Offensive coordinator Norv Turner spoke with the media before Sunday's practice and he covered a variety of topics. However, the number topic of conversation surrounded Brandon Weeden. Turner was asked if their truly was much of a battle at the position between Weeden and Jason Campbell.
“I think (Rob Chudzinski) was being extremely honest with you," Turner said. "I do believe that Jason has played at a high-enough level to say that it is close. How you phrase it, I don’t think that matters. I think you’re heading in the direction we want to be. I really believe, first of all, Chud’s done an unbelievable job with this entire football team, in terms of letting them know exactly what we want them to get done, how we’re going to get that done and where we’re headed.
"He explained his plan to the quarterbacks from the start, he’s stuck with it," he said. "It’s not an issue in that building; it’s an issue outside the building, but I don’t think anyone is worried about when an announcement is going to be made. I think we’ve gotten great production from all three quarterbacks. Whatever the plan is that we’ve put together, it seems to be working.”
Weeden has been outstanding in the first two preseason games. He leads the NFL in passing and is 18-of-25 for 229 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Weeden's QB rating in 2012 was 72.6. Against the Rams, it was 127.7 and against the Lions it was 137.8
More importantly, Weeden has led the Browns to scores on five of the seven drives he's been on the field. Against the Rams, in the first preseason game he was 2-of-2 producing 10 points (field goal and touchdown). Against the Lions, Weeden was at the helm for four drives and the offense scored three times (field goal, touchdown and touchdown) for 17 points.
“I’m excited about what Brandon’s been able to do," Turner said. "The thing that we’ve spent a lot of time working on is trying to find out the things that he does best, and combine them with the things our players do best. And a lot of the things that we do on the practice field, it’s not experimental, but there’s a process you go through to get everyone on the same page. Hopefully when we get everyone in the games, we feature all the things that our guys do best. Through the preseason action that Brandon’s had, we’ve been able to do that. And we’ve had a lot of guys playing well. He’s taken advantage of the way they’ve been playing.”
The Browns have used Weeden in the shotgun much more than he was last year in Pat Shurmur's offense, which is what he had his most success in while in college at Oklahoma State. Turner said Weeden has made great strides in the offense.
“I think he’s done really good. He’s had some tough plays in the preseason," Turner said. "He’s gotten to the third or fourth receiver. He’s made good decisions. He’s throwing the ball well. If he can play a couple games and not have an interception, or not have a ball that should’ve been intercepted, I think you’re making progress.”
One of Weeden's stated goals was to improve upon his accuracy. Last season, he completed 57.4 percent of his passes. Through two preseason games, he has completed 72 percent of his passes.
“He was an accurate passer in college," Turner said. "When we watched him and when he got set and got his sights on someone and the guy was open, he didn’t miss him very often, and that’s what he’s done here. And, again, I think it’s about percentages, and if you’re trying to throw the ball to guys you shouldn’t be throwing to, you’re not going to be real accurate. If you’re making good decisions, and we’re throwing the ball to the backs already, and I don’t mind that; I like that, in fact, if you’re still getting big plays up the field.”
Turner said that Weeden has been doing the right things in practice consistently and now he has to just keep playing consistently in the games. A lot of his accuracy issues in 2012 were mechanics and he's worked hard to improve those.
“It’s been a process. What happens when you are by yourself working on it, like the driving range, everything is smooth. Then you get out there and it’s the real deal and then, when Brandon starts thinking too much, he slows down. When he is really confident and sure in what he’s doing, he’s going a lot faster, his setups are faster, and the ball is going out quicker. It’s a matter of him being experienced with everything we’re doing, so there’s not indecision and he’s done a good job of getting the ball out fast when he is really sure of what we are doing.”
Turner does like the way Weeden throws the deep ball and plans on using that to the Browns advantage.
