When the Cleveland Browns dramatically retooled their offense in April’s NFL Draft, it was a clear sign that the franchise is moving on from the past.
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The Browns, who ranked near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every offensive category last season, spent two first-round picks on that side of the ball. They traded with the Minnesota Vikings to ensure no other team was able to select former Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the third overall pick, then made the move that sent shockwaves through their team facility: Cleveland drafted a presumed new franchise quarterback, Brandon Weeden, with the No. 22 pick.
Weeden, who turns 29 in October, is being viewed as the probable starter as third-year veteran Colt McCoy’s play hasn’t met his lofty expectations.
“It’s a business,” Weeden told FOXSports.com Thursday night at an NFL rookie premier event in Hollywood for the debut of the video game "Ghost Recon: Future Soldier." “Anytime you’ve been in a professional atmosphere, you know what to expect.”
Weeden knows this as well as anyone. As he moves into the NFL, his transition from major college football to the next level gets a boost from his previous professional sports experience.
Weeden, who was selected in the second round of the 2002 Major League Baseball Draft by the New York Yankees, bounced around the minor league system for five seasons, before walking on to Oklahoma State’s football team in 2007.
“Even though baseball and football are so much different at the level we’re at now, you still need to understand how to be a pro,” Weeden said. “Even though [I was] in the (baseball) minor leagues, it’s still a professional sport. You’re a part of a franchise.”
But Weeden hasn’t been part of what’s to come — an NFL quarterback competition.
Although it’s unlikely the Browns planned to use a first-round pick on a quarterback only to have him sit, Weeden is adamant that the job won’t be handed to him. And McCoy, 25, has been welcoming to the guy who will compete for his job.
“Last week we went out on the field with the guys and threw some routes. I was asking questions of [McCoy] and he was helping me out, and it was good,” Weeden said.
Cleveland’s quarterbacks met during the Browns rookie minicamp May 11-13, but they will get to know each other a bit more during organized team activities, which begin May 22.
“We met as a group and Colt was around and everything went smooth. He’s going to go about it the same way I am, we’re going to compete,” Weeden said. “That’s the way it should be, two good guys competing and we’re both fighting for the same spot, but we’ll help each other along the way.”
Weeden has already impressed the Browns’ decision makers. Coach Pat Shurmur boasted about his rookie QB on Monday as he spoke to Cleveland reporters at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club.
“There’s no question I think he’s headed in the right direction,” Shurmur said of Weeden. “His strong arm really showed up in this minicamp. There’s something natural about his play. He hadn’t really thrown to these receivers before, and to be able to throw somewhat precise routes and be very accurate, that was good to see.”
It wasn’t a shock Cleveland was in the QB market, considering general manager Tom Heckert acknowledged he had talks in March with the St. Louis Rams about acquiring the No. 2 overall pick to select Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. The Browns were eventually outbid by the Washington Redskins.
McCoy has underwhelmed in his first two seasons, completing just shy of 60 percent of his passes and throwing 20 interceptions as well as 20 touchdowns. But McCoy wasn’t afforded the easiest opportunity to come in and succeed. In 2011, the Browns returned a 1,000-yard running back in Peyton Hillis, but the team was beset by injuries. And the wide receiving corps, led by rookie Greg Little, never was really deep.
Asked whether McCoy ever got a fair shot at being the franchise’s quarterback Weeden said, “Every situation is different. This situation is a little unique. He’s still a young player in the NFL.”
Weeden must show promise as starting quarterback immediately, because as he’s learned before, pro sports is a business.
FOXSports.com caught up with some other incoming rookies at the "Ghost Recon: Future Soldier" event, and here’s what they had to say about their transition into the NFL:
Blackmon thinks he can have A.J. Green-type of rookie season
Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green had a rookie season to remember. The Bengals made the playoffs. Green made the Pro Bowl. And he was recently voted among his peers as one of the Top 100 players in NFL Network’s annual countdown.
Justin Blackmon was asked whether he could make a similar splash into the league, and he agreed without hesitation.
“I think I can,” said Blackmon, who won two Biletnikoff Awards, given to the best receiver in the nation. “I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work, and I’m going to have to work on getting off the press and going up against the best corners in the world, so it’s not going to be easy.”
Jaguars new head coach Mike Mularkey has met with his rookie receiver and discussed how he will be used in the system.
“[Coach] told me it’s an easy concept offense to learn and right now my role is, I’m doing a little bit of slot and a little on the outside, trying to learn it all so wherever they want to put me, they can,” Blackmon said.
Tannehill not feeling franchise QB pressure
Prior to April’s NFL Draft, the last time the Dolphins spent a first-round pick on quarterback was in 1983, when they selected Dan Marino.
Miami made former Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill the new face of the franchise, selecting him No. 8 overall in the 2012 draft, but he’s not feeling any added weight on his shoulders.
“I don’t think it’s any added pressure, I think the fanbase is very passionate and excited in bringing a quarterback in,” said Tannehill, who made only 19 collegiate starts at quarterback. “It doesn’t matter what the history is, you go in and you play. I’m fully confident in my ability now, but I’m excited to get in and learn as fast as possible and get on the field.”
Tannehill has a solid grasp of the offense after being reunited with his college head coach and current Dolphins coordinator Mike Sherman. Because of his familiarity with the playbook, Tannehill was able to step in during the team’s rookie minicamp and take charge at an accelerated pace.
“Knowing the offense and being able to help guys out, it’s your job to make the guys around you better. I’m able to help guys out as much as I can, I’m able to tell guys what they got, what their checkdowns are, what route they got, whatever it may be,” Tannehill said. “There’s definitely some tweaks, some stuff they brought in from Green Bay, that stuff is new to me. But I would say 80 percent of it is the same. I think we changed the terminology and signals, but the majority of it is the same concepts and same plays.”
Foles focused on learning Eagles’ playbook
The leap to the NFL for many quarterbacks comes with ease because they’re familiar with pro-style philosphies. Nick Foles doesn’t have that luxury.
When the Eagles drafted Foles, who started for three seasons at the University of Arizona, they understood it would take some time for him to grasp the new offense.
“There are some similar concepts, but ultimately it’s a pro offense, different terminology,” Foles said. “The routes are a little bit different, some routes are a little bit deeper, they’re called different things. It’s like learning a new language, almost. It’s just going to take time and hard work.”
What Foles does have to his advantage is the mentoring of some veteran quarterbacks. The Eagles signed Trent Edwards to one-year deal in February, adding depth behind starting quarterback Michael Vick and backup Mike Kafka.
“The big thing was just going out there and throwing with them, seeing how they throw and move around, how they approach their work ethic,” Foles said of the veterans. “These guys have been there and done that, so they will be guys that I can definitely learn from.”