BEREA: When 18-year-old Brandon Weeden strutted onto the pitcher’s mound for his minor-league baseball debut in Tampa, Fla., 10 years ago, he didn’t hear the roar of the crowd.
“I don’t think there was a person in the stands when I pitched my first game in baseball,” Weeden said. “In rookie ball, there’s nobody there.”
He’ll enter a much different atmosphere Sunday, when the Browns host the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular-season opener. After spending five seasons in the minors, then embarking on a delayed college football career at Oklahoma State University and becoming an improbable first-round pick in the NFL Draft at age 28, Weeden will start his first real NFL game.
“This is obviously a way bigger stage,” Weeden said. “I got a lot more on my plate, a lot more on my shoulders, but I’m extremely excited to play this first one against Philly.
“This is a huge achievement and honor, not that baseball wasn’t, but I think if I were to pitch in the big leagues, maybe it would’ve been a different story. Now this is the big leagues. This is the show. That’s the way I approach it.”
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, got his first taste of professional football in the preseason. He appeared in three games and played about five quarters before sitting out the exhibition finale, because coach Pat Shurmur elected to rest most of the starters.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Weeden completed 24-of-49 passes (49 percent) for 297 yards. He threw one interception and no touchdowns. He took four sacks and fumbled on three of them, including twice Aug. 24 against the Eagles in the third preseason game.
He can’t afford to let it happen again Sunday. The Eagles shared the league lead with 50 sacks last season, so Weeden must endure the heat.
“They’re extremely fast off the football, and their main objective is to hit me in the chin,” Weeden said. “They’re great football players. They pay those guys a lot of money to get to the quarterback. That’s kind of their agenda. It’s definitely something that’s on the front of our mind. I saw it two weeks ago. We’re going to try to have a way to prepare for those guys.
“You’ve got to take care of the football. We had the ball on the ground too many times with me and the backs. You can’t spot a team 10 or 17 points as good as they are offensively and defensively. It’s [vital to] secure the football and play smart, sound, physical football.”
One of the reasons the Browns maintain their faith in Weeden is his ability to shake off mistakes and not let them bother him. He’s not expected to be psyched out by a reunion with the Eagles’ quick, powerful pass rushers.
“I don’t think he ever lets you see him sweat,” offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “He doesn’t ride the roller coaster, and I just think that’s huge for a quarterback. It’s never as bad or it’s never as good as you think it is. I think he’s wired the right way that you want a quarterback to be.
“I think he has come along just about like you’d expect a rookie quarterback to. I don’t think it has been too big for him. I think he has gone about it very methodically. You appreciate that. He’s a flat-line guy. You don’t like to see those big spikes and ups and downs. You like to see somebody handle that.”
Weeden also has shown the ability to seize command of the offense.
“The best thing I’ve learned is this guy will be a great leader,” President Mike Holmgren said. “That’s the measurable sometimes that’s hard to gauge when you’re looking at young guys in college.”
It’s also difficult to tell how a player will respond when the game is on the line. Quarterbacks either have the ability to perform well in the clutch or they don’t.
“I think there’s a veteran presence there even though he’s a rookie, which you need because sooner or later you’re standing out there in the middle of the field and it’s the crowd and the opponent, and you have to make a play,” Shurmur said. “There’s just got to be something in you down deep that’s just going to help you do that. I think I see that.”
Weeden believes dealing with adversity in baseball prepared him for the next chapter of his life. The Browns have bought the theory.
“When you’re a pitcher and they knock the ball over the fence on you, it’s not the shortstop’s deal, it’s the pitcher’s deal,” Childress said. “It’s not the left fielder, it’s the pitcher. … From my standpoint, he has that kind of toughness. He’s kind of steeled himself to be able to withstand some of those tough times that you know inevitability you’re going to have.”
Weeden will certainly encounter obstacles this season, and the Eagles will provide an intimidating test right off the bat. He hopes to rise to the occasion as he carries out his new big-league dream.