“He’s got a strong-enough arm to throw it deep," he said. "It’s hard because we go out there from the first snap in practice, from individual to the end it’s about two hours, and they’re just running, running and running. They have to run a lot in the game but they don’t really run as much in the game. Sometimes, on the deep balls, it’s harder to gauge the accuracy. I think Brandon is going to be a great deep-ball thrower.”
There have been critics of Weeden that say he doesn't have the intangibles to be a successful NFL quarterback. Turner refuted that notion.
“People always want to analyze that, and when a guy’s playing well, his intangibles seem to be exaggerated," he said. "And when they’re playing badly, they don’t have intangibles. So, to me, it’s about executing and going out to play at a high level. Those things take care of themselves. He’s worked awfully hard at it. I think the guys enjoy playing with him. I think he does command their respect. Our players have a lot of confidence in Brandon.”
Turner has been credited with being a great offensive mind, who has had success in developing quarterbacks, but he thinks it's about utilizing the strengths of the quarterback.
“To me, it starts with a system that’s extremely sound," he said. "(This system) has been proven over time. You go back to the ‘70s with (Don) Coryell, and just keep going through all the different people that have played in the system, whether it was me, Ernie Zampese, Mike Martz, it was the system that was very sound.
"My background in terms of teaching and the process you go through to get those guys to play, I think there’s some things we believe in, and we try to keep it as simple as possible for the quarterback, and put the burden on some of the other players. I think it helps them sort through some of the things they need to work through.”
The Browns have some talented young play makers in the likes of Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Davone Bess, Greg Little, Jordan Cameron and Travis Benjamin. However, Turner said much of Weeden's success will depend on how those guys mature.
“Well, like Brandon, like a lot of our team, we’re extremely young," he said. "We see it on a daily basis out here (the practice field) the ups and downs of being young. I think you don’t see a lot of those because we have not had extended periods of play. We’ve been out there and played a quarter and-a-half, or maybe a half of a game. But there are going to be inconsistencies with young players and we’re going to have to fight through those things. We do have a talented group, and it’s shown in our first two games, whether it’s Jordan Cameron or Greg Little, or the guys you mentioned.”
Turner thinks Weeden has the ability to be a good NFL quarterback, but his ceiling will ultimately be predicated on the players around him.
“That’s so hard for me because, as I said when I first got here, it’s based on the people behind him and how they’re playing," he said. "There have been some really talented quarterbacks that have been put in a position where they didn’t have very good players around them, and they’ve struggled. And then there have been some guys not as talented that have played at a real high level because they were surrounded by a great supporting cast.
"But the thing Brandon has done is make good decisions," he said. "He’s extremely accurate with the ball and he’s made some big throws up the field already, so those are the things you look and say those are positives we can build on.”
Nelson Back: WR David Nelson returned to practice Sunday after missing most of training camp in his return from an ACL injury last September. Nelson started training camp on the Active/PUP list but was taken off of it early in camp. However, he 'tweaked' the knee days after his return and has been out since. He missed the first two preseason games. Nelson was signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Bills, where he was a starting wide receiver until he was injured.
Owens Returns: DB Chris Owens returned to practice Sunday after missing Saturday's practice with an illness.
Cook Returns: The Browns re-signed RB Jamaine Cook and released DB Kenronte Walker. Cook was with the Browns in the off-season, but was released before training camp. Cook played high school football at Midpark and college at Youngstown State. The Browns are currently without RB Montario Hardesty (knee, thumb) and RB Dion Lewis (fractured fibula). Cook is wearing number 36.
Injury Update: Not practicing on Sunday were: LB Barkevious Mingo (lung), TE Gary Barnidge (shoulder), K Brandon Bogotay (groin), P T.J. Conley (groin), RB Dion Lewis (fractured fibula), RB Montario Hardesty (knee, thumb), OL Ryan Miller (head), OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle), OL Jason Pinkston (ankle), OL Chris Faulk (knee), WR Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring), DB Trevin Wade (shoulder) and WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring).