Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Proof . . . pudding . . . meet Brandon Weeden

Well, it’s about time someone stepped up and became an advocate for Brandon Weeden.

And it turns out to be none other than the man himself, Browns Chief Executive Office and major domo Joe Banner.

Ever since the end of the season, we’ve heard that the Browns would not commit to the beleaguered  quarterback in any way, shape or form regarding the 2013 campaign. It was almost as though he was a pariah due to his disappointing 2012 performance.

According to reports, Banner has now indicated Weeden is the man he expects to open the new season under center with the club. “The biggest thing for Brandon is going from year one to year two,” he said, citing the arrival of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner as the key.

Not certain that’s a ringing endorsement, but it sure takes some of the edge off the notion the second-year quarterback should be looking over his shoulder during training camp.

When Jimmy Haslam III told reporters at the Super Bowl that the club would have open competition at the position this season, the speculation began. Weeden’s star, in free fall to begin with, dropped even further.

Even Rob Chudzinski, his new coach, declined to endorse Weeden, perhaps because he knew very little about him when taking the job.

Just the other day, though, Weeden spoke out with significant confidence when asked about the uncertainty of starting for a second consecutive season. “I completely expect to be the starter this season,” he told the Plain Dealer.

“That’s the mind-set going in. I’m confident in my ability to be the guy, to lead this football team. I expect completely to be better this year than I was last year.”

It was almost as though he figured he had nothing to lose by firing broadsides at the lack of confidence displayed by his owner, CEO and coach. Brave talk for someone who was fired upon from all sides of the media aisle throughout the 2012 campaign.

Here was a rookie quarterback, saddled all last season with an offense that was totally foreign to him, wondering just what he had to do to win the confidence of the new front office.

The worst possible scenario for his initial National Football League season became a reality for Weeden, who tried gamely to make work what turned out to be an almost impossible switch for him in offensive philosophy and execution.

Unfortunately, he was selected in the same draft as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson and inevitable comparisons were made. Then along came Browns coach Pat Shurmur, the mad scientist who descended into his laboratory and tried to make Weeden something he wasn’t: a west coast quarterback.

Instead, he created a Frankenstein monster of sorts, moving a quarterback who had operated out of a spread formation throughout his entire football career and placed him under center for a majority of the season.

It was bad enough that the media and fans would compare him to Luck, The Third and Wilson, all of whom turned in spectacular campaigns. Now, he had to do it with one hand tied behind his back.

Optimistically, it can be pointed out that despite playing for a coach who did mostly nothing to cater to his talents, Weeden still threw only 17 interceptions in more than 500 throws.

It’s not as though he was consistently bad for 16 games. He had some ups (five games of 250 or more yards passing) and downs (four interceptions in his NFL debut against Philadelphia).

Yes, the Browns won only five games and, fair or not, quarterbacks receive a majority of the credit and/or blame for winning and losing games. Truth is the finger of blame was pointed at the wrong man. It should have been aimed directly at Shurmur.

At least three games could have been won last season with a more aggressive approach by the Browns’ head coach. It ultimately cost him his job.

Just as well because the Browns now have a coach in Chudzinski who, at least on the surface, appears to be progressive, innovative and willing to trying anything in an effort to win football games.

And with the veteran Turner, one of the best quarterback teachers in the league, on board to provide the necessary guidance, it finally looks as though the Browns and Weeden are finally pointed in the right direction.

The Browns have not had a head coach like this since . . . hmmm. let’s see now, since Sam Rutigliano, whose riverboat gambler style captivated Browns fans for nearly seven seasons a generation and a half ago.

Sam was relentlessly unafraid to take chances. Red Right 88, anyone? It remains Rutigliano’s cross to bear. That ill-fated Brian Sipe pass in the Jan. 4, 1981 playoff game at frozen-solid Cleveland Stadium cost the Browns a chance to play for the AFC Championship.

Red Right 88, along with The Drive and The Fumble, became iconic for the wrong reasons in Browns lore.

And now along comes Chudzinski with the opportunity to lift the Browns from the depths of the AFC North basement, which has become a dunghill for them in 10 of the 14 seasons since the rebirth in 1999.

Only two winning seasons (2002 and 2007) in 14 seasons. Just one double-digit winning season (10 victories in 2007) and they failed to make the playoffs with that one. An overall record covered with shame and disgrace.

Now, Banner and his henchmen must make a definitive decision by the time training camp starts. Weeden need not be anointed as the starter right off the bat, but it would be surprising if he doesn’t take a majority of the snaps and is not under center in the season opener.

All he has to do is go out and back up the brave talk he’s currently laying down. It’s much easier to display this kind of confidence in the offseason than it is when helmets and shoulder pads are strapped on.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Falling short . . . again

OK, Browns fans, you can breathe now.

And Baltimore fans can resume bitching and moaning.

That’s right. The least qualified man on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot Saturday was correctly eliminated in the first round of voting.

Art Modell, the man who robbed an entire city of professional football for three unnecessary years, remains where he belongs. On the outside looking in.

There is no way we will know exactly what went on or what was discussed inside the voting room in New Orleans. The fact Modell had advanced this far was disconcerting to Browns fans and had them on edge.

Until the announcement around 7:30 p.m., skeptics had to wonder whether this would be a karma weekend for the Baltimore Ravens. The team was in the Super Bowl, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was on the HOF ballot and Modell, who passed away last September and to whom the Ravens have dedicated this season, was a sentimental favorite.

Fortunately, the voters did not see it entirely that way. Ogden deservedly was voted in. He was arguably the National Football League’s best offensive tackle for a dozen seasons. No argument there. But other forces were at work against Modell.

Tony Grossi, the Cleveland representative on the board of electors, wrote on the ESPN Cleveland web site that he prepared a three-page speech for the Modell discussion.

We don’t know what he said, nor will we ever know what he said, but it was obviously powerful enough to elicit at least 10 no votes for Modell. And that’s all it takes to eliminate a candidate from further consideration.

In the years to come, other stronger candidates will come along to push Modell even further back when consideration for HOF status comes up.

The Hall of Fame should be for greatness. Modell did many wonderful things from a philanthropic standpoint in Cleveland in his lifetime. But when it came to the NFL, his one egregious act should never be forgotten nor forgiven.

At the time he moved his Browns to Baltimore in 1995, he said he “had no choice” but to change his address. Not true. He could have sold his team.

The real reason he did not was to keep the Modell name attached to the franchise. Fans in Baltimore have been fed a twisted tale for years. That – and the fact he brought the NFL back to their city – is why they champion his HOF quest.

That’s why it’s important that Grossi and those voters who really know what happened that caused the saddest day in Cleveland sports history are still around to block subsequent attempts to incorrectly elect him to the Hall.

Ravens fans can grouse all they want at the latest snub, along with that small group of Browns fans who have forgiven Modell for his unconscionable act. Today, most Browns fans rejoice.

Hopefully, this will be the last time the HOF nominating committee places Modell’s name on the final 15 ballot. It’s not worth the anguish it puts Browns fans though. However, it is worth the joy they feel when he falls short.