By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is hoping the preseason proves to be just the tuneup the offense needs.
Weeden and the rest of the offense will get their first chance to work out some of the kinks against a real opponent when the Browns host the St. Louis Rams in the preseason opener for both teams at 8 tonight at FirstEnergy Stadium. With the first two weeks of training camp in the books, it’s clear the offense desperately needs to improve before the Browns’ Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
“I think we’re making strides,” Weeden said Wednesday after practice. “We have a long ways to go. I don’t think we’re where we need to be. I think if you ask anybody, they’d all say the same thing. We’ve got a long ways to go.
“I still feel good about the guys we have. I’m excited about the potential we have offensively. Once you get in the game and you get those live reps, you can get a better understanding because it’s tough when you go against your defense all the time and they have a pretty good idea what you’re doing and you know what they’re doing. So we’ll see, but we’ve got some work to do.”
Rob Chudzinski will make his preseason debut as an NFL head coach, and he certainly wants to see the offense improve from the last time he made an appearance at FirstEnergy Stadium. Weeden and Co. fizzled during the Family Night practice Saturday in the stadium.
“We haven’t got to that point yet where we’re clicking yet offensively,” Chudzinski said after the practice Saturday. “But it will come.”
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, is optimistic the offense will find the spark it’s seeking before the regular season begins.
“I’m confident, absolutely,” said Weeden, who went 5-10 as a starter last season, completing 297-of-517 passes (57.4 percent) for 3,385 yards and 14 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and posting a passer rating of 72.6, fourth worst in the league. “These are the dog days of camp. The defense is going to have their days where they win, and we’re going to have days where we get them. That’s just the way this thing goes. It’s like that in high school, college, wherever you play. It’s just part of this time of year, but we didn’t have a very good night Saturday throughout the entire night overall, so we knew had to get better. We just hit a little lull there, and we have to bounce back. But I’m confident we’ll get to where we need to go.”
Weeden will play about a quarter along with most of the other starters, Chudzinski said.
Trent Richardson, the team’s No. 1 running back, will be held out against the Rams, so he can continue to bounce back after being kicked in his right shin last week.
“He’s a competitor and he wants to play,” Weeden said of Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft. “Fortunately, he’s missing games that realistically don’t count against that win-loss record.”
Richardson, when healthy, has the ability to provide a significant boost to the offense. But its fate, to a great extent, is in Weeden’s hands no matter what.
Weeden has taken all of the first-team snaps throughout camp, and the starting job is his to lose. Still, the new regime didn’t draft him, and this will be his first time operating the vertical, downfield passing game devised by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner in a game, albeit an exhibition.
Weeden, though, shot down the idea that he feels more pressure now than in the preseason opener last year.
“No, not really,” Weeden said. “I know I have to play well, so I’m not putting any added pressure on myself.”
Going through progressions with efficiency and reading the defense properly are keys to playing well. Weeden has worked extensively this offseason on improving his footwork and throwing mechanics, but he also must master the mental part of the game and make the right decisions in the midst of live action.
He acknowledged he has plenty of room for improvement in those areas.
“Knowing when to take those shots and knowing when to be aggressive and knowing when to check it down and use our backs and use some of their abilities, get the ball in their hands in space, that’s one thing I’ve missed a lot of,” Weeden said. “I’ll try to throw a corner route or something when I may have something underneath that may get 6 or 7 or 8 yards. If I can get better in those areas, one, that completion percentage will go up and then it allows us to get more first downs. It’s easier to go to second-and-3 versus second-and-10 in this league, and if you get the underneath stuff when [a deep route is] not there, it makes it a little bit easier to call plays and to function as the 11 guys on the field.”
Weeden said his main goal for the exhibition opener is to manage the game well and sustain drives. In other words, he wants to guide the offense out of its funk and give it some momentum to build on. He’s not opposed to taking chances in the right situations, but finding a groove is the top priority.
“You’ve got to be smart, understand where you’re at in the game and treat it like it’s a real game,” Weeden said. “Treat it like you’re going to put together good drives and manage the game. The coaches want to see consistent, manageable drives, whether it’s a 4-yard run here, a 6-yard pass here or whatever it may be. That’s my goal, just to put our guys in position, no negative plays, move forward and if that means shots or whatever it may, so be it.”
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.