BEREA—Although much has been talked about and written during the course of the off-season and the preseason concerning the Browns and the prospects of their 2015 season. It really comes down to the play of the quarterback so many times in the NFL.
There has been a lot of talk about Johnny Manziel and the off the field drama during his stint in rehab and his sore elbow, but it still boils down to the fact that all eyes will be on Josh McCown as the season begins Sunday against the New York Jets.
The Browns were criticized by many in the off-season for committing $14 million ($6.25 million guaranteed) for three years to a 36-year old journeyman quarterback who was 1-10 as a starter in 2014 with Tampa Bay, while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Overall, his record as a starter is 17-32 in his 13 NFL seasons.
When the Browns signed McCown, they pointed to the 2013 version of McCown, rather than the 2014 version. In 2013, filling in for Jay Cutler with the Bears, McCown started five games and threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. He had a 109.0 quarterback rating, the highest of his career. Overall, his 12-year rating is 76.1.
The coaches have raved about McCown since he joined the Browns.
“That’s what we preach, we talk about positive work atmosphere, guys excited about coming to work,” Mike Pettine said. “When you have guys like that, it can’t help but have an affect on others. Just that contagiousness, especially from the quarterback position. Here’s a guy that loves the game, wants to win, is passionate, but wants to win.”
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo agreed.
“I’m really pleased with Josh,” he said. “Josh is going out there and performing well. He’s out there with juice every day.”
McCown will be the 23rd quarterback to start for the Browns come Sunday. He was asked what makes him think he can play the best football of his career.
“I don’t know if there are reasons,” McCown said. “I think every player across the league plans on playing the best ball of his career. That is everybody’s focus. Mine would be no different. I don’t look for reasons why other than everybody always wants to be better than they were the last time they went out.
“No matter how good you play, you want to play well,” he said. “That is my focus. I don’t know if I can give your reasons other than I want to play good football for this team and help them win.”
McCown knows all eyes are on the quarterback position and it’s just something that comes with the territory.
“I have not dealt with that pressure from the Browns standpoint, but I have dealt with that pressure ever since you strap the helmet and cleats and play quarterback,” he said. “When you decide to play quarterback that is part of it. My little guy is a sixth grader and playing some receiver and some quarterback now. It is funny we talk about that and talk about the influence you have on the game and that you have on your team.
“It is the nature of this position,” he said. “I understand it and embrace it. The beauty of what we have in our locker room is that we are a team and we know that we are going to go out and win ball games together. It gives me confidence going into games going out – I don’t need to overreach or step outside of myself. Just let the game come to me and do my part to help this team win football games.”
McCown is grateful for the opportunity with the Browns.
“No doubt. Absolutely,” he said. “Because of my journey and the things I have gone through I think this back half (of my career) I am appreciative of those things that happened to me because it really focused me on making the most of every day, really. That is a great way to live. I am thankful for that. It makes going out to practice, training camp and practice, all those things – whereas maybe there was a point in my career where that was drudgery and, ‘Oh here we go again.’ You are excited to walk into the facility and have a place to work and all those things. Absolutely, very thankful for that.”
McCown feels the Browns offense is starting to come together, especially in the passing game.
“I think the area that we have made the most progress in is – I definitely feel that we have grown in the passing game as far as, we have a lot, but narrowing down the things that we feel that we are going to be good at with our guys,” he said. “That is just what we said in training camp. You learn the guys you have and what they are good and being able to tailor it. I think we have grown in that area. You could almost say that about the running game too. I think we have figured some things that we feel we will be better at. I think that is the main area of growth. As I look at it, it is the detail of the passing game from where we have come from the start of camp until now.”
McCown said the Browns have bought into Pettine’s philosophy of taking one game at a time, but admitted that Sunday’s opener with the Jets is important for the team to get off to a good start.
“It’s important,” he said. “It’s just as important as every game. It’s just a different perspective that maybe you guys from the outside in. We sit in here and we don’t go ‘Hey, let’s lose these first two and then ride off 14 in a row. Our mindset is to win every single one.
“Everybody in the NFL understands that that’s a tall order,” he said. “Very few- two teams in history have gone undefeated but everybody’s mindset is to do that and we’re no different. We want to win every game. It’s great to get off to a good start, no question but its- like I just said it’s the game in front of us and that’s the one we’re worried about and we have to go win that one.”
Sack Totals: The Browns registered 31 sacks in 2014, but Pettine said he’s more worried about disrupting the quarterback than the number of sacks.
“I’ve never been into the numbers,” Pettine said. “Our business on defense is to affect the quarterback and get hits and later in the game, the quarterback starts to see some ghosts, then we’ve done our jobs.
“I don’t get overly caught up in the numbers,” he said. “Sacks and quarterback pressures are (product of score)”
No Setbacks: The Browns might be the healthiest going into the season opener that they’ve been all preseason. Pettine said all the players that were limited on Wednesday did not have any set backs.
“All positive,” They were all out there (Thursday).”
Not Settled on Kick Returner: Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said he’s “not sure” who will be the kick return man on Sunday. Tabor mentioned Marlon Moore and Duke Johnson.
Mingo’s Role: Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil was asked what role he envisioned for third-year outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
“Mingo is going to be a big part of what we do defensively and going to help us in our sub packages.”
Big Gaines: Rookie DB Charles Gaines was the player the Browns used on their lone option to place a player on injured reserve with the designation to return.
“He’s got position flexibility, so that’s huge,” O’Neil said. “Good instincts. He had a really good end of the off-season. If he was healthy, he’d be a guy we’d be scheming up stuff for him.”
Thoughts on Gilbert: O’Neil was asked on Gilbert’s progress before he was injured.
“Thought he had some good days in training camp and he struggled days,” O’Neil said. “I thought he had more good days than struggling days. The position takes time and it just takes time.”
More Bowe: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo admitted he was expecting more out of WR Dwayne Bowe.
“I told Dwayne we expect more out of him,” he said. “I feel bad he was hurt, but we need Dwayne to come along and be a big part of what we’re doing.”