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Browns' Weeden prepared for second season opener

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BEREA, Ohio (AP)

Brandon Weeden's most vivid recollection of his NFL debut was an embarrassing sack.

And it came before the opening kickoff.

As he was warming up to face the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago, Cleveland's then-rookie quarterback got trapped under a giant American flag being unfurled and carried onto the field.

''I kind of keep my eyes open for those kinds of things now,'' Weeden said with a laugh, recalling the moment. ''It started bad and I just didn't play well.''

Weeden threw four interceptions, posted a meager 5.1 rating and had Browns fans mourning that the club ended up with the former minor league baseball player and not Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III as their QB. Despite Weeden's poor performance, the Browns only lost 17-16 to an Eagles team that fell far short of expectations.

Weeden said much of his first pro game was a blur - literally.

''It was fast, I remember,'' he said Tuesday as the Browns prepared for their season opener on Sunday against Miami. ''That defense was fast. It didn't go well, but as bad as we played, we still had a chance to win and obviously we weren't able to do it.''

Weeden is hoping for a better result this week as the Browns begin yet another era, this one under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski.

Only a month from turning 30, Weeden looks and feels like a different player as he enters his second season. Last year was tough, but he thinks the experience made him tougher and therefore more prepared to handle anything - defensive fronts, blitzes or criticism - that comes his way this season.

''I think I've gotten better,'' he said. ''It comes with reps. It comes with experience and it comes with seeing things for several times because in that Philly game, it was so fast because it was my first time in the fire and you kind of get better each time you get reps and I'm excited.

''I'm excited about starting Year 2.''

At one point, it wasn't so certain he would be the one behind center for the opener.

Weeden's uneven rookie season - a 5-10 record as a starter, 3,385 yards with 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions - was followed by a lukewarm endorsement from Cleveland's new front office and coaching staff. The Browns signed veterans Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer in the offseason to put pressure on Weeden, the fourth QB taken in the 2012 draft.

The Browns needed improvement in Weeden across the board. They wanted to see a stronger work ethic, better decision making, more leadership.

Weeden delivered throughout training camp and the preseason, earning him a second shot as Cleveland's starter. It's a job he cherishes and wants to hang on to as long as possible.

As the season nears, he feels better equipped for the role. The ups and downs of last season have given Weeden balance.

Experience has brought him confidence. He has better understanding of how to read a defense and, more importantly, what it takes to be an NFL starter, on and off the field.

''From a leadership standpoint, if something's not right, it's my job to make it right, whether it's motion or somebody lines up wrong,'' he said. ''Last year, I was so worried about what we were doing and not making a mistake from my end. It's comfort, understanding of this offense and all of those things.''

Chudzinski has been somewhat restrained in his praise of Weeden, who must continue to grow if the Browns are to snap their streak of double-digit loss seasons and compete in the brutal AFC North. But Chudzinski does expect to see an upgraded Weeden, starting this Sunday against the Dolphins.

''He's come a long way and (is) really improving as a player,'' he said. ''He's grabbed ahold of the offense. I'm really looking forward to seeing him out there on Sunday.

''He's right on track.''

Weeden won't have one of his primary targets this week as wide receiver Josh Gordon begins serving his two-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy. Weeden and Gordon have developed chemistry that will be put on hold.

''I'm not going to lie. It hurts,'' Weeden said. ''He's a talented player. He's a guy that we're going to rely on for the 14 games after he comes back to be a big emphasis in this offense. But that being said, my confidence in the other guys who are going to step in there is just as high.

''It's not an ideal situation, but I've got a lot of confidence in the guys that are taking his spot.''

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NOTES: K Billy Cundiff is undaunted by the challenge of replacing Phil Dawson, the Browns' best field-goal kicker and second-leading career scorer. Cundiff, who signed with the club Tuesday, filled in for five games in 2009 when Dawson was out with a strained calf. ''It's a good thing to come in after a guy who's played at such a high level because the bar's set really high and you've got to bring your game up,'' said Cundiff, who also took over for Matt Stover in Baltimore. ''Regardless of what team you're on, you have to kick at a high level.'' ... Rookie LB Barkevious Mingo was limited again in practice as he eases his way back from a bruised lung. The No. 6 overall pick took part in some non-contact drills during the portion open to media. Mingo's status may not be known until he undergoes further medical tests. Mingo was injured in Aug. 15.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Colts, 49ers, Phil Dawson, Billy Cundiff, Browns, Brandon Weeden

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