If all goes as expected, Brandon Weeden should be the starting quarterback on Sept. 9th.
By THE SPORTS XCHANGEFS Ohio
If all goes as planned on Sept. 9, Brandon Weeden will become the 11th quarterback in 14 years to start a season opener for the Browns.
Put another way, the last quarterback to start back-to-back openers for the Browns was Charlie Frye in 2006 and '07, and he played so poorly against the Steelers in the 2007 opener he was benched in the second quarter and traded to Seattle two days later.
The mission of the 2012 offseason for the Browns was to make the quarterback carousel - and the losing - stop. Not surprisingly, with all the quarterback changes, they have had only two winning seasons in 13 years.
General manager Tom Heckert made a strong pitch to the Rams for the second draft pick with the idea of using it on Robert Griffin III. He offered picks 4 and 22 this year plus the Browns' first-round pick in 2013.
When the Rams rejected the offer and dealt with the Redskins instead, Heckert decided to go in a different direction. He bundled three late picks and the fourth pick to move up one slot in a trade with the Vikings so he could draft running back Trent Richardson from Alabama. He held onto the 22nd pick and used it on Weeden, the 28-year-old quarterback from Oklahoma State.
Critics said Heckert could have waited to the 37th pick for Weeden, but he did not want to take that chance. Missing on Weeden would have meant another year of Colt McCoy or possibly Seneca Wallace as the starter and that is something the Browns did not want.
Weeden has not been declared the starter yet, but that is definitely in the forecast. He and Richardson are the present and the future for the Browns.
Heckert plus team president Mike Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur realize that to close the gap on the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals - all three AFC North teams made the playoffs last year - the Browns had to get better at quarterback, even if the turnaround from 4-12 last year isn't profound in 2012. Andy Dalton started for the Bengals last year and became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win at least eight games and throw 20 touchdown passes. That is something for Weeden to shoot for.
The Browns did not stop at Richardson and Weeden. Heckert used the 37th overall pick on right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. His offseason goal was to make the Browns better at running back, quarterback and the offensive line. He bolstered all three through the draft.
What cannot be overlooked is how important the offseason program and minicamps were, especially on offense. Like every other team last year, the lockout prohibited the Browns coaches from associating with their players. The first time Shurmur met most of them was in training camp. Compounding that was he was the offensive coordinator as well as a first-year head coach of a team that won a total of 14 games in three years.
The defense got deeper in the offseason, particularly on the line with the addition of ends Frostee Rucker (Bengals) and Juqua Parker (Eagles). Rucker will start opposite Jabaal Sheard, who as a rookie last year led the Browns with 8.5 sacks.
Last year's first-round draft choice, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, tore his left pectoral on May 10 while lifting weights. Heckert said he expects Taylor to be ready by late October or early November.
"I'm itching to get back, but I'm not going to rush it," Taylor said. "When I know it's time for me to be out there, I'll be out there."
Losing Taylor a year ago would have been devastating, but the Browns can absorb the injury better because of draft picks John Hughes and Billy Winn.
--The Browns are counting on Jason Pinkston to continue improving in his second year after taking over for Eric Steinbach last August when Steinbach suffered a season-ending back injury in training camp.
Now the left side of the line is set with Joe Thomas at left tackle, Pinkston at left guard and Alex Mack at center. Thomas has been to five Pro Bowls in five years and Mack went to the Pro Bowl in 2010. Pinkston is in the middle of what could be a very good sandwich for running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
"It's nice to know they trust me and believe me to be the guy, but I still have to come out here and work hard every day and improve," Pinkston said. "I have a notebook full of things I've learned throughout one year of blocking assignments and reading defenses. I learned a lot."
Improving protection for the quarterback and running backs was a priority of the offseason. But General manager Tom Heckert did not tinker as much as some fans might have expected.
Heckert drafted Mitchell Schwartz to play right tackle and that was the only change. The Browns could have moved Pinkston to right guard and re-signed Steinbach for less than $6 million, but they like things as they are with Shawn Lauvao at right guard and now Schwartz at right tackle.
Steinbach was athletic at 6-6, 295 pounds. The Browns like the size and strength of Pinkston, 6-4, 305 pounds.
