Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden will get his first taste of a true NFL pass rush tonight against none other than superstar Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Detroit Lions’ ferocious defensive linemen.
During spring practices and training camp, Weeden has shown his ability to deliver sharp, accurate passes. He has adjusted well to playing under center after operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation at Oklahoma State University. And he has mastered the basics of coach Pat Shurmur’s West Coast offense.
Still, standing in the pocket and delivering throws while dealing with an opponent’s pressure is an important test Weeden has yet to encounter at the professional level. Shurmur said Weeden and the rest of the Browns’ starters will probably play about one quarter when they visit the Lions at 7:30 tonight in the preseason opener for both teams at Ford Field.
“My main goal is — however long I play — be 100 percent on my responsibilities,” said Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft. “No missed assignments on my team, and I think it’s going to be fast. Guys are going to be flying around. It’s going to be fun. It’ll be nice to get hit a couple of times.”
The Browns, of course, would prefer Weeden stay untouched and healthy rather than become another one of Suh’s rag dolls.
In the Lions’ 2011 preseason opener, Suh applied a headlock-type move to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, knocked his helmet off and then slammed him to the turf, prompting a $20,000 fine from the NFL. In 2010, the league fined Suh $7,500 for grabbing then-Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme’s face mask, twisting it and taking him down in another exhibition game.
Weeden said he has never faced Suh, the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft from the University of Nebraska. The first meeting should be a challenge, and with Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery on Thursday, the spotlight will focus on Weeden.
“Let’s remember now, he’s a rookie, so when he goes in, this will be his first NFL contest,” Shurmur said. “We’re looking for him to go out there and execute and be generally efficient and then take a lead of that huddle and direct us in to the end zone.
“I think this is the time of training camp where fights break out. Guys are tired of practicing against one another, and so two weeks into this thing, it’s time for us to see what we’ve got against another opponent.”
The 28-year-old Weeden, who spent five seasons in minor-league baseball before pursuing a college football career, knows every rep he receives in live action will be invaluable as he prepares for the regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 9.
“As a quarterback, you can’t see enough looks, you can’t make enough throws, you can’t get enough game reps to get prepared,” Weeden said. “I think as a quarterback, you want as many as you can because there’s so many different looks. You can do so many things offensively that are just completely different. So, yeah, I think I’m still young in this offense. I’m still learning all the ins and outs of everything, so I think every rep is vital, and that’s the way I approach it.
“Practice is great. You’ve got to do it. But as a player, you love strapping the pads on, playing in front of people and going out and [it] actually meaning something with points on the board. I’m excited. I can’t wait.”
The Browns’ defense is also eager to see what it’s made of, especially as it prepares to play without several key pieces.
Starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor will be sidelined at least until late October because of a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery in May, and starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong is out for the season with a torn right Achilles tendon. Meanwhile, two other starters, strongside linebacker Scott Fujita and cornerback Joe Haden, might miss time with suspensions.
If Fujita doesn’t win a battle in federal court, he will be suspended for the first three games of the regular season for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Haden reportedly could face a four-game suspension for failing a drug test for Adderall, though the NFL has not announced any penalty.
In other words, the preseason will give the probable replacement starters a chance to get up to speed.
“Anytime you can see another [uniform] color other than your own, it’s a beautiful thing,” said Dimitri Patterson, who would probably start at cornerback if Haden misses part of the season. “It’s a time where you want to get back into the flow of the game. A game is different from practice, so it’s one of those things where you want to get in game condition, that game atmosphere and just play with a game mentality and that pace.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.