With Rob Chudzinski in place as head coach and Norv Turner expected to soon be named offensive coordinator, the Browns have a new vision and philosophy about how to attack opposing defenses.
But do they have someone capable of thriving in Chudzinski’s downfield, vertical passing game and establishing himself as the quarterback of the future?
Quarterback Brandon Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, has a strong arm that seems to fit well with the team’s latest offensive approach, though the organization’s decision makers have been mum about him since the season ended.
CBS analyst Rich Gannon, however, isn’t shy about evaluating quarterbacks and voicing his opinions about Weeden, a 29-year-old former minor-league baseball player.
“I think the jury’s still out whether or not he’s going to be serviceable guy, whether he’s going to develop into a top-tier player,” Gannon said last week in a phone interview with the Beacon Journal. “I think at this point, he got into it so late that you worry whether he’s ever going to be an elite player because he’s so late in the learning curve.”
Gannon, a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback who was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2002, believes the Browns will learn a lot about Weeden this offseason by putting him through a true competition for a starting job. Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis are under contract for next season, but the Browns could acquire another quarterback to spice up a position battle.
“I would say there are parts of his game where he’s got to get better — decision-making, the accuracy, footwork, some of those things,” Gannon said of Weeden. “But he’s in a tough spot. You look at where he’s at. The organization’s going through change with new ownership, new general manager, new head coach and a new play-caller in year two, and I think regardless they’re going to make it competitive. I think that’s for sure. He’s not going to be just handed the reins in year two. I think you’re constantly looking to create competition, and I’m sure that’s something they’ll do this year.”
For what it’s worth, CEO Joe Banner declined to comment on Weeden’s rookie season during a news conference Dec. 31. Chudzinski then followed suit Friday during his introductory news conference.
“I don’t want to get into specific players right now, any of the players on the roster,” Chudzinski said when asked about his impressions of Weeden. “I’ve seen a little bit, and until I get the full look at the 16-game schedule and have that opportunity to see that with our staff, I’m not going to comment. That would be premature.”
Weeden started all 15 games in which he appeared after coach Pat Shurmur, who was fired two weeks ago, named him the Browns’ No. 1 quarterback this past summer during training camp. In Shurmur’s West Coast offense, Weeden completed 297-of-517 passes (57.4 percent) for 3,385 yards and 14 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. His passer rating of 72.6 was the fourth-worst in the league.
Gannon, who was critical of Weeden’s performance during CBS’ telecast of the Browns’ 25-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 4, pointed out that quarterbacks often improve drastically from their rookie season to the next year. Only time will tell if Weeden is able to do that, but learning a new system is another obstacle he’ll need to overcome.
“I think he can definitely be better,” Gannon said. “I think one of the things with him is he’s got to do a better job of anticipating, getting the ball out on time with accuracy. The game at times is moving too fast for him. But I think definitely once you get a better understanding of what you’re doing, of what people around you are doing, the scheme, the defense, you’re not reacting, but rather you’re anticipating. You’re playing the game faster.
“That’s the thing when you study Weeden. It’s just like, ‘How can you get the kid to play the game faster?’ You can tell there’s a chance for that. But you worry about taking a step back in his development this year because he’s sitting there learning a new system. Now he’s thinking about protections, thinking about footwork and all those types of things as opposed to going out and playing fast. So that’s going to be a test, I think, for him.”
The Browns have hired former Jacksonville Jaguars general counsel Sashi Brown, who will handle contract negotiations, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported Sunday.
The addition of Brown, 36, to the front office likely means the team’s next personnel chief will have more experience evaluating talent than dealing with the salary cap and contracts. Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam are searching for someone to head the organization’s personnel department after firing General Manager Tom Heckert on Dec. 31.
Browns offensive line coach George Warhop has reportedly survived yet another regime change.
New Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid targeted Warhop, and the two sides were in serious negotiations before Warhop decided to stay with the Browns as a member of Chudzinski’s staff, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported. Warhop was the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line coach in 2006, when Turner was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, meaning Warhop and Turner are set to reunite in Cleveland.
Former New York Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was going to meet with the Browns about coaching their offensive line until Warhop decided to stay put, and now Sparano is scheduled to interview with Reid and the Chiefs today, Mortensen reported.
Warhop, 51, joined the Browns in 2009 as part of Eric Mangini’s staff. Mangini was fired following the 2010 season, though Warhop was one of four assistant coaches retained by Shurmur.
Six teams have asked the Browns for permission to interview special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor, only to have those requests denied, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported. In other words, the Browns are trying to retain Tabor, 41.
The Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts have all been rejected by the Browns, according to the report.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.