The expectation for the Cleveland Browns’ 2016 training camp is that it would prominently feature a quarterback battle. With Robert Griffin III added in free agency, Cody Kessler drafted in Round 3 and Josh McCown and Austin Davis remaining on the roster after the 2015 season, the position group came into camp crowded, with no apparent front runner in place.
When asked about the splitting of the reps between the quarterbacks namely McCown and Griffin, head coach Hue Jackson said at the start of camp that, “I don't want to get locked into, 'Well, it's going to be 60-40 or 50-50. I think what's most important is whatever I think I need to do and our staff needs to do to evaluate and Sashi [Brown] and Paul [DePodesta] evaluate our players, that's what we'll do and I think that's what's important moving forward.”
In these early days of camp, however, the first-team quarterback reps are nowhere near being split equally between McCown and Griffin—in fact, Griffin has thus far been working exclusively with the first team. With Jackson already confirming that the team’s Week 1 starter will be named prior to the Browns’ first preseason game (August 12 at the Green Bay Packers), it seems as though Griffin has the clearest path to being placed atop the depth chart in the next 10 or so days.
Though Jackson has said that, “I don't want to rush into anything until I think we're getting close to that point to have to do that and i don't think we're at that point yet,” when it comes to the quarterback situation, it is curious that he is choosing to make this decision before Cleveland’s four preseason games. More typical is the use of those preseason games as the true tests of a team’s given passers, with the decision coming after the third or fourth exhibition contest. But Jackson and his staff have the right to make this determination whenever they believe it is best to do so. And, as McCown said, “the earlier the better,” when it comes to naming the starter.
The benefits of naming a starter prior to the end of the preseason has numerous benefits. For one, the team now knows who will be under center for Week 1 and presumably for the entire regular season, allowing the first-team offense to settle in with whoever that man ends up being. Given the very different styles of Cleveland’s four quarterbacks, allowing the first-team offense to get fully prepared to work with one of them will only make life in the regular season open more smoothly. The receiving corps is also an extremely young group that can only benefit from a quarterback hierarchy being put in place quickly. If Corey Coleman is set to be a starting wideout, then he may as well be catching his training camp passes from the No. 1 quarterback rather than Kessler, for example.
Further, making the announcement sooner than later can open up opportunities to McCown or Davis that wouldn’t have necessarily been there if Jackson waited until September. Injuries, poor performances or weak depth charts could spur other teams to pursue trades for the two veterans—assuming, of course, that the Browns don’t want McCown to serve as Griffin’s primary backup in the hypothetical situation that Griffin is indeed soon to be named the starter. It’s a respectful way to treat quarterbacks who were not guaranteed to make the 53-man roster; even if it was not a main reason for Jackson’s decision to speed up the process, it is a side effect that can benefit players’ careers.
Jackson and the Browns’ coaching staff know best when it comes to the abilities of their quarterbacks. And based on Jackson’s choice to make the starter announcement earlier than is typical in situations such as this, he must already have some idea of how he wants the quarterback depth chart to play out. Whether Griffin, McCown or even Davis or Kessler, one thing is certain—the path to naming the Browns’ Week 1 starter will not be a drawn-out process with this coaching staff.