Cleveland Browns OTAs: 5 Reasons Brandon Weeden Will Start on Opening Day
"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."—Mark Twain
Brandon Weeden should take the first snap of the 2012 season for the Cleveland Browns. Not exclusively based on his age, Colt McCoy's ineptitude or the fact that the Browns invested a first round draft pick in the 28-year-old former minor league baseball player, but perhaps because of a combination of those factors.
With an offense featuring some interesting upgrades at several key positions, understanding what exactly they have in Brandon Weeden is imperative to Cleveland over the 2012 season. Perhaps more important even than short-term success is finding out whether or not Weeden can take this team to the playoffs.
Can Weeden tag the Steelers on a snowy night at Heinz Field? Will Brandon Weeden lace a strike past Ed Reed to a streaking Travis Benjamin or Greg Little? Time will tell, but the Browns have shown every faith they believe Weeden to be just that kind of player.
So what are the expectations for Weeden? Frankly, they're astronomical. Browns fans have suffered under the reign of plug-and-play gunslingers like Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton/Carson Palmer for a decade.
What will skew our perspective is the reality that those teams already featured staunch defenses and strong running games before acquiring those household names.
So, what should we expect from Weeden at minimum?
One, that he put up big league numbers; the days of developing a quarterback over multiple seasons clearly have taken a backseat to instant success.
Two, that Weeden win games in volume. If Weeden loses, he'd better put up Cam Newton-like passing numbers to avoid criticism. If the Browns even sniff .500, he can throw for 100 yards a game and last the season. Six wins should suffice, but seven would create a veritable buzz next offseason.
Three, Weeden must beat the twin bête noirs that are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Slay one of those dragons and win five more games, earn a free pass to season two of player development.
So why should the Browns get the ball rolling now and scrap the "competition," song and dance?
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1. Colt McCoy Is a Known Quantity
Colt McCoy's a decent quarterback, an opinion of mine I've never kept secret. The Browns know they probably won't lose any particular game primarily because McCoy lined up under center. He's solid.
McCoy's even beaten some decent competition in his day. But did McCoy ever absolutely overwhelm a team with his ability to hit receivers on a dime?
Watching the Browns, did we get the feeling that the offense could score from anywhere at any time? McCoy looked like a tough customer getting the job done with a rickety cockpit in his first two years as a Cleveland Brown.
Should Brandon Weeden completely implode, the Browns can still build their offense with McCoy at the helm. While he may not be a Pro Bowl-level talent, McCoy is a legitimate pro and not a bad alternative to Weeden.
The main question is, what is Colt McCoy going to prove in 2012 that we don't already know about him?
And the follow up to that is, would this new information even be relevant, given that the Browns would have to wait to find out on a 28-year-old first round pick in order to see what McCoy could do with some new players around him?
McCoy can play, we know that. But we really need to find out what we have in Brandon Weeden. Now.
2. Brandon Weeden Needs the Reps
After a career playing from the shotgun in a college-style spread offense, Brandon Weeden needs all the reps he can get to acclimate himself to his under-center NFL surroundings.
The Cleveland media recently wet themselves over Weeden fumbling some snaps in rookie OTAs earlier in May, but the root of concern is legitimate if a little exaggerated.
Not only does Weeden need the reps to develop, but as we mentioned earlier, the Browns need to evaluate Weeden's potential to start at quarterback for the long-term. If he's not their man, it's clearly back to the drawing board, as the Browns wouldn't have hotly pursued Robert Griffin III and then taken Weeden with the 22nd pick were they comfortable with McCoy in the long term.
Philadelphia will prove a nice test for the rookie in his first game, with a defensive backfield that's expensive and famous, if not the league's stingiest.
3. It Avoids Bringing Weeden in Via Shakeup
The Browns drafted Weeden in the first round. We can repeat that fact only so many times.
That translates to a certain level of inevitability when it comes to a timetable of "when does this guy see the field?" The fact that this particular candidate is older than many NFL retirees demands a considerable acceleration of that process.
Simply put, Brandon Weeden's going to be the starter sooner or later.
Why put the team through a transition period in-season when this can be something everyone's had months to adjust to?
Why split the reps, dash the hopes, when you can have a grown-up conversation with the other quarterbacks about their roles on the team?
Even if Brandon Weeden turns out to be the next Chris Weinke, it's better to know this after a 3-13 2012 than a 2-14 2013.
4. Other Pieces Must Adjust to Weeden
Greg Little could prove one of the NFL's breakout players of the year, particularly if Trent Richardson helps the Browns establish a credible play-action and Weeden's arm meets expectations.
Travis Benjamin will have to work to find a role in a receiving corps that has frustrated fans since the relative glory days of 2007. Even in those exciting times, Braylon Edwards still managed to drop a crucial pass here or there.
With Little and Benjamin, the Browns have found two nice under-the-radar receiving talents later in the draft. This augurs well at a position particularly renowned for it's unreliable success rate in the first round.
These young receivers must establish the kind of rhythm and timing so essential to the West Cost Offense if they're to develop and thrive on the North Coast this fall.
5. You Can't Afford an Early Winning Streak Under McCoy
Suppose the Browns start Colt McCoy to begin the 2012 campaign.
Then they win a game. And another. They lose week three to Buffalo in a tough one but the following week Cleveland accomplishes the unthinkable and beats Baltimore.
We're a quarter of the way through the season, Brandon Weeden is 29 and the Cleveland Browns are no longer looking for a quarterback.
Again, if Weeden turns out to be a dud, at least we'd know by November.
But if McCoy does well early, Weeden could be out until next year, then who knows.
We shouldn't be afraid of winning games, that's not at all what I'm saying. My contention is that in the short run, should McCoy establish some momentum as the starter, Brandon Weeden's already small window would shrink even more.
The object is to win games, not hit on every draft pick. But in this case, the Browns should fear short-term success under certain conditions.
More comfortable with the regularity of losing than exotic, unexpected success? Oy vey, life as a Browns fan.