How the Browns' Coaches and Coordinators Can Assure Brandon Weeden's Success
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Weeden may be nearly 30 years old, but he's a second-year quarterback dealing with the complexities of full regime change that came after Jimmy Haslam bought the Browns during the 2012 season.
The team's 2013 fate rests in his hands, which means the Browns coaching staff must do all it can to continue his development and turn him into the franchise quarterback the team has lacked for over a decade.
Let's take a look at how Turner and the rest of the Browns' coaching staff can help Weeden get ready to make a leap in 2013 and put the team in a position to contend in both the AFC North and the NFL for years to come.
Norv Turner, Offensive Coordinator
Since Turner's name has already been brought up, we may as well start with him. Turner said to Grossi that among the things that he and the coaching staff are working on with Weeden is to get him to speed up in his decision-making. Turner details how they plan to do this thusly:
First of all, the physical act of your drop(back), putting your foot in the ground, turning the ball loose. What helps speed that up is recognizing where we want to throw the ball and then making quick decisions.
Turner notes that Weeden's footwork has noticeably improved and that Weeden has the predictable issues of a shotgun-heavy college quarterback trying to transition to NFL play. There were few, if any, indications that Turner isn't enthusiastic about Weeden starting for the Browns this year. He appears wholly dedicated to turning him into one of the league's better passers.
For Weeden, that's just about perfect.
With continuous rumblings that general manager Michael Lombardi and team CEO Joe Banner are not sold on the idea of Weeden, it's important that the coaches publicly endorse him as much as possible if indeed he's their guy. Turner's comments to Grossi seem to indicate that there are no reservations among the coaching staff about Weeden's talent or potential.
Of course, a public endorsement needs to be justified by tangible results come the beginning of the season. Clearly, Turner already understands Weeden's strengths and weaknesses and is working to accentuate the former and eliminate the latter.
Speed is absolutely something Weeden must improve.
Passes must get out of his hands with a greater sense of urgency without lacking in accuracy. He needs to take the time he spent patting the ball before passes last year to reading his progression and anticipating his receivers.
Turner is highly qualified to get the most out of Weeden. His comments to Grossi belie his confidence that Weeden can meet his high standards.
Mike Sullivan and George Warhop, Offensive Line Coaches
If Weeden can get his timing issues under control, it won't matter much if the offensive line doesn't give him enough time to throw meaningful passes.
Luckily, the Browns' offensive line is mostly unchanged from its 2012 makeup, which ranked 12th in the league in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. The offensive line coaching staff also remained stable after the sale to Haslam.
George Warhop remains as offensive line coach; he's joined by Mike Sullivan, who formerly worked as a Browns assistant from 2001 to 2004 and again in 2007 through 2008. Another year in which the same offensive linemen and the same offensive line coaches work to keep Weeden protected means continuity.
There's no point in blowing up an entire coaching staff and front office without retaining any of the useful parts. That's what happened here with Warhop keeping his job and known Browns quantity, Sullivan, joining him. Just a slight improvement from the offensive line in 2013 will make Weeden's job that much easier.
Scott Turner, Wide Receivers Coach
The other important component to Weeden's success is having the right receivers catching his passes.
The Browns' young receiving corps underwent changes of their own this offseason, with Mohamed Massaquoi and sometimes-receiver Josh Cribbs both moving on. They added David Nelson in free agency and Davone Bess via trade to join second-year players Travis Benjamin, Josh Gordon and Josh Cooper and 2011 draft pick Greg Little.
Little has been criticized for his issues with dropping passes, but he improved in 2012, dropping nine passes to 14 in 2011. The main reason for this was the emergence of Gordon, who started slow (having not played college football in 2011) but became the team's true big-play threat, catching 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns and averaging 16.1 yards per reception.
Gordon must again be front and center in the Browns' passing offense this year, which means that players like Little, Benjamin and Bess must all be capable of drawing defensive attention away from him.
The major task for wide receivers coach Scott Turner (son of Norv) will be to continue to improve Gordon's game—primarily when it comes to route-running—while also helping to build chemistry among the receivers as a unit and between the receivers and Weeden.
John Settle, Running Backs Coach
Quarterbacks need more help than just what their receivers and offensive line can give them—they also benefit from a good running game. It's important to run the ball effectively to make things like play-action passes pay off.
John Settle, the Browns' running backs coach, joined the team after spending the previous two seasons with the Carolina Panthers and new Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, who was the Panthers' offensive coordinator.
His experience with big-name backs like DeAngelo Williams and and Jonathan Stewart (as well as with mobile quarterback Cam Newton) should serve the Browns and running backs Trent Richardson and Montario Hardesty well.
Last year, Richardson wasn't healthy, with first a preseason knee procedure and later broken ribs cutting into his effectiveness. At full health, Richardson should be more of a force; if the Browns can get him back into looking as he did at the University of Alabama, they'll have themselves a powerful weapon who can take some of the pressure off of Weeden.
Not to be forgotten, Norv Turner also has an acclaimed record of identifying and coaching up talented running backs. The combination of Turner running the overall offense and Settle joining him when it comes to the backs could make this a mean ground-and-pound team that is augmented by well-timed, deep passing from Weeden.
As Weeden continues to get his footing in the NFL, a good running game led by Richardson will allow him to do more with less.
Ray Horton, Defensive Coordinator
It's not just the coaches on the offensive side of the ball who can help Weeden this offseason—it's also the defense, namely coordinator Ray Horton.
Whether in padded practices or in shorts, Weeden will be spending his days with the first team this summer staring down Horton's swift pass-rushing defense. Horton's mantra is "attack," and his blueprint is the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was the secondary coach from 2004 until 2010.
If Horton's plan for Cleveland's defense works, Weeden will be seeing his fair share of blitzes and other sources of pressure. The more pressure he sees in practice, the better he can react to it in actual, live-game situations.
This will be a true trial-by-fire experience for Weeden in practices in summer. Horton's ability to install the defense he's been envisioning will not only make the Browns a strong team defensively, but it will also help prepare Weeden for the brutal pass rushes that quarterbacks must be comfortable facing.
Rob Chudzinski, Head Coach
Last and most certainly not least is Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski.
He's the man who must answer for what his assistants and coordinators can accomplish and for how every player on the Browns roster performs on the field. His job rests on Weeden's ability to improve in 2013.
Chudzinski, a former Browns tight ends coach and Ohio native, is certainly enthusiastic about his new job. He's also well qualified for it, having also worked as Norv Turner's tight ends and assistant head coach for the San Diego Chargers and, as noted above, the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator.
Though Norv is an architect of the Browns' offense, he's also tasked with realizing Chudzinski's vision. Downfield passing, big plays and capable consistent running should be the hallmarks of this team this year, but it all depends on the accurate execution by the players.
Offensively speaking, this starts with Weeden. But it also rests on the shoulders of his coaching staff, who must all buy in to Chudzinski's plan. Chudzinski will also play a major role when it comes to ironing out Weeden's problems with his fundamentals and molding him into the Philip Rivers-style quarterback the Browns likely want him to become.
As you can see, it's not just Norv Tuner and Chudzinski who must help Weeden succeed; it's the entirety of Cleveland's coaching staff. It's important to all of their jobs that Weeden has a strong sophomore season. A team is just that, of course, and the different coaches and positions cannot operate in a vacuum and hope to work well together when the season begins.
When it comes to developing a quarterback, it's like parenting—it takes a village.
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