BEREA, Ohio (AP) – Connor Shaw played for his dad in high school and ran South Carolina’s offense under the ultra-demanding Steve Spurrier in college. If that won’t toughen a guy’s skin, nothing will.
Raised in a football family, Shaw knew when he was 5 years old that all he ever wanted to do was be an NFL starting quarterback.
The undrafted rookie may get his shot on Sunday.
With Johnny Manziel done for the season with a hamstring injury and Brian Hoyer still unable to throw because of a sore shoulder and biceps, Shaw will likely make his starting debut when the Browns (7–8) conclude another disappointing season this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
For Shaw, it’s a dream come true, the chance to show he belongs.
“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “It’s been a long season.”
And a long journey for the former Gamecocks star, who went 27–5 as a starter in the SEC, but then was invited for just one visit to an NFL team before May’s draft. He wasn’t selected, but signed in May.
During training camp, he was an outsider in the quarterback battle between Hoyer and Manziel. But the 6-foot–1, 210-pound Shaw showed enough during the preseason – he went 8 of 9 for 123 yards and a touchdown against Washington – that the Browns decided to keep him on their practice squad. He was around in case of emergency – and he’s needed.
Shaw doesn’t have much time to get ready for the Ravens, who can still earn a playoff spot with a win and loss or tie by San Diego, or with a tie and a San Diego loss. But Browns coach Mike Pettine believes the 23-year-old Shaw, who threw 23 touchdown passes and just one interception as a senior, will produce even on short notice.
“You just look at him, and does he pass the eye-ball test? No,” Pettine said. “He doesn’t have the strongest arm, and he’s not the fastest. He’s not the biggest, but he just found a way. He’s just got something about him.”
That’s always been the case for Shaw, who likened his college game to Manziel’s. He’s mobile, can run for a first down when needed, but don’t expect him to flash any “money” signs if he scores.
“I’m a tough, gritty guy,” he said when asked to describe his playing style. “I feel like I’m smart with the ball. We’ll see. I haven’t had a whole lot of reps in the NFL, especially live reps so we’ll see how it plays out if I suit up.”
Shaw got his first snaps with Cleveland’s offense Tuesday, and by all accounts showed he’s spent the past few months studying. He wasn’t out of place in the huddle or behind center.
“I was impressed,” said tackle Joe Thomas, who was named to eighth straight Pro Bowl team. Thomas said he didn’t know Shaw’s background.
“I can’t really remember taking any reps with him,” Thomas said. “But he stepped right in and hardly made any mistakes calling the plays.”
Although he was out of sight for much of the season, Shaw worked hard. He was behind Hoyer and Manziel on the depth chart but alongside on the ride.
“I was doing everything they were,” he said. “I was trying to stay as sharp as possible because you never know when you’re going in.”
It’s been quite a year for Shaw, who married his high school sweetheart, Molly. They recently welcomed a baby girl, Mila.
And now, his career might take a step forward, too.
“Hopefully we can cap it off with a win,” he said.
NOTES: Pettine said “there’s no doubt in my mind” that he and owner Jimmy Haslam share the same vision for the team. “I get together with Jimmy for a minimum of an hour every week. We are very much on the same page.” … Pettine said he was alarmed and encouraged to hear Manziel admit he didn’t take his job seriously enough this season. “It’s rare that you have a rookie like a Joel Bitonio, who comes in and it’s seamless. Most rookies typically are shocked by the speed of the game, by the challenge that it brings, going from being a college student and football is a part-time thing where now it’s to 9 to 5-plus. You might as well carry a briefcase.”