Brandon Weeden's experience as minor league pitcher taught him what it means to work hard to earn a job.
By PAT McMANAMONFS Ohio
Brandon Weeden stood at a podium at Cleveland
Browns minicamp and spoke about his days as a minor league pitcher in the New York Yankees organization.
He talked of guys who hit him well, then he was asked if he ever hit anybody intentionally.
Without hesitation, Weeden said, "Oh yeah."
Then he smiled, as if the notion of not using the brushback pitch was absurd.
"Trust me, I gave up too many home runs and too many base hits," he said. "I got it handed to me a little bit, so I had to come inside quite a bit."
It was a little — or perhaps a lot — revealing of the competitive nature of the quarterback the Browns drafted in the first round in April. It also reveals some of the reasons why the Browns ignored Weeden's age when taking him and instead considered it a positive, because the experience Weeden gained in baseball taught him much about life in professional sports and what it means to work to earn a job.
Weeden has been in the cramped quarters of minor league clubhouses. He has ridden buses from game to game. He's stayed in chintzy hotels on the road. He understands what it means to be highly regarded — he was a second-round pick in baseball — and have it not work out.
Weeden has yet to line up with James Harrison breathing fire in his face, or with Geno Atkins about to hit him in the gut, or with the Eagles and Steelers bringing blitzes from every angle. But through a rookie minicamp, OTAs and two days of a full-team minicamp, Weeden has shown the poise, presence and maturity the Browns clearly saw when they drafted him.
"I think I've seen what we expected," said coach Pat Shurmur, meaning the progression has been fine.
"It was going to take a minute to get going," Shurmur said. "He did a good job of getting it going. I think he understands our concepts. I think he's quickly getting a feel for his receivers. Some things have shown up in practice that may not be as obvious to the people who are not coaching it — (like) understand what each receiver can do and why you have mirrored routes and why you pick one side and not the other."
These are not small things, but important items a quarterback — even a 28-year-old rookie — has to understand in order to grasp the system. Shurmur said a minicamp practice to him is the same as any other practice — "Just another day of playing in the yard," he said — so Weeden still has to succeed in pads in full-speed work. But the fact he is grasping things quickly is a benefit.
So is his panache. He just seems to get it, either when he's relaxed with the media or with his teammates on the field. Asked if he's ever seen Mohamed Massaquoi before coming to Cleveland, Weeden said his Oklahoma State team once played in Georgia and "got smacked pretty good between the hedges." Asked about the toughest hitter he faced in minor league baseball, he said Ian Stewart "was probably 100 for 100 off of me." He described himself as even-keeled, and said that comes from pitching.
"Guys," he said. "I gave up a lot of home runs."
Weeden said he's received about 80 percent of the playbook, but cautions that "I guess I don't know what I don't know." He also talks of how he has told quarterback coach Mark Whipple the plays he's not comfortable running in the red zone.
"If I don't like it, I'm going to continue to tell them," he said. "Because if you're not comfortable as a quarterback throwing it, most coaches will tell you they won't call it."
And he talks about what Shurmur referenced, that he's understanding what certain receivers like to do. When he recognizes those routes, he asks the receiver to stay with him after practice to get in a few extra reps.
"I'm leap years farther along than I was day one, day two," he said. "You can tell I'm processing stuff a little bit faster and I'm not thinking quite as much."
Shurmur said he wants to name a starter "sooner than later" because it's important the offense be comfortable with him. But he gave no specific timeframe.
"Teams that are going into an offseason with a starter, that's the most ideal situation," Shurmur said. "But when you have new players that you really like, you just need to see them come in and do it before you make that move."
Weeden said he's not looking at himself as "the guy" because nothing is set. But from the day he stepped into the Browns facility he has acted like he belongs. He's done everything asked and expected of him.
Neither he nor Colt McCoy has done a thing to indicate the decision that Weeden will be named the starter is only a matter of if, not when.