Although Browns coach Rob Chudzinski isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback, it’s clearly Brandon Weeden’s job to lose.
“I don’t want that to change, or else it’d be tough,” Weeden said this afternoon following practice. “I think I’m still competing, competing every day and competing with myself. So I’m worried about me."
Weeden took all the reps with the first-team offense throughout organized team activities and the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp, which ended today. Jason Campbell took the majority of the reps with the second unit, but third-stringer Brian Hoyer received some as well.
In other words, the Browns’ quarterback competition is unfolding the way Weeden had hoped it would.
“I’m right where I want to be," Weeden said. "There’s some things that I need to work on that I maybe didn’t hit when I was out here, but overall, I think my progress was pretty good. We had 16 practices, and I think each practice got better for myself and not only me but for the offense, the flow, how fast we were playing. They bumped the play clock down. We were still operating really, really fast. So, yeah, I’m pleased with it. Am I satisfied? Absolutely not.”
Weeden has looked far more comfortable and efficient while operating the downfield, vertical passing game installed by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner than the West Coast system used by ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
How different are the two offenses?
“Imagine going to Spanish class one hour and then turning around and going to Russian and trying to put it all in perspective,” said Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft. “But it’s still football. At the end of the day, you’re still throwing a lot of the same routes, but it’s different verbiage. They’re both good systems. I think this one fits who we have really, really well. Nothing’s the same from last year to this year.”
Chudzinski has been impressed with Weeden’s progress in the new scheme.
“I think Brandon has done a nice job to this point -- everything we’ve asked him to do,” Chudzinski said. “Certainly it hasn’t been perfect. But learning, being able to apply it on the field, to be able to listen to Norv hollering at him and to be able to make those adjustments and those corrections, you see progress. All of you probably have seen it out here. Not only from a technical standpoint in what he’s doing, he’s getting the ball out quicker, he’s speeded up his delivery. But also from a mental standpoint, his understanding and comfort level, you can see it when he’s out there.”
Chudzinski also complimented Campbell and Hoyer.
“I’m pleased with Jason,” Chudzinski said. “He’s been exactly what we had hoped for from a veteran leadership standpoint, from a guy that come in and doesn’t need every single rep to understand and be growing. He’s been in the system before, so that’s been really good, and he’s been outstanding. That group, overall, is probably one of the best groups from a chemistry standpoint that I’ve been around at quarterback. They work together. They’re always talking with each other, helping each other out, and there’s a good vibe in that room. And then Brian, coming in late and picking things up in a short amount of time, and he has a real good feel. He’s been around as well and he’s been in a number of systems, so he understands what overall you’re trying to get done. So I do like the direction the group has come. We’ve got a ways to go yet, but we’re all on the right track.”
Chudzinski emphasized he wants to keep the competition alive when training camp begins in late July.
“There’s a lot of time between now and when we’re playing whether it’s preseason or our opener,” Chudzinski said. “All of these guys are going to get plenty of opportunities. There’s a lot of reps and a lot of practices between now and then.
“I think all those guys have progressed and improved, but when you get in pads and when we get out there in more competitive situations, we’ll be looking for improvement there. And ultimately it’s going to be about production.”
Weeden hopes his production soars. As a rookie, he threw 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, positing a completion percentage of 57.4 and a passer rating of 72.6. He said he’s aiming to complete about 70 percent of his passes this season.
His improved mechanics won’t hurt as he chases his lofty goal. Weeden has focused on dropping back faster, releasing the ball quicker and breaking a bad habit of patting it before throwing.
“It all results in good timing,” Weeden said. “If you throw the ball on time, you’re success rate’s a lot higher. Those things have helped me get myself in position. Norv’s still harping on feet, getting the ball out quick, getting the ball out of your hand, which is the way this offense works. So I’m going to work at it for these next five weeks, and then come back at the end of July and hopefully not miss a beat.”
His chemistry with wide receivers Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Davone Bess, whom the Browns traded for in April, has stood out, too. Weeden said Gordon could be a “a top-three receiver in this league,” and he called Bess “the ultimate pro.”
In red-zone drills today, Weeden completed consecutive touchdown passes in the back of end zone to Gordon and tight end Gary Barnidge. He also made several impressive plays during other 11-on-11 sessions, repeatedly connecting with Little and Bess.
Weeden believes the Browns have the potential to reverse their dismal fortunes.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be really good,” Weeden said. “Speaking about the whole team, I think our defense is really adapting to what [defensive coordinator] Ray [Horton has] brought in. I think guys are flying around on that side of the ball just like we are on our side. I think we have the potential to be really, really good. Now it’s going out, continuing to get better, coming back and not really miss a beat. There are other really good teams in this league, so we’re going to have to go out and prove that we can do it on a consistent basis.”
Running back Trent Richardson (strained right shin muscle), tight end Jordan Cameron (left hamstring), wide receiver David Nelson (knee), safety Jamoris Slaughter (Achilles), wide receiver Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and offensive tackle Chris Faulk (knee) did not practice. They did light exercises on the sidelines.
Chudzinski said he expects all of them, except for Faulk, back in action by the start of training camp. “Faulk, we’ll see,” Chudzinski said.
The Browns opened practice with a field-goal duel. Brandon Bogotay made all of his kicks, and Shayne Graham missed one, a 50-yard attempt, wide right. … The Browns waived safety Prince Miller, a team spokesman said. … Buster Skrine and Joe Haden were the first-team cornerbacks today. … John Greco (right guard) and Shawn Lauvao (left guard) worked with the first group today while Jason Pinkston (left guard) toiled with the second unit. … Tight end Brad Smelley made a great one-handed catch on deep pass from Hoyer. Smelley beat the coverage of free safety Johnson Bademosi during the play. … Cornerback Trevin Wade cut in front of wide receiver Travis Benjamin in end zone, but dropped an interception from Campbell in a red-zone drill. … Defensive end Desmond Bryant batted down a pass from Weeden. … Linebacker James-Michael Johnson was frustrated after allowing Campbell and running back Dion Lewis to connect in the back corner of the end zone.