Playoffs? It has been mentioned
We’re six days into training camp and it’s still unclear what to expect from the Browns this season.
My guess every year is 5-11, which is usually close or dead on. The last year in which the Browns weren’t 5-11 or 4-12 was 2007 when they went 10-6.
There’s a different feel this year on the seasonally inclement practice fields in Berea. You have linebacker Paul Kruger saying the defense can be as good as the Baltimore Ravens’ unit for which he used to play. A few players have mentioned playoffs without choking on the word.
There’s a lot to like, especially on the defensive side. The unit was solid last season and would have been better with more support from an anemic offense. The additions of Kruger, lineman Desmond Bryant, linebacker Quentin Groves, linebacker Barkevious Mingo and the switch of Jabaal Sheard from end to linebacker makes you believe that Kruger may be on to something with his Ravens’ comparison.
The biggest concern – when hasn’t it been? – is at quarterback. Brandon Weeden has stood above Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer in just five practices, but compared to the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFL, he’s a few notches below.
Training camp is basically touch football, which means it should favor offenses. No quarterback gets sacked or blind-sided. Drive-by sacks of which Groves had about three Monday are simply chances for quarterbacks to step farther into the pocket and receivers to extend their routes.
The top quarterbacks can have days when the ball rarely touches the ground. For them, it’s like a pitch-and-catch session.
Nothing like that ever occurred in the previous 14 training camps conducted by five different head coaches, and it hasn’t happened during this camp. More balls hit the field at Browns’ camps than they do in the FIFA World Cup. Derek Anderson might have had a Pro Bowl season in 2007, but he threw passes to more than one blonde in the front row during camp.
Weeden is being given every opportunity to change that trend in his second NFL season. The offseason spin was that working with first-year coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will make a difference. Weeden will be in the shotgun more than last year, we’ve been told. Turner will tweak his foot mechanics and get him to release the ball quicker.
So far there hasn’t been a noticeable difference. There are times when Weeden looks legit, putting zip on a deep out to Josh Gordon. There are other times when he falls into 2012 mode, which is to hold the ball too long and then throw off target.
In all fairness, Weeden is still a puppy in learning the NFL style, despite being 29. He does look slightly better than last year, when he waged a battle with Colt McCoy to see which one threw the fewest interceptions.
An optimist’s take would be that the defense is always ahead of the offense at this point because of the relative simplicity of that side of the ball compared to the complexities of pro-style offenses. The offense is switching from the West Coast style used last season under coach Pat Shurmur to Air Coryell, which is like speaking Spanish one year and learning German the next.
Weeden and the receivers need to be given more time to learn the new system and develop a comfort zone. Although his final numbers last year ranked near the bottom of all NFL quarterbacks (a 72.6 passer rating), you might recall that through the Indianapolis game of week seven he had played as well as Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Somehow Chudzinski and Turner need to get Weeden back to that point of last October when he was flinging the ball around the field with accuracy and a noticeable degree of confidence.
Given the quarterback play in Cleveland since 1999, it’s only fair to be skeptical.