BEREA - If Mike Holmgren hadn't pushed the button, quarterback Brandon Weeden could be backing up Peyton Manning in Denver these days.
The former president of the Browns, anxious to land a quarterback after losing out in the Robert Griffin III sweepstakes, persuaded general manager Tom Heckert to select Weeden 22nd overall instead of waiting 15 picks later in the second round. If the Browns had waited longer, it's possible the Broncos would have selected Weeden as security in case Manning's surgically repaired neck had given him problems.
The Broncos didn't hide their fondness of Weeden, who had just finished his career at Oklahoma State. They treated him to dinner in a chance to get to know him better and were prepared to make a move on him in the draft.
"He's a mature guy for a rookie," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He's been around pro sports - he was a pro baseball player. He's married. His maturity level is further along than some rookies. I see that on film. The first go-around is always tough, in particular a quarterback is arguably the hardest position in professional sports. I think he's done a fine job."
Weeden has heard all the talk about how close he came to being a Bronco. He first learned of Denver signing Manning coming off the field at Oklahoma State's pro day last March 20.
"I heard all the good stories," Weeden said.
The Broncos decided to go with Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler with their second pick in the second round. While Osweiler has had a comfortable seat on the bench this season, Weeden has started all 14 games.
It's been an up-and-down ride for Weeden, who enters today's game against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a 72.4 passer rating. He's completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 3,281 yards, 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Weeden has been bombarded with instructions from coach Pat Shurmur to offensive coordinator Brad Childress to quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. All the coaching seems to have him in a confused state.
Weeden wants to change that starting today. He talked this week like a man that plans to be more aggressive, which he was earlier this season when he was playing better.
"When you get into the mindset of being too cautious with your throws, that's when you make more errors," Weeden said. "You're not as accurate and not as aggressive.
"You have to be smart if you're in the red zone or it's after a big play. At this point I just have to let it fly. Let it rip and be aggressive and take shots and see where it ends up."
Weeden has to be more careful with his throws than he was in the loss to the Washington Redskins last Sunday. He had two passes intercepted in the second half that turned a halftime lead into a 38-21 loss.
"We've got to keep shooting," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "You can't go into a shell and be afraid to throw it up out there. You need to see those kinds of things, but once that happens to you one time you're a little bit more diplomatic with your next throw."
Weeden can't afford to get into a shootout with Manning, who has a 103.5 pass rating. That's where the Browns' defense enters the picture.
It won't be an easy challenge trying to keep Manning under control. He can read defenses quickly, and blitzing is often futile because of his quick release.
"Everybody tries it (disguising coverages), not only against him but in every game," defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "Every team will try it, and sometimes you probably do fool him, but he's still pretty good with the ball.
"If you can just try to make him read your coverage once he gets the snap in his hands, he's plenty good enough. If you give him all kinds of indications prior to the snap, then he's even better than that. They're trying to hide what they're doing until he gets the ball in his hand, until the ball is snapped, and then you play and it's on from there."