Could Jason Campbell Take the Browns' Starting QB Job from Brandon Weeden?

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Could Jason Campbell Take the Browns' Starting QB Job from Brandon Weeden?
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Browns CEO Joe Banner said the competition for the starting quarterback job is real and that Jason Campbell could win it.

Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner said in radio interviews earlier this week that second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden will begin the offseason program as the starter, but that he'll need to compete for it to stay that way.

With the team bringing on free agent Jason Campbell, Weeden will face some serious pressure from an established veteran—a veteran who could do more than push him to become a better quarterback. Campbell could realistically beat Weeden out for the job.

While Weeden certainly has the edge to continue to be the Browns' starter, the presence of Campbell cannot make him feel completely secure.

Though Campbell has only once in his career surpassed the 3,385 passing yards Weeden amassed in 2012—in 2009, with the Washington Redskins, he had 3,618—and has played a total of just 12 games in the last two years, Campbell's experience and adaptability make him capable of taking Weeden's job if Weeden's offseason progress doesn't go as quickly or smoothly as hopes.

Though Campbell's seven years with three different teams haven't been particularly impressive, he's also been a victim of circumstances, including injuries and coaching changes, that haven't entirely given him the opportunity to fully showcase his skills.

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A collarbone break in 2011—against the Browns, ironically—ended what could have been Jason Campbell's career-best season.

For example, in his second year with the Oakland Raiders in 2011, Campbell seemed to be on his way to having an excellent season. He completed 100 of his 165 passes and had 1,170 yards in the first six games, making him pound-for-pound the 14th-best quarterback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

However, a broken collarbone knocked him off the field. Then the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer and Campbell's starting days came to an end.

Though the new offensive system being put in place by head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner seems to fit Weeden better, it will only work if Weeden can showcase his strong arm with accuracy.

Further, while Weeden's sample size is small, his average yards per attempt in his rookie year were 6.55, while Campbell's career average is 6.73. And Campbell was at or above seven yards in his three most significant seasons: 2009, 2010 and 2011. 

Granted, 6.73 yards isn't all that much better than 6.55, but Campbell's career-high 7.26 yards per attempt at least puts him alongside quarterbacks like Matt Schaub and Ben Roethlisberger (or, at least, their 2012 numbers).

Though Campbell isn't known for his deep passing ability—he attempted only 51 passes of 20 or more yards in 2010, his last season with double-digit starts, and completed just 14—he's shown the capacity to get the ball down the field. 

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Weeden seems the best-suited to play in Turner and Chudzinski's offense, but he needs to fix the errors from his rookie season to keep hold of the starting job.

The question is whether the new offensive system in Cleveland will result in Weeden looking more as he did in college than how he did in his rookie year, when he played the part of a West Coast-style quarterback rather than it being his natural role.

In 2010 and 2011, when he was the dedicated Oklahoma State starter, Weeden averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. If he can get that attempt average around eight this year, that will put him in the same category of passer as Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. Based on what we know of Campbell over the course of his NFL career, he probably cannot be pushed to make regular attempts of that distance. It does give Weeden an advantage, though, as long as he can execute the throws. 

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And that's the main concern here: Though system fit matters when it comes to a quarterback, execution ultimately trumps all. Though Campbell's execution over the course of his career has been inconsistent, it only takes one offseason of looking sharp for him to beat out Weeden if Weeden doesn't improve. 

There's no reason to believe that Weeden won't be able to handle this time of transition, take the reins of the offense and maintain control of the starting job for 2013. But Campbell's presence is a very real reminder of just how tenuous his grasp on it really is.

Campbell has been a starter in the past and has the skills to do so again, he just needs to be given his chance. It's up to Weeden to make sure that window of opportunity doesn't get opened, especially with the Browns brass publicly stating they're prepared for that possibility.

 

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