Weeden showing improvements in new system
Think what it must be like to be in another country and not know how to order dinner.
That’s kind of what Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden felt like the first time he opened up his playbook after Rob Chudzinski was named coach. While all offenses essentially run the same plays, the way those plays are called can be as different as night and day.
“Imagine going to Spanish course one hour and turning around and going to Russian,” Weeden said. “It’s still football. At the end of the day you’re still throwing a lot of the same routes. It’s just different verbiage.
“They’re both good systems. I think this one fits who we have really, really well. There’s nothing the same from last year to this year.”
It sounds kind of confusing the way Weeden describes the change from the west coast offense of former coach Pat Shurmur to the Air Coryell offense being installed by Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner, a long-time disciple of the Coryell system.
The system received its name from the late Don Coryell, a former coach of the San Diego Chargers. Coryell tweaked the system devised by the late Sid Gillman, a coach in the AFL and NFL known for his belief in stretching defenses.
Weeden said that all systems essentially run the same plays, but the wording is what makes them different. Systems also are distinguished by the preferred style of each coach. The west coast system developed by the late Bill Walsh relies on horizontal, timing routes. Air Coryell places more of an emphasis on deeper, vertical throws.
Weeden, with his strong right arm and familiarity with the shotgun formation, looked miscast last season in the west coast offense. Now that he’s lining up in the shotgun more frequently and is allowed to test his right arm with deeper passes, the results have been impressive.
“Brandon has done a nice job to this point with everything we’ve asked him to do,” Chudzinski said. “Certainly it hasn’t been perfect, but learning and applying it on the field and listening to Norv holler at him and to be able to make those corrections, you see progress.
“He’s getting the ball out quicker. He’s sped up his delivery. From a mental standpoint and from a comfort level you can see it when he’s operating.”
It’s noticeably evident that Weeden is more comfortable and more effective in the Coryell offense. On an average pass play at least three receivers will run vertically, with one usually breaking on an in, out or curl route at 15 yards while the others go deeper with either corner, post or go routes. One back normally runs a short swing or flat route as a safety valve.
Most of Weeden’s passes have traveled at least 15 yards. It’s a great use of his strong arm and instinct to let it loose.
Turner has been on Weeden to speed up his delivery by improving his footwork and increasing his awareness of the pattern development of the receivers.
“It all results in good timing, and if you throw the ball on time, the success rate is a lot higher,” Weeden said. “Norv is still harping on the feet and getting the ball out quick and getting the ball in their hands, which is the way this offense works.”
In theory, the Coryell system wouldn’t seem to lend itself to as high a completion percentage as the west coast. Weeden hopes to prove that thinking wrong, which will mean improving on his 57.4 percent completion average last season. When 70 percent was mentioned as a benchmark, Weeden said he would be ecstatic to reach that figure.
The 70-percent mark is actually beyond the bounds of a realistic goal. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who had a league-best 108.0 passer rating in 2012, completed 67.2 percent of his passes. Peyton Manning completed a league-best 68.6 percent of his throws for the Denver Broncos.
For the Coryell system to work best, it helps to have big receivers. Weeden is fortunate in having Josh Gordon (6-3), Greg Little (6-2) and Davey Nelson (6-5) among his targets.
Ironically, the receiver Weeden singled out for having an outstanding offseason was Travis Benjamin, who’s listed at a charitable 5-10 on the roster.
“Don’t quote me on this, but I would say Travis has as many if not more catches than anyone in camp,” Weeden said. “His route running is phenomenal, probably because he’s so fast. Guys have to honor him running by them. He gets in and out of breaks so well.”
Weeden’s improvement mirrors the strides made by backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. Far fewer balls hit the ground during this week’s minicamp than during any three-day stretch in training camp last year.
“That group, overall, has probably been one of the best groups from a chemistry standpoint that I’ve been around at quarterback,” Chudzinski said. “They work together. They’re always talking to each other and helping each other out. There’s a good vibe in that room.”
Now we’ll see how it plays out when training camp opens in late July.