Sharp again, Weeden offers hope

CLEVELAND – If you want to crown Brandon Weeden, go ahead and crown him.

The Starter, at least.

Not The Savior — not after two preseason games. But the re-born (again) Cleveland Browns are looking for answers, positive momentum, things to build on, etc. And through two preseason games that will soon be forgotten, Weeden has come out and thrown the ball like he wants to be an NFL quarterback.

Like he can be one, too.

Two days after new coach Rob Chudzinski made some curious comments about the quarterback competition continuing and not being ready to name a starter — no one has seen anyone but Weeden take a snap with the first-teamers dating back to May — Weeden tossed it around against the Lions like he’s been doing this for years, not running this offense for a total of seven weeks of practice.

He wasn’t perfect, but he found a rhythm. And by the time Chudzinski smartly lifted him late in the first half, he’d thrown two touchdown passes to uber-athletic tight end Jordan Cameron and completed 8-of-12 passes in all for 117 yards and a quarterback rating of 137.8, a number that means little considering it came in four series of a preseason game but is about 75 points higher than what for too long has been the Browns norm.

Here’s how it’s gone: Barring something crazy (ie, positively Browns-ian), on Sept. 8, Weeden is going to become the first Browns quarterback to start back-to-back season openers since Charlie Frye did in 2006-07.

The day after that ’07 opener, Frye was traded.

Weeden’s opener last year was maybe even worse than what Frye put together back then. Weeden completed 12-of-35 to his own team and threw 4 interceptions.

But this is a new year. And this is quite obviously a different coaching staff running a different offense. For now, anyway, Weeden is a different guy.

Two solid preseason performances don’t make a star, or even a solid starter. But they’ve made for a solid start, something these Browns need as they go forward.

On Thursday night, they gave Trent Richardson just enough work for Richardson to show that he might be a star. No. 33 should drive the bus, and Weeden can succeed by operating the offense in a smooth, efficient manner the way he’s done so far. He’s not facing exotic blitzes yet, but he’s clearly comfortable getting more shotgun snaps and delivering the ball to this receiving corps.

The first touchdown to Cameron was a big-league throw through traffic.  

The second was a gimme. But those count, too, and my, oh my, the Browns will take all of them.

There’s no doubt that having Josh Gordon helps. Gordon has rare talents — the kind the Browns have been missing at the receiver position since Good Braylon Edwards turned into Bad Braylon Edwards in the 2008 opener — and the first Weeden-to-Cameron touchdown would not have happened if not for a 27-yard fade route to Gordon, who was simply too big and too fast for Ronald Bartel to cover along the Lions sideline.

Weeden placed that pass very well. He’s done that in two preseason games now; last week, he went 10-of-13 for 112 yards a touchdown.

Gordon is suspended for the first two games of the regular season, and that’s big trouble for the Browns. Tight end Gary Barnidge left Thursday night’s game injured, and the Browns have to hope he’s OK, too. The less work they can give Cameron, the more likely it is that they’ll have him available to make the kind of crazy catch he made in the west end zone on Thursday.

Perhaps most importantly, Weeden and the Browns are getting in and out of the huddle. They’re looking like they know what they’re doing and where they want to go with the ball, even on the plays that don’t end in positive results. Weeden stands in the pocket and looks like an NFL quarterback looking to attack defenses.

If that sounds basic, well, refer to the last 14 seasons of Browns football.

Crowning Weeden the starter is basic and overdue. Continuing to coach him up, put him in positive situations and let him gain valuable experience is more important. If the Browns already have their quarterback on the roster, the whole rebuilding project would be ahead of schedule. It’s too early to say that they do now, after two preseason games, but Weeden has been better than he’s looked in practice and probably better than those calling the shots in this latest rebuilding project thought he’d be.

It’s fair to pump the brakes; it has only been two preseason games

For Weeden, it’s been a near perfect start.