"I've seen a guy who is very focused and very detailed about his preparation," coach Pat Shurmur said. "He also, prior to the offseason program phase of things, did a nice job of getting himself in better shape than he was last year. I just see a guy who knows a little bit more about what he's doing and I think that will help him be better next fall."
Pinkston took about a month off after the 2011 season ended and then trained with former NFL player LeCharles Bentley, who still lives in the Cleveland area. The former Cleveland St. Ignatius High School and Ohio State star, whose NFL career ended on the first day of training camp in 2007 with the Browns when his patellar tendon was torn, schooled Pinkston about nutrition. They also plan to watch tape of Pinkston playing last season.
Bentley played guard while with the Saints, so it will be easy for him and Pinkston to look for the same things.
"I definitely want to pick his brain about how to read this and read that, but nothing too serious yet," Pinkston said.
Pinkston said he is eating more baked foods and nutrition shakes than he did in the past.
The former fifth-round draft pick from Pitt isn't afraid to ask others for help. Thomas was a vital mentor for him last year and continues to help him. Pinkston credits Thomas for the success he had in 2011.
"Now that I got the hang of it I feel pretty good," Pinkston said. "I got a lot of help from Joe and Alex and the guys in the locker room coaching me up on my steps and reads. There were a couple bumps in the road, but it was a pretty easy transition.
"I'm sure Joe had a lot to do with making me look good. I'm so thankful for that. I want to continue to progress with their help and the coaches' help."
Pinkston said the toughest foe he faced last year was Haloti Ngata from the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns and Ravens meet in Baltimore on Sept. 27 in the fourth game of the season.
Holmgren says Brown is welcomed back
--Rookies took a break from their normal routine on June 20 when they worked with 250 youngsters at the conclusion of a three-day youth football camp in Cleveland Browns Stadium. The participants, ranging in age between 7 and 12, learned fundamentals such as blocking, kicking and passing.
--Case McCoy, brother of embattled Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, got scammed by a fake ESPN twitter account announcing the Browns traded Colt McCoy to the Eagles.
Case McCoy tweeted: "Good luck Brandon (Weeden). Fan of you, but my brother's pulling the lucky straw on this one. Cleveland is only going downhill!" He followed that by tweeting "That is, if these rumors are true."
The younger McCoy might be wishing he talked to Colt before going the social media route. When he discovered McCoy is still a Browns quarterback - for now - he felt compelled to tweet again. "Fake ESPN accounts are nuts. Got me fired up over nothing! Still kinda meant what I said."
The Browns say Colt McCoy is not on the trading block "right now," but haven't ruled out trading him at some point.
--Jim Brown is willing to listen if Mike Holmgren wants to talk, the Browns' all-time great running back told Cleveland.com
Brown has treated the Browns frostily for two years, ever since Holmgren eliminated his job as executive advisor to Randy Lerner. The job paid a reported $500,000 a year.
During a press conference, Holmgren said he would welcome Brown back "with open arms" and said, "How the Browns view Jim Brown hasn't changed and will never change." He did not say, however, that Brown can have his old job back.
"I've always been attracted to anyone who has the class to reach out," Brown said. "I am a Cleveland Brown, but it is always up to those in control to decide what they want to do."
--Without going into detail, running back Trent Richardson, selected by the Browns with the third overall pick in the draft, said his contract is "about done," but he is waiting on first pick Andrew Luck and second pick Robert Griffin III to sign their contracts.
"We're just waiting on the big boys," he said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm a good back and I can come in for different types of situations. Whether it's first, second down or third, even special teams and give the team a boost and keep the chains moving." - Backup running back Brandon Jackson, who missed all of 2011 with a toe injury.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scott Fujita's fate is now in the hands of Roger Goodell, the same NFL commissioner who suspended him three games for his alleged involvement in the Saints bounty program in the first place.
Fujita appealed the decision to Goodell on Monday (June 18). Fujita steadfastly denies ever contributing money to a bounty pool and says the league has offered no evidence to disprove his claim.
"I have yet to see anything that implicates me in a pay to injure scheme - not in the last three months, not in the last three days, not today," Fujita told reporters in Washington, D.C., after the appeal hearing. "Perhaps that's because there's nothing that can implicate me in a pay to injure scheme."
Goodell is expected to rule on the appeal next week. Fujita will miss the first three games of 2012 if the suspension is upheld.