No ordinary rookie, Weeden takes control of Browns
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Brandon Weeden once dreamed of wearing blue Yankees pinstripes.
He settled for a logo-less orange helmet.
Despite a high-powered right arm that got him drafted out of high school in the second round by the New York Yankees, Weeden's baseball career fizzled out in the low minor leagues, where hitters weren't fooled by a 95 mph fastball that sometimes left the ballpark at an even higher rate of speed.
"I gave up some bombs,'' he said.
The Browns, who have spent 13 years searching for a franchise quarterback, are counting on Weeden delivering a different kind of long ball.
Although he hasn't officially been declared Cleveland's starter, and Colt McCoy remains on the roster, Weeden will begin training camp this month as the Browns' presumptive No. 1 quarterback, a soon-to-be 29-year-old rookie they believe could finally end years of futility for a once-proud organization that has yet to make the Super Bowl and a loyal fan base out of patience.
"We know he knows how to compete,'' said second-year coach Pat Shurmur, whose future could hinge on Weeden's success - or failure.
Selected with No. 22 overall pick in April's draft - much earlier than predicted - Weeden impressed the Browns' coaching staff and teammates during offseason minicamps with his accuracy and intellect. He displayed a nice touch on short tosses and showed off his long-range capability by launching a few 60-yard throws.
He looked and acted the part, which didn't surprise former Oklahoma State teammate Justin Blackmon.
"He's got a strong arm and makes great decisions and he knows how to put the ball in the right spot at the right time,'' said Blackmon, Weeden's primary target in college now with Jacksonville. "I wouldn't trade him for anyone. He can throw the ball from sideline to sideline and with lots of velocity and speed. He can put it there. He knows how read the coverage and makes smart decisions.
"He loves to compete.''
Shurmur has been adamant in saying he won't hand Weeden the starting job, but the Browns didn't take him in the first round to sit on the bench or groom him for the future. Not at his age, and the Browns are confident he'll be ready when they open against Philadelphia on Sept. 9.
On Tuesday, Weeden signed a four-year, $8.1 million contract.
"Instead of waiting and rolling the dice just a little bit and seeing another way to go, we said, `Let's not run the risk and take Brandon at No. 22,''' Browns president Mike Holmgren said. "We're very excited to have him. How he's different than all the other quarterbacks that were drafted ahead of him or behind him is his age and maturity.''
Weeden had better be the right pick. The Browns can't afford to waste any more time that they already have in stabilizing the game's most important position. Since 1999, Cleveland has had 16 different quarterbacks start games.
It's imperative the Browns get Weeden as many reps as possible during camp, which is why it's likely the team will move McCoy, who has gone 5-16 in two seasons as a starter, before they get too deep into the summer. Weeden must also quickly develop chemistry with Cleveland's receiving corps, now a little deeper after the team selected former Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon in the recent NFL supplemental draft.
Before they took Weeden, the Browns tried but failed to move up in the draft to get quarterback Robert Griffin III. When that failed, they were determined not to let running back Trent Richardson slip away and moved up to No. 3 to pick the former Alabama star, who could have a greater impact as a rookie than Weeden.
Richardson, who came from the same Florida high school that produced Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, aspires to one day join his idol with a bronze bust in Canton - no matter what Jim Brown says.
Just before the draft, Brown, the greatest Cleveland Brown of them all, called Richardson "ordinary'' and questioned why his former team would use a high pick on him.
Richardson, to his credit, never challenged Brown's puzzling comments. In fact, Richardson is using them as motivation.
"I've got big shoes to fill. I don't dislike Jim Brown for his comments on me,'' Richardson said. "He's just pushing me to the limit. He's going to make sure I'm going to work and make sure he can get everything he can out of me as far as me being in Cleveland.''
The Browns' running game was awful last season as injuries and other distractions prevented Peyton Hillis from coming close to matching his 1,177-yard season in 2010. Richardson should expect to get 20 to 25 carries per game under new offensive coordinator Brad Childress.
On defense, the Browns must plug a gaping hole - and a crevice - during camp. Massive tackle Phil Taylor is expected to miss at least half the season after tearing a biceps muscle lifting weights. Veteran backup Scott Paxson and rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn will compete to hold down Taylor's spot.
With NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upholding linebacker Scott Fujita's suspension for his involvement in the Saints' bounty scandal, the Browns need to find someone to anchor the strong side for the season's first three games - and future. Kaluka Maiava, who has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons, will get first crack with rookies James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho on deck.