.
But Thompson-Robinson has thrown a monkey wrench into those plans - in a good way - with his play through the team’s first three preseason games.
After Thursday night’s effort against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Thompson-Robinson opened the game with a 12-play, 81-yard drive and finished the night by completing 13-of-25 passes for 164 yards, Thompson-Robinson has completed 65.2 percent of his passes, thrown a pair of touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, he has yet to throw an interception.
Those numbers may look a bit pedestrian, especially given that the preseason is a mix of vanilla defenses and only a smattering of players who will see significant time in the regular season. But they have been impressive enough to wonder if Thompson-Robinson is playing himself into the backup position this season.
While certainly not dominant, Thompson-Robinson has looked like a quarterback who spent five seasons at UCLA and played in 49 games. He has stayed within the game, avoided mistakes, and never looked overwhelmed while on the field.
But is that enough for the coaching staff to entrust him with the backup role?
The biggest edge that Dobbs currently holds comes from his experience, as he entered the league in 2018, and familiarity with head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense. Of course, that experience is a bit limited as Dobbs has only played in eight career games, and his two career starts with the Tennessee Titans in 2022 were mostly pedestrian. (And that is not to bag on Dobbs, just stating the reality of the situation.)
Coaches like players who are a known commodity at backup positions and that is what Dobbs represents at the moment. He can likely be ready if called upon during a game even without any practice reps during the week, which in turn is comforting for the coaches.
But the harsh truth is that if Watson returns to being the player he was from 2018 to 2020 with the Houston Texans, then the dropoff from Watson to the rest of the quarterbacks on the roster is going to be massive. If Watson were to go down with a multi-game injury it likely will not matter if the team turns to Dobbs or Thompson-Robinson as the offense will be in trouble.
For his part, Thompson-Robinson has stayed focused on the day-to-day aspect of his job, as he told cleveland.com:
“I’m not even worried (about the backup job). I think that’s why I’m doing so good. I’m just trying to go out there and showcase what I’ve got, maximize my opportunities and if that comes with it then that comes with it, but I didn’t expect for any of this to happen so far. I’m just coming in working every day and doing what the coaches tell me to do.”
The Browns have a solid plan in place for the role they need Thompson-Robinson to fill this season. But as often happens with Cleveland and their quarterbacks, the situation is not working out as planned.
This time, however, that is actually a good thing as Thompson-Robinson is making a strong case that he deserves a larger role sooner rather than later.