By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner realizes success in the preseason doesn’t always translate to real NFL games, but he’s still pumped about what he’s seen thus far from quarterback Brandon Weeden and the rest of the projected starters.
“I’m excited what Brandon’s been able to do,” Turner said Sunday a few hours before the final practice of training camp. “The thing that we’ve spent a lot of time working on is trying to find out the things that he does best and combine them with the things that our players do best.
“Hopefully when we get into games, we’re able to feature the things that all our guys do best and the things they do together. And through the preseason action that Brandon’s had, we’ve been able to that. We’ve had a lot of guys playing well, and he’s taken advantage of the way they’re playing.”
The Browns will visit the Indianapolis Colts for their “dress rehearsal” exhibition game Saturday. It’ll serve as the most significant tune-up for Weeden and Co. before they open the regular season Sept. 8 against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium.
In the six series in which Weeden and the first-team offense have played through two exhibition games, the Browns have tallied three touchdown drives and two other marches that produced field goals. In those games, the starters have outscored the St. Louis Rams 17-0 and the Detroit Lions 17-3.
Weeden has completed 18-of-25 passes (72 percent) for 229 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His passer rating is 139.8, and he has not taken a sack. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson’s rating of 156.2 is the only one in the NFL higher than Weeden’s this preseason.
“He’s made good decisions,” Turner said. “He’s obviously extremely accurate with the ball, and he’s made some big throws up the field already. So those are things that you have to look at and say they’re positives, and those are things that we can build on.
“He’s worked awfully hard at it. I think the guys enjoy playing with him. I think he does command their respect. Our players have a lot of confidence in Brandon.”
Still, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski made headlines last week when he characterized the competition between Weeden and second-string quarterback Jason Campbell as “close.”
Campbell, who’s entering his ninth NFL season, has completed 18-of-21 passes (85.7 percent) for 143 yards and a touchdown without an interception this preseason. His passer rating is 110.9, and he has taken three sacks. His completion percentage ranks second among quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts this preseason. New England Patriots star Tom Brady tops the list at 90 percent.
But Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, took all of the first-team reps throughout camp and excelled in the first two exhibition games, so it’s hard to sell the idea that he’s in a tight race with Campbell.
Turner, though, didn’t think Chudzinski’s “close” comment was absurd. He insisted waiting to name a starting quarterback has been the plan all along.
“I think Chud was being extremely honest with you,” said Turner, who also holds the title of quarterbacks coach. “I do believe Jason has played at a high enough level to say that it is close. How you phrase it or how you say it, I don’t know that that matters. I think we’re heading in the direction we want to be.
“I think he explained his plan to the quarterbacks from the start. He stuck with it. It’s not an issue in that building. I know it’s an issue outside the building. But I don’t think anyone is worried about when an announcement [about who will start] is going to be made, and I think we’ve got great production from all three quarterbacks. So whatever the plan was that we’ve put together, it seems to be working.”
Turner has seen evidence that Weeden can thrive in the downfield, vertical passing game he and Chudzinski want to feature.
“He’s got a strong enough arm to throw it deep,” Turner said. … “Sometimes on the deep balls it’s harder to gauge, it’s harder to get the great accuracy, but I think Brandon’s going to be a real good deep-ball thrower.
“I think he does sometimes throw the ball harder than he needs to, but it’s really not to me on the deeper balls. It’s sometimes on the underneath things, some of the shorter balls. But I think that’s natural for a guy that hasn’t played a lot in this league, and I don’t see any of the negatives. I see a lot of positives in terms of where he’s going.”
Weeden worked extensively in the offseason to speed up his footwork while dropping back and to break his bad habit of patting the ball before he throws it. Turner said it’s still a work in progress, but he has seen improvement in those areas.
“When you’re by yourself and you’re working, it’s like going to the driving range and everything’s smooth and it’s good,” Turner said. “Then you get out there and it’s the real deal, and when Brandon starts thinking too much, he slows down. And when he’s really confident and sure of what he’s doing, he’s going a lot faster, his set-ups are faster, the ball’s coming out quicker. It’s a matter of him being experienced with everything we’re doing, so there’s not indecision. And he’s done a good job of getting the ball out fast when he’s really sure of what we’re doing.”
After spending last season in the West Coast offense employed by ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur, Weeden has been efficiently going through the progressions and making the correct reads in Turner’s system.
“I think he’s doing really good,” Turner said. “He’s had some tough plays in the preseason where he’s gotten to the third or fourth receiver. [He’s] made good decisions. He’s thrown the ball away. If you can go play a couple of games and not have an interception or have a ball that should be intercepted, I think you’re making progress.”
Even though preseason games are basically glorified practices, Turner doesn’t think it’s too early to get excited about the offense.
“I’m excited,” Turner said. “Our players are excited. I hope our fans are excited. I’m a realist. I know that you can only control what you’re going against. We’ve played the Rams. We’ve played Detroit. They gave us more than people think. Both teams blitzed us, and we handled it well. Both teams mixed the coverages pretty good, and I thought we handled it well.
“It’s not the regular season, so we just have to continue to prepare for the regular season. Again, I don’t think we’re going to go out and complete 75 percent of our passes in the regular season. But we’re doing it now, and that’s something to build on.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.