How Brandon Weeden Can Hold off Jason Campbell, Keep Starting QB Gig
Barring a free agent acquisition, trade or selection in this month's draft, the Cleveland Browns will be going into training camp with second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden and veteran Jason Campbell as their top two quarterbacks.
At first look, it doesn't look like ideal competition. Weeden may be a second-year player but he's only two years younger than Campbell, who hasn't exactly panned out since being selected No. 25 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. But a deeper look reveals something more: a potential starter in Weeden.
Weeden's 2012 tape was mixed but he showed flashes of the talent that convinced the Browns to take him in the first round. He threw the ball all over the field, short to deep, and was tough in the pocket.
At times, he was calm in the pocket under duress and made eye-popping throws that sliced the middle of the field. He showed the ability to scan the entire field and find his outlet receiver when other options weren't open. He also showed improvisational skills and a complete understanding of where all of his targets were when plays broke down.
That's what the coaching staff hopes to see from their first-year quarterback. There's one problem though: there's a new coaching staff.
The new staff, led by head coach Rob Chudzinski, has no money or emotions invested into him, which is precisely why he's not a lock for the starting job. It's why when they review his 2012 film, they'll do it with a critical eye. They'll notice mistakes that he made and will have to clean up if he will hold off Campbell for the starting job.
Sometimes the game was too fast for Weeden. He went through his reads too quickly, looking like Chad Henne when he first came to the Miami Dolphins. Too quick to check down, too quick to get rid of it out of bounds.
The former was an issue on multiple occasions, such as against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9.
The offense is in the red zone and Weeden is under center, ready to take the snap and throw the football.
Nearly five yards behind him is running back Trent Richardson, who will run a flat route to draw the linebacker assigned to him outside, and to the far left are slot and outside pass-catchers.
The slot will run a shallow crossing route that's designed to clear out the cornerback (Cary Williams) covering him.
The outside receiver will run a curl route that clears out the safety assigned to him.
When the play begins, Weeden drops back and scans the field from the middle of the field to the left. First the slot receiver is eyeballed and then the outside receiver's curl route. The outside receiver should be the one who ends up getting the ball because after he beats the cornerback, he's wide open as he's working back to the quarterback.
This is where the problem with Weeden arises. He goes too fast through his reads and ends up bypassing the throw to the outside receiver. The reason he was open is because the slot receiver drew the attention in the middle of the field and the running back drew the attention in the flat.
But Weeden doesn't throw it. Instead he tries to check the ball down and ends up throwing it behind the running back for an incomplete pass.
The throw to the outside receiver must be made in this situation. Weeden has potentially left points on the scoreboard because he didn't make the throw.
If Weeden's going to win the starting job, he'll also have to improve his footwork. It wasn't always pretty and that was expected. He was a rookie, after all, and he came out of a spread offense that featured few deep dropbacks. But there were times when basic fundamentals were in question.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12, Weeden showed poor footwork on a particular deep missed attempt. It was early in the first quarter and he was executing a play-action pass. Once he faked the hand off, he whipped his head around and prepared to unleash his impressive arm strength.
He climbed the pocket and stepped forward with his left foot. Once he stepped forward with the left foot, the lead foot, he rotated his hips and brought his weight to forward.
It's what he's taught to do. But what he's not taught is lift his back leg prior to releasing the ball. It affects the velocity and accuracy of the throw because his weight ends up being too far forward, as one can tell by looking at his shoulders and the lack of flexibility in his front leg.
The result is poor throw.
Footwork is vital to the success of a quarterback and it's the first of the two areas of his game he'll have to improve. If he does improve on it, then there's a potential starting gig because he has other tools that are valuable, such as his arm strength.
Weeden's arm strength was one of the areas that stood out when he came out of Oklahoma State last year. It was arguably the best trait he had and one that's valuable to coaches because it allows them to open the playbook up.
One of his best throws from this past season came against the Ravens in the same game previously discussed. It was an 18-yard strike in the seam against Cover 0 blitz. The play was called back because of an illegal formation but it didn't take away from the great throw he made.
The Browns are in an empty formation on this play, with Weeden as the lone player in the backfield. He's standing in shotgun and will be targeting slot receiver Josh Gordon on this play. Gordon, lined up across nickel cornerback Corey Graham, will run a post pattern against man coverage.
When the play begins, Weeden catches the snap and is immediately faced with pressure. The offensive line split when the Ravens blitzed six. That left inside linebacker Jameel McClain as a free rusher down the middle, which forced Weeden to get rid of it quickly.
That he did, as he dropped back and threw the football before Gordon broke off his route to the inside.
It was a sign of anticipation and an understanding of where his receiver was going to be. It's the type of play that quarterbacks have to make to survive as starters in the NFL and Weeden made it with precision.
When Rob Chudzinski and his staff start rolling the film of that game, they'll most certainly notice the throw. It's hard to ignore the arm strength, anticipation, awareness and understanding of the game.
It's what starting quarterbacks are made of, which is what Weeden can be if he continues to improve.
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