Although the Browns’ new regime, as a whole, obviously believes the jury is still out on whether Brandon Weeden can become a successful NFL quarterback, one of its prominent figures is definitely in his corner.
Appearing at the 34th annual Akron Browns Backers banquet Monday at Tangier restaurant, Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner gave the strongest endorsement of Weeden by anyone in the organization since owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner took control of the team last year.
“Brandon is a one-year player in the NFL who did a lot more good things [last season] than people give him credit for,” Turner said in an interview with reporters before addressing a crowd of more than 300 people. “I like his composure, the way he competes. He’s worked awfully hard. He’s got to be one of the hardest-working guys on our team. So you look and say, ‘Hey, you hope there’s a big upside.’ ”
When ex-President Mike Holmgren and former General Manager Tom Heckert were still in charge of the Browns last year, they drafted Weeden 22nd overall. He posted a passer rating of 72.6 as a rookie, finishing with 14 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
Since the front office and coaching staff were overhauled, new coach Rob Chudzinski, Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi haven’t expressed much faith in Weeden. The overall message has been along these lines: Weeden will receive every chance to succeed, but he must prove he wants to retain his starting job by displaying exceptional work ethic, dedication and, ultimately, improvement.
Turner, though, thinks Weeden has carried himself like a starter this offseason.
“He’s responded to everything we’ve asked him to do,” Turner said. “He likes football an awful lot. He’s a very competitive guy, and he’s made it clear he wants to be the guy. And now you go out and do it.”
In March, the Browns signed nine-year veteran Jason Campbell to push Weeden, giving him a two-year, $3.75 million contract with $500,000 of it guaranteed. Then last week, the Browns added career backup Brian Hoyer to the mix, signing him to a two-year, $1.965 million deal that includes $250,000 guaranteed this year, Joel Corry of National Football Post reported.
Hoyer will be inserted into the third slot on the depth chart and get a chance to ascend it, meaning fourth-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis probably won’t make the team. Turner made it clear he believes having three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster is vital, so Campbell, 31, and Hoyer, 27, could remain with Weeden, 29, after cuts are made before the regular season.
“I think that you need to go with three quarterbacks,” Turner said. “I think if you don’t, you’re playing with fire. I think if you look at the teams over the last two or three years that have had quarterbacks and they had a good backup plan — Houston two years ago made the playoffs with a rookie at quarterback. Indianapolis, when [Peyton] Manning got hurt, didn’t have an answer. I think it’s too valuable a position, and you need quarterbacks.
“Jason’s played nine years in the league. He’s proven he can win in the league. He’s proven he can play. When he’s been with good teams, he’s played better than when he’s been with bad teams, which is what I’d say with a lot of guys. And then with Brian, you’ve got a guy that’s been a backup in some good situations. He really hasn’t played enough to know where he’s at, and we like the way he throws the ball. We like a lot of things about him.”
Turner conceded it will be difficult to give all the quarterbacks an adequate amount of reps during offseason practices. He said Weeden needs as many reps as possible because he has only one season under his belt.
For Weeden to make a significant leap in progression, he needs to be consistent, understand the new offense and play within himself, Turner said. This offseason, Weeden has been focusing on dropping back faster, so he can avoid pressure and get rid of the ball on time.
“He’s got a big arm,” Turner said. “He’s very intelligent. He makes good decisions. He throws the ball up the field the way we would like to, but he’s very accurate underneath. He’s like all our guys. He’s learning a new system. We have a lot of work to do, all of us, coaches, players, quarterbacks, but I think we’ve made progress over the last seven weeks [since the offseason conditioning program started].”
“Brandon was in here [last season] with a very young group of guys. So when you have a lot of young guys and they’re trying to feel their way together, I think it’s hard. I think all those guys having a year together, including Brandon, having a year playing, will help him a great deal.”
Turner said he expects some other key, second-year players — running back Trent Richardson and wide receiver Josh Gordon — to blossom as well.
“[Richardson] had to fight through the ups and downs of being a rookie, the injuries, those things,” Turner said. “Hopefully we don’t have to deal with that, and he can make that big step from year one to year two. And if you have a guy like Trent that you can build things around, you take a lot of pressure off your offensive line. You take a lot of pressure of your quarterback.
“[Gordon is] an impressive guy. He’s young. He has a lot of work to do, but he has a lot of ability. You put those two things together and just grind as a player and as a coach, I think he can really be a fine player.”
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.