BEREA: Although Browns coach Rob Chudzinski isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback, it’s clearly Brandon Weeden’s job to lose.
“I just feel like it’s always been Brandon’s job,” wide receiver Greg Little said Thursday as the team wrapped up its three-day mandatory minicamp. “He’s always done the right things as a quarterback, and he’s taken his position to another level as far as being very outspoken and just being a leader, being the first guy in the building and being the last guy out. And I think he commands respect now.”
Weeden took all the reps with the first-team offense throughout organized team activities and the recent minicamp. Backup Jason Campbell took the majority of the reps with the second unit but shared some with third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, is determined to maintain his status atop the depth chart.
“I don’t want that to change, or else it’d be tough,” Weeden said. “I think I’m still competing, competing every day and competing with myself. So I’m worried about me.”
His focus has paid off thus far.
“I’m right where I want to be,” Weeden said. “There’s some things that I need to work on that I maybe didn’t hit when I was out here, but overall, I think my progress was pretty good. We had 16 [organized team activities and minicamp] practices, and I think each practice got better for myself, and not only me, but for the offense — the flow, how fast we were playing. They bumped the play clock down. We were still operating really, really fast. So, yeah, I’m pleased with it. Am I satisfied? Absolutely not.”
Weeden has looked far more comfortable and efficient while orchestrating the downfield, vertical passing game installed by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner than the West Coast system used last season by ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
How different are the two offenses?
“Imagine going to Spanish class one hour and then turning around and going to Russian and trying to put it all in perspective,” Weeden said. “They’re both good systems. I think this one fits who we have really, really well. Nothing’s the same from last year to this year.”
Chudzinski has been impressed with Weeden’s progress in the new scheme.
“I think Brandon has done a nice job to this point — everything we’ve asked him to do,” Chudzinski said. “Certainly it hasn’t been perfect. But learning, being able to apply it on the field, to be able to listen to Norv hollering at him and to be able to make those adjustments and those corrections, you see progress. All of you probably have seen it out here. Not only from a technical standpoint in what he’s doing, he’s getting the ball out quicker, he’s speeded up his delivery. But also from a mental standpoint, his understanding and comfort level, you can see it when he’s out there.”
Chudzinski also complimented Campbell and Hoyer. He emphasized he wants to keep the competition alive when training camp begins. The first full-squad practice is scheduled for July 25.
“There’s a lot of time between now and when we’re playing whether it’s preseason or our opener,” Chudzinski said. “All of these guys are going to get plenty of opportunities. There’s a lot of reps and a lot of practices between now and then.
“I think all those guys have progressed and improved, but when you get in pads and when we get out there in more competitive situations, we’ll be looking for improvement there. And ultimately it’s going to be about production.”
Weeden hopes his production soars. As a rookie, he threw 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, posting a completion percentage of 57.4, a passer rating of 72.6 and a record of 5-10 as a starter. He’s aiming to complete about 70 percent of his passes next season, and improved mechanics won’t hurt him as he chases his lofty goal.
Weeden has worked on dropping back faster, releasing the ball quicker and breaking a bad habit of patting it before throwing.
“It all results in good timing,” Weeden said. “If you throw the ball on time, your success rate’s a lot higher. Those things have helped me get myself in position. Norv’s still harping on feet, getting the ball out quick, getting the ball out of your hand, which is the way this offense works. So I’m going to work at it for these next five weeks, and then come back at the end of July and hopefully not miss a beat.”
His chemistry with wide receivers Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Travis Benjamin and Davone Bess, whom the Browns acquired in a trade during the draft in April, has stood out, too. Weeden said Gordon “has the ability to be a top-three receiver in this league,” and he called Bess “the ultimate pro.”
In red-zone drills Thursday, Weeden completed consecutive touchdown passes in the back of end zone to Gordon and tight end Gary Barnidge. He also repeatedly connected with Little, Benjamin and Bess during other 11-on-11 drills.
“Tough,” Bess said of Weeden. “Got a great arm. He’s got a knack for wanting to get better, the ultimate competitor. Obviously with him being a quarterback in a new system, a lot of stuff has been thrown at him. So for him to be able to settle down and be able to take all the information and go out and make throws and play well like he did today, it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”
Weeden believes the Browns have the talent to reverse their dismal fortunes.
“Speaking about the whole team, I think our defense is really adapting to what [defensive coordinator] Ray [Horton has] brought in,” Weeden said. “I think guys are flying around on that side of the ball just like we are on our side. I think we have the potential to be really, really good.”
It might not be so far-fetched if Weeden can put the team on his shoulders and deliver.
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.