By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Under the microscope: It’s easy to get fixated on Brandon Weeden’s age, but it’s important not to.
At 28, he’s the oldest player ever taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Weeden is one year older than Roger Staubach when he completed his five years in the Navy and joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1968. He’s the same age as Kurt Warner when the former Arena League quarterback and Hy-Vee grocery bagger got his shot as starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.
Weeden is older than 14 NFL starting quarterbacks.
But he did a good job of convincing me that his age will be a positive, not a negative, as he embarks on lifting the Browns out of their doldrums. Barring an unforeseen development, he will be the club’s 11th opening game starter in 14 years – and fifth in five years.
“My baseball background, what I’ve been through, the adversity I’ve been around really prepares me for what I’m about to go through,” Weeden said. “Being 28 is an advantage. My body is still fresh. I still have a lot of football in my tank. I never saw any negatives (in his age). I see it as a positive.”
No, the age isn’t the biggest risk with Weeden. His age isn’t the problem.
Big adjustment ahead: Dane Brugler is a young draft analyst who studies players’ game film almost as much as NFL scouts. He also is a closet Browns fan from Youngstown. Brugler called the selection of Weeden at No. 22 in the first round of the draft “really confusing … a huge risk.”
“Weeden will have to do things in the NFL that he never was asked to do in college,” Brugler said. “He’s got to take the ball under center, go through his progressions, and be able to reset his feet under pressure.”
At Oklahoma State, Weeden typically worked out of the shotgun formation, had one look at a receiver, sometimes two, and threw.
“I watched eight or nine Oklahoma State games. I can think of single-digit times he was under center,” Brugler said. “Ninety percent of the time he was in the shotgun. Andy Dalton at Texas Christian was close to 50 percent.
“At Oklahoma State, you’re not asked to read defenses. It’s pitch and catch. A lot of pre-determined throws. It was one, maybe two reads. You don’t have to read blitzes. When he faced pressure, his effectiveness went down considerably.
“Can he learn to reset his feet and throw into tight windows under pressure? You need to be able to move around a little bit especially in the West Coast offense. I’m not saying he can’t do it. It’s just that he wasn’t asked to do it at Oklahoma State. So that’s the risk.
“Mechanically, Weeden is good. He’s big enough, has the arm strength and the follow-through. They’re all NFL quality. There’s no issue with that. It comes down to things he’ll be asked to do. You just haven’t seen it yet.”
Needs to be coached up: Dalton overcame these obstacles and had a Pro Bowl-alternate year as a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals under first-year coordinator Jay Gruden.
Cam Newton did the same with the Carolina Panthers under Rob Chudzinski, the former Browns coordinator. Actually, Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy in Auburn’s shotgun, one-read offense, turned in the greatest season for a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
So now that Weeden is in the fold, the Browns have to coach him up. No team in the NFL has as many quarterback “gurus” as the Browns. There’s President Mike Holmgren, coach Pat Shurmur, quarterback coach Mark Whipple and now coordinator Brad Childress.
You would think that between the four of them, Weeden can be coached to make the transition seamlessly. Cleveland has got to stop being the place where quarterbacks come to die.
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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