A Trip to Derek Anderson's Past

Chike ErokwuContributor IOctober 29, 2008

During the late Sunday night hours, a plane destined from Jacksonville made its way to Hopkins International Airport. On that plane, a 6 foot 6 quarterback from Scappoose Oregon rested easy – a small grin most likely hidden within his tired features. One hour and forty minutes later, the plane landed in Cleveland. It was at that moment Derek Anderson and the Cleveland Browns had both literally and figuratively arrived.

Hours ago, Derek Anderson and the Browns were entangled in a physical battle with the well-rested Jacksonville Jaguars. The two AFC teams clashed for the better part of 3 hours in the sweltering Florida heat. A few outstanding plays by Shaun Rogers and Brandon McDonald later, Cleveland emerged victorious – winning their 3rd game in 4 tries.

The leader of the Cleveland offense, which churned out 327 total yards in a season-saving victory, was the 6th round draft pick from Oregon State. This is the story of Derek Anderson’s return to Pro Bowl form. Anderson’s voyage to this point has been a turbulent one, filled with many ups and downs. In order to fully appreciate the Oregon native, it is crucial to understand just where he came from.

Derek Anderson delivers against the Jacksonville Jaguars
in a 23-17 Cleveland Browns victory.

Derek Anderson entered the league in 2005 as the 213th overall selection by the Baltimore Ravens. His physical gifts caught the eye of Browns general manager Phil Savage, who scouted Anderson during his time in Baltimore. Anderson was viewed as a developmental project – one the Ravens had little interest in. Derek Anderson was shortly released by Baltimore, and the Browns wasted little time in signing him to a contract.

Derek spent the better part of the next two seasons as a backup quarterback in Cleveland. As is the case with most backups, a key injury thrust him into the spotlight. Incumbent Charlie Frye sprained his wrist on a cold December meeting with Kansas City in ‘06, and Anderson was left to take over as the starting quarterback.

And he did not disappoint.

In his first NFL game, Derek Anderson marched the Browns down the field in a thrilling comeback victory against the Chiefs – 31-28. He went on to start the rest of the games that season – gaining valuable experience while learning the intricacies of the NFL.

With Derek Anderson still being an unknown commodity, the Browns invested a first round pick in Brady Quinn, the standout quarterback from Notre Dame. Contract disputes and salary negotiations kept Quinn off the field, which gave Anderson a chance to showcase his abilities.

In his first year with newly appointed offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Derek Anderson took the NFL by storm. Anderson threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns en route to the first Pro Bowl appearance of his young career.

Despite Anderson’s stellar statistical season, his play at the end of the year left Browns fans skeptical. In a must-win week 16 match up against the Cincinnati Bengals, Anderson regressed – throwing 4 interceptions and effectively ending the Browns’ post season aspirations.

Heartbreak aside, Phil Savage and the Browns rewarded Derek Anderson with a three year contract extension at the end of the 2007 season. The new contract brought new expectations with it, and the Browns were ready to pick up right where they left off the previous year.

Key injuries coupled with a significantly tougher schedule lead to a 0-3 start for Anderson and the Browns. The once dynamic offense stood thoroughly crippled, and Derek Anderson bore most of the blame. After throwing three interceptions in a Week 3 loss to the Ravens, Cleveland fans and media called for the Dublin Ohio native – Brady Quinn.

The adversity propelled Derek to resume his play at a high level. Anderson and the Browns avenged their crushing loss in Cincinnati shortly thereafter. The victory against the Bengals in Week 4 proved to be a spark for the offense, as the Browns took the next two of three games from their opponents. Anderson has not thrown an interception since.

The upstart 3-4 Browns look to continue their winning ways this Sunday as they face off against Derek Anderson’s former team – the Baltimore Ravens. Anderson is a completely different quarterback than the one Baltimore cut in 2005, and this game is the perfect time for him to display that.

From Oregon to Ohio, Derek Anderson has traveled a long way to make it as a quarterback. His journey comes full circle on Sunday, when he faces the same Ravens team that drafted him nearly 4 years ago. If Anderson can rid himself of the baggage that plagued him then, he just might prove that Cleveland is his final destination.