Monday, May 6, 2013

What quarterback competition?

It’s fairly common knowledge that Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is an unknown quantity.

After all, his rookie season in the National Football League last year was spent playing in a system that was as foreign to him as the languages of China.

The fact he did as well as he did – OK, maybe not well, but certainly not embarrassing – despite having to play in catch-up mode all season is a testament to the desire of the young man to prove his critics wrong.

Now I’m not going to say flat out that Weeden will be a staggeringly different quarterback this season. And I’m not going to say he will mute his critics with surprising performances.

But some of the nonsense floating out there about Weeden and a Browns quarterback competition in the vast wasteland of NFL Rumorland is downright ignorant.

Here we are in early-May with training camp about two months away and already rumors are being peddled that Jason Campbell will be given a legitimate shot at being the Browns’ starting quarterback this season.

The factory that spews out that kind of drivel cannot – and should not – be taken seriously. As much as the Weeden critics would love to see it happen, it won’t.

Right here, right now, let me be the first to say that unless Weeden is injured, Campbell will not be the Browns’ starting quarterback in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Campbell was brought in because he was supposedly the best out there when Joe Banner went shopping for Colt’s McCoy’s successor. He’s the kind of guy you like coming off the bench if Weeden goes down. At least he won’t embarrass his team.

Sure, he’ll see some playing time in the four exhibition games, maybe even play most of the final game. But he will not see a majority of the reps in training camp and might be given a few opportunities to play with the starters. But that’s as far as it’s going to go.

No, if the Browns are going to make any progress on offense this season, it will be with Weeden in the shotgun or pistol formations. Can’t say under center because Norv Turner is expected to play to Weeden’s strengths and that’s lining up anywhere from four to seven yards behind the pivot.

The new offensive coordinator is not a dumb man. He knows talent when he sees it. And he has seen enough of Campbell to know he’s no better than a clipboard holder in the NFL. He is a journeyman at best.

Turner also knows, but for some reason declines to say, that Weeden is the man. It’s his job to lose. And he’s got to be awful to lose it. Again, that’s not going to happen.

It can be argued by Campbell supporters—no, make that Weeden’s critics – that Campbell played in Turner’s offensive system for three seasons while Weeden is a neophyte. Therein lies the X factor. We don’t know if Weeden can adapt.

It is distinctly possible he will reach a comfort level with Turner’s offense quickly because it has elements of the one he played in at Oklahoma State. While not as wide open, it relies on stretching the field and that’s what the Cowboys, with Weeden at the controls, excelled at.

It’s difficult to imagine Weeden regressing from last season. He now has four wide receivers he can rely on in Josh Gordon, Greg Little, David Nelson and Davone Bess with Travis Benjamin in reserve.

Campbell, meanwhile, is saying all the right things when the competition issue comes up. “I’m going to help Brandon as much as possible,” he said recently. “But at the same time, I’m going to push him and compete and help the guys around us continue to get better.”

If the coaching staff has thrown down a gauntlet, it is invisible. The worst thing the coaching staff can do is play mind games, especially with Weeden. He and his teammates need to know now who the starter is.

Shrouding the issue is not the way set the tone for training camp, especially this one. This is Rob Chudzinski’s first crack at being a head coach. The last thing he should want is even a hint of a controversy.

He and Turner should channel most of their efforts toward turning Weeden into the kind of professional quarterback most Browns fans had hoped to see last season. Then if it does not work out, there is only one person Weeden can blame.


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