By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: As Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden prepares to return to the starting lineup Sunday against the Detroit Lions, he’s taking requests like a disc jockey.
His teammates and coaches want him to get the ball out quicker, trust the offense’s playmakers and take fewer sacks. The fans, who booed him last Thursday night in a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills, want him to satisfy those demands and lead the Browns to a 4-2 record for the first time since 2001. That would also be just their second four-game winning streak since the expansion era kicked off in 1999.
Weeden knows it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but he seems determined to give it his best shot.
“Obviously, I heard them [booing], but I personally think we have the best fans in the National Football League,” Weeden said Wednesday before practice. “This is some of the best people, the smartest football fans in the league. And I get it. They get it. So obviously you don’t want to hear those, but I think if you can make a couple throws and put a couple drives together, hopefully you turn those into cheers, and as a player, that’s what you want. But this town, it’s why I love playing in Cleveland. The people here, the fans here have been nothing short of extraordinary.”
Weeden, on the other hand, hasn’t been good, and he knows it. The 22nd overall pick in the draft last year, Weeden went 5-10 as a rookie starter and then 0-2 to begin this season before spraining his right thumb Sept. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Brian Hoyer ascended the depth chart in Weeden’s absence and led the Browns (3-2) to consecutive wins. He then received the nod to start against the Bills, even though Weeden had been medically cleared to play earlier in the week. But Hoyer suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first quarter Thursday, forcing Weeden off the bench and into action.
The booing started at FirstEnergy Stadium immediately after Weeden’s first pass sailed out of bounds. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski believes Weeden could actually benefit from his roller-coaster ride of a season.
“I think it’s been a learning experience for him,” Chudzinski said. “I think he’s grown from that experience. You look at being the starter, getting injured and having to sit and watch and then get thrown out into the game, early in the game where he didn’t get a lot of practice time, getting booed, back and forth, and him ultimately making some big plays that helped us win that game. I think that’s growth, and I think that he has a sense of confidence of what he’s been able to do. We’ll get him back out there for another week of practice, and I think that will help him get better and get ready to play even more so.”
After taking control with 11:03 remaining in the opening quarter, Weeden completed just 6-of-12 passes for 68 yards the rest of the first half. He was just plain rusty.
“Yeah, I was,” Weeden said. “I didn’t take any reps for two weeks, and then didn’t throw until Tuesday, but I don’t think anyone in here or myself make any excuses. That was my job. I was the No. 2 guy in case something happened, and whether I threw one ball or a million balls, you’ve got to go out and execute.”
Weeden rallied to finish 13-of-24 for 197 yards and a touchdown, a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon in the third quarter, without an interception. He completed 6-of-9 passes thrown more than 10 yards down field, according to ESPN Stats and Information. His passer rating was 95.3.
“I don’t think [the booing] rattled him at all,” Gordon said. “I think it’s hard for anybody to hear that because you’re out there trying to do your job. You think the fans will support you and everything like that. But mentally he’s mature enough to handle that, and he went out there and won that game. He turned those boos into cheers. That’s exactly what he did. We’re proud of him, and I hope the fans are, too.”
They will be if he takes what he learned from Hoyer and runs with it. Chudzinski said getting the ball out quicker is “a point of emphasis,” and he believes Weeden will improve in that area.
In his first two starts this season, Hoyer got rid of the ball an average of 2.8 seconds after the snap, the best rate in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In Weeden’s two starts, he took an average of 4.3 seconds, the worst mark in the league. As a result, Weeden has absorbed 16 sacks in three games. He took 28 sacks in 15 games last season.
“There’s times where I can get the ball out quicker and take the pressure off the guys out front,” Weeden said. “We’re playing well. We have great guys in this offense, and you just got to be in sync and trust guys around you and get rolling.
“Whether it’s the design of the play, getting off the first progression faster, pre-snap reads as far as maybe eliminating half the field or seeing pressure and finding your back — there are a lot of different ways to [get the ball out quicker].”
Weeden would be wise to deliver the ball without hesitation Sunday when he faces the Lions (3-2) and standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The entire NFL knows Suh’s reputation for roughing up opponents, but Weeden is convinced the intimidation factor won’t get into his head.
“Obviously, he’s a special player,” Weeden said. “There’s no question. I’m not denying that. He’s a dominant player that can change a game. [Right guard] Shawn Lauvao and those guys will do a great job. I’ve got confidence in those guys.”
And Weeden insists he has confidence in himself despite everything he has endured through five games.
“You dig deep and you try to find yourself and you do a lot of soul searching,” Weeden said. “I think that’s part of adversity and facing adversity. It makes you stronger as a person, and that’s life. You’ve just got to find a way to take the positives and build on them.”
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.