In regards to the Cleveland Browns, can there be a more absurd phrase than "quarterback controversy?"
The current controversy, featuring quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden, has about as much substance as previous episodes starring Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson and Charlie Frye. Or, as part of my initiation into Browns' fandom, I remember a cocky Paul McDonald boldly proclaiming that he would beat out veteran Brian Sipe at Lakeland Community College in 1983. Two years later, Sipe was retired from the USFL and McDonald vanished to parts unknown.
Anyway, the same team that has trotted out 16 different starting quarterbacks since 1999 is at it again – or at least some would have you believe. How to else to explain the following headlines…..
Everyone does know that both quarterbacks are not even wearing pads yet – right?
This is a rather pale "controversy", conceived despite the fact that Browns' GM Tom Heckert – the architect of the team's evolving roster – has stated the following:
"You can write about it and talk about it however you want. But I think when we say 'open competition,' the best guy is going to play. That's the way it is, but we drafted Brandon Weeden to be that guy. You draft a guy 22nd in the draft, you think he's gonna be that guy."
Controversy over, right? Or, in the words of Browns' Head Coach Pat Shurmur, maybe the "controversy" is just a "conversation."
After all, if anyone would truly know the Browns' roster, it would be Heckert. And with only the slight (literally) addition of Travis Benjamin to one of the league's worst receiving corps, Heckert probably realizes that the Browns' 2012 passing game can't be considered a dramatic improvement from the 2011 version that produced only 193 yards per game.
While the additions of Trent Richardson and Mitchell Schwartz will surely help bolster the team's run game, Heckert is assuming that Weeden is an upgrade over Colt McCoy. Given basically the same weapons as McCoy, Weeden should at least offer a modest improvement – if not the hopeful transcendent leap expected of a first-round draft pick.
So with this, is the controversy now defused? If so, how about a new one?
If Weeden is to be treated as a real first-round draft pick and ultimately becomes the Browns' starting quarterback, then what is left to debate?
The natural place to start is with Weeden.
"When training camps open up in July, one of the more interesting QB competitions will be in Cleveland where third year veteran Colt McCoy will try and hold off first round pick Brandon Weeden. Personally I don't think there is a competition…I feel McCoy is by far the better player but he is a third round pick who had a mediocre year in 2011. With Weeden being a first round pick the decision makers in Cleveland most likely will want him to win."
Give Gabriel credit for charging ahead with a strong opinion. Certainly, McCoy is a competitor and Weeden, despite his age, is an NFL rookie. However, Gabriel's argument is mainly focused on the college numbers produced by each quarterback. Considering how simplistic the reads in a college spread offense are, at least compared to an NFL offense, such a basis is practically worthless. As for "the decision makers in Cleveland want(ing) him to win", the exact identity of the "him" is irrelevant.
Any real Browns fan could care less "who" the team's quarterback is. The point is to stop the wheel of futility from continually turning. From McDonald to Tim Couch to Charlie Frye and beyond, it's been established that the Browns' offense cannot succeed without an effective quarterback.
Here's more from Gabriel – back in April.
"I don't get the Brandon Weeden pick. To me it's a reach based on need. Taking a 28-year-old quarterback who still needs to develop because of the system he played in at Oklahoma State goes against everything I have learned in scouting over 30 years. Weeden is no sure shot to have success in the NFL."
Maybe Gabriel didn't scout the first 16 quarterbacks of the Browns' expansion era?
With the Browns and quarterbacks, there is really no such thing as a reach. And yes, while Weeden's age is a concern, the question of Oklahoma State's system is a non-starter. Weeden's college system isn't dramatically different than that of McCoy's – or even Robert Griffin III's. All three quarterbacks have or will face a difficult transition into the league. Gabriel's suggestion could be taken as meaning that only college quarterbacks entering the league from a pro-style offense will succeed. Or, that somehow RG3 will bring his Baylor offense to D.C.
According to Gabriel, it's as if NFL teams don't even have coaches who spend lifetimes in the film room.
For another perspective on the Browns'
controversy conversation conceit, here's another longtime scout, NFL Films' Greg Cosell.
"Of course, in the NFL, the ideal scenario of a comfortable, secure pocket does not happen quite as often as quarterbacks would like. You must be able to function effectively in the eye of the storm or you won't play on Sundays. That's where Weeden had some problems. The sample was small, given how well he was protected, but it was there nonetheless. When blitzed, Weeden struggled with both recognition and execution. Mentally, there were times he panicked, and physically, he did not exhibit the kind of subtle pocket movement that must be part of a pocket passer's game in the NFL."
So, two of the league's most experienced scouts have gathered the following on Weeden – the latest in a long line of Browns' QB saviors:
1. He has the support of the front office.
2. He's old.
3. His college offense will not be his pro offense.
4. He doesn't handle pressure well – either mentally or physically.
Of the above, the only item that should raise genuine concern – or controversy – or whatever is the last listing. Naturally, Weeden needs to feel an NFL pass rush, in a regular season game, before anyone can fully evaluate him as an NFL quarterback. Much like McCoy before him, Weeden's true worth will be measured against a Pittsburgh blitz or Cincinnati pressure up the middle of the Browns' line.
Until that time, debating the merits of gym class arm strength or even the absorption of an NFL offense are not remotely controversial. Instead, they are pointless. Like all other quarterbacks who have temporarily claimed the Browns as an employer, only time will tell.
That and actual NFL game tape.