BEREA, Ohio—The Browns will launch their 2015 training camp in less than a month. Although there are many intriguing battles that will take place for starting positions in the preseason, there is one battle that that has likely already been won.
And that is at the most important position on the team.
It is becoming more and more evident that Josh McCown is firmly entrenched as the Browns starting quarterback—that is, at least for now.
Although Mike Pettine wants competition at every position, he isn’t thrilled with going through the scenario of a season ago when Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel were pitted against each other the entire preseason.
Pettine has said multiple times that he expects McCown to continue to be at the helm leading up to the regular season.
Pettine said at the team’s mandatory minicamp he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“We told the guys that the way this week played out that the coaches were going to meet at the end of the week and meet with Ray (Farmer’s) group and discuss every player on the roster and just come up with the repetition plan for training camp – ‘OK, this guy’s going to be with the No. 1’s, the No. 2’s, the No. 3’s. This guy’s been with the No. 2’s.’ – all the kind of the battle plan for everybody’s repetitions, what we’re going to work with. Quarterback will be no different. I don’t foresee, between now and then, anything changing.”
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo agreed.
“I’m going to echo Coach Pettine’s words because he and I are on the exact same page about this,” DeFilippo said. “I don’t see a change for right now going into training camp. I just don’t. I think Josh is playing at a high level right now. I think Josh is doing the things we want him to do.
“There’s a long time until we kick off against the Jets,” he said. “There are four preseason games to play. Last year, I was at a place where we were sold on a starter, too, and then a rookie came in and outplayed him in the preseason. I think Coach said today there are 86 days or something like that until we kick off against the Jets. Eighty-six days in the NFL world is an eternity. For right now, if we were lining up against the Jets tomorrow, which we’re not, I wouldn’t see that changing.”
McCown isn’t worried about his title.
“It’s our team,” McCown said. “That’s the way I view things. That’s how I’m comfortable is when it’s our team and we’re all pulling together. As far as being the starter – I said this when I signed – when you’re here and when you’re on a team, whatever your capacity is, you serve your team the best way you can.
“If all 90 guys now – 53 when we pick the team – if all those guys do that, then you’ve got a chance,” McCown said. “My opportunity here, as a starter, is to serve my team in that capacity. I’m going to do the best I can. First and foremost is going out on the field and playing. Then, beyond that, that’s my only focus. The rest of the other stuff will take care of itself.”
McCown knows coming off a poor 2014 season in Tampa Bay, he still has a lot of doubters.
“I just focus on playing the best football I can play because the role that I’m in demands that,” he said. “When you’re in a backup role or when a role is different, your focus day-to-day is a little different. For me right now, my focus is to play as good as football as I can play each day and help us grow as an offense. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
DeFilippo said he thinks McCown is determined to prove last season in Tampa Bay was a fluke.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Any competitor wants something to prove. That’s why we’re all here. We’re here to win football games for this team, for this city and for our owner. Any competitor wants to go out there and have something to prove, whether you’re coming off a Super Bowl victory or you’re coming off a 1-10 (record) as a starter.”
McCown and the offense showed some of their best play on the first day of minicamp as McCown threw the ball deep and completed several, including a fine looking long spiral to Taylor Gabriel in stride for a touchdown. He also hit Andrew Hawkins on an impressive deep ball.
“Yeah, he can throw the deep ball,” Pettine said. “I think, offensively, we came out with just a little bit more of a concerted effort to push the ball down the field. Defensively, had kind of gotten into a rhythm of sitting on a lot of routes. I think the offensive guys just coming out of last week’s tape study felt they were probably ripe for some double moves or for some throws down the field. It was nice to see, especially on a windy day like this, that those guys executed.”
In addition to the deep ball, McCown feels with the backs coming out of the backfield the Browns have--especially rookie Duke Johnson--the Browns might have an element that was so successful when he was with the Bears in 2013.
“There is huge value when you have guys that can catch it out of the backfield and make plays for you,” McCown said. “We had that in Chicago with a guy like Matt Forte, where you get him the ball and he’s able to influence the game not only on first and second down but on third down, as well, out of the backfield. We feel like that’s part of what we’re doing, even in our first and second down passing. We want to get the ball down field and get it to our receivers, but if it’s not there, put it in the hands of the backs and let’s stay on schedule.
“Let’s get those guys touches because, in theory, they’re your best ball carriers,” he said. “Let’s get it in their hands. The system has done a good job of including those guys on those downs. It’s something that we’ll continue to grow with. Everybody’s doing a great job of learning. Duke coming in here as a rookie is really kind of flashing some things and doing some good things. You just like to see guys play to their skillset – Shaun Draughn, the same thing. These guys, they’re going to have an influence out of the backfield and what he can put them in. It’s a luxury for us as we build our offense to have guys that are dynamic like that that can make plays.
“Crow (Isaiah Crowell) and (Terrance) West, the same thing,” he said. “Everybody can catch the ball. Everybody’s skillset is different. They might not be the pretty route runner, but if they can catch it, that’s all you have to have is somebody that can catch it because typically, when they’re in a check-down mode, they’re uncovered because people are downfield. That’s the idea with those guys. We’re doing a good job of including those guys and getting them involved.”
DeFilippo coached McCown with the Raiders in 2007 and feels he’s a much more accomplished quarterback now than he was then.
“I’ve been very, very impressed with Josh,” he said. “Josh and I talk about it all the time. He’s a better quarterback now than he was in 2007. I think he’s much better. Again, I don’t like to speak for the players, but I think he’ll tell you the same thing. I haven’t seen anything from an arm strength standpoint, from an athletic standpoint to tell me that his game has declined at all.
“He is much better in situational football, a much smarter quarterback than he was in 2007,” he said. “That comes with time. He’s played a lot of football. I’ve been very, very pleased with Josh. Obviously, the intangibles with Josh are as good as any quarterback in the league in terms of his leadership, in terms of being a good person. All of those things that you’re looking for in a starting quarterback, Josh McCown has.”