BEREA, Ohio — Brandon Weeden lingered on the practice field well after 6 p.m., when the Browns’ evening training camp practice ended. The second-year quarterback was joined by receiver Greg Little and tight end Jordan Cameron, who alternated running routes for him. “Let’s do one more,” Weeden called out. Little ran a deep fade pattern, and Weeden lofted a beautiful pass, hitting his target in stride. Then they tried a few more.
Weeden, the 22nd pick in the 2012 draft, is doing everything he can to prove he’s the guy in Cleveland and should be for years to come. But is it enough?
Weeden started 15 games last season and has taken all the reps with the first-team offense through the offseason and first week of training camp, but coach Rob Chudzinski has yet to name a starter. With five weeks until the season opener, the organization doesn’t seem more sold on Weeden than back in the spring, when the members of the new Browns regime—including Chudzinski, CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi—were sizing up a player they did not draft.
Weeden, aware of the internal and external pressures on him, is committed to having “tunnel vision.” He’s blocking out the speculation about his future in Cleveland, and whether or not he can lead the Browns’ offense. In that he’s relying on the blinders that came in handy when he was a minor-league baseball pitcher.
“Can’t listen to the radio, can’t listen to the TV, can’t read the newspaper,” Weeden, 29, said after a morning walk-through yesterday. “They didn’t draft me, but I think if I go out and play well, everything kind of takes care of itself.”
It’s still early in training camp, but Weeden exhibits some of the inconsistency of his rookie season, when his record as a starter was 5-10. One example: He fired a slant in a tight window to receiver Travis Benjamin, but then on a later play in team drills, overlooked at least one other open receiver to send an off-target pass to Benjamin in tight coverage. Many of Weeden’s passes were check-downs to running back Trent Richardson, but after one, new offensive coordinator Norv Turner cheered Weeden’s decision-making. Turner’s system thrives on a vertical passing game, but knowing when to check down is critical.
Weeden likes Turner’s new offense, which he says will put him in the shotgun more often and uses route concepts he’s familiar with from Oklahoma State. When the Browns hired Chudzinski and Turner, Weeden knew he’d have to speed up his footwork, so he spent three days in Sarasota, Fla., working with Chris Weinke, a fellow baseball player-turned-pro quarterback.
Weeden practiced his drops while stepping inside a horizontal ladder, or with a resistance band around his waist, to work on making his steps faster and his drops shorter. He and Weinke also worked on correcting Weeden’s custom of patting the football before making his throw. Weeden completed just 57.4% of his passes last season, and he thinks bad habits limited his accuracy, as well as making him prone to sacks (28) and fumbles (six).
“Year one to year two is the biggest year of your career,” Weeden says. “You can’t say you’re young, this is my first time seeing it, because it’s not. This is my time to show that I’ve gotten better, to show I’m the guy who can be the leader.”
Weeden’s personality is not to be fiery or vocal. As a pitcher he was on his own on the mound, but he says one reason he got burned out in five seasons in the minor leagues was the feeling that every player was out for himself. He believes he can lead an offense in a quieter way, preferring to pull his teammates aside and work with them one-on-one, like he was doing with Little and Cameron after practice.
Chudzinski credits Weeden for coming to the facility early each day, around 6 a.m., and wanting to improve. “You have new guys, and you want to impress them—you want them to think you’re the guy going forward,” Weeden says. The question is, how much better does he need to get to persuade those decision-makers who weren’t in place when he arrived? And at 29, how much better can he get?