Being the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns has proven to be a less-than-envious role. From Ty Detmer to the latest entry, Derek Anderson, the woes of the Cleveland offense have often been attributed to the lack of stability at what may be the most important position on the team.
The Cleveland offense has been a sore spot for much of the seven-plus seasons since 1999, with its problems blamed on scheme or personnel at various times. During this time, no team in the league has had as many starting quarterbacks as the Browns, nor has there been a team with the number of high draft selections, in this same period.
Heading into the 2007 season, the future of the organization are tied to the latest high profile quarterback brought into the Browns organization, Brady Quinn.
The Cleveland organization has resisted the temptation of thrusting the rookie from Notre Dame into the spotlight right away, and the team has been respectable in winning one of their first three games on the season. As the excitement and expectation to see the rookie on the playing field increases by the week, the let-him-sit-and-watch theory has been criticized by many in the media and some former players and coaches.
There is no right way to bring along a rookie quarterback, especially one who is so important to the future of the Cleveland franchise. Quinn is the most important player in the team's locker room, and possibly the most critical since quarterback Tim Couch was the first player selected in the 1999 NFL Draft.
After selecting Couch, the Browns entered the 1999 season with the first pick in the draft on the bench. The team brought in Ty Detmer via a trade to start for the Browns during that 1999 season, while Couch was slated for backup duties, and for learning the professional game beside the veteran Detmer.
Waiving his no-trade clause to have the opportunity to start, Detmer started the season opener against the Steelers and was immediately benched in favor of Couch following a disastrous start against Pittsburgh. Ultimately, Couch was not ready to be thrust into the starting role and the supporting talent on the Browns roster was far less talented than anticipated.
Couch never reached the level the organization had hoped and was eventually released by the Browns.
Fast forward to 2007 and the "lesson" of the Couch experience seems to be reflected in how the team is conducting itself today. The Browns front office and coaching staff has been very cautious handling Quinn. General manager Phil Savage has referenced Couch when discussing the process of getting Quinn ready to play at the professional level. While he provides hope for the future, the organization has not wavered in their desire to in bring Quinn along at a slower pace. The mantra seems to be "When deemed ready to play, he will play".
Some of the basis of this theory has to be the overall state of the Browns offense, which is in the early stages under new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Chudzinski, a former tight-ends coach with the Browns and past quarterbacks coach with the San Diego Chargers, has implemented a completely new scheme for the Browns, one which should benefit the talents of Quinn and current starter Derek Anderson.
"Our offense is going to be predicated on making plays, being in the position to make plays, and utilizing the talented players we have here," Chudzinski said in training camp. "We intend on running the football and being an attacking offense."
Just as the Browns struggled in that season-opening loss to Pittsburgh in 1999, after which Detmer was benched, the Browns faced a similar scenario again this season, as they were obliterated by the Steelers. This time, however, the Browns traded then-starting quarterback Charlie Frye and inserted Anderson into the starting lineup. After the trade, the Browns re-signed quarterback Ken Dorsey to help with the development of Quinn, who was elevated to the backup role.
"The odds of something good developing if the team had put Brady (Quinn) into the starting lineup at that time were remote. Imagine having a rookie quarterback coming in who didn't have a full camp and opportunity to work with the starting group suddenly being the starter," former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar said. "Especially coming in facing a Steelers defense that is coming after you full bore. Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh defensive coordinator) is a master of the zone blitz, they (Steelers) would have thrown everything at him (Quinn) and it could have been a disaster for him to get into that right away."
"You don't want to throw a young player into that situation, if you do not have to. Look at the Browns schedule, playing the Steelers, Ravens, Raiders, New England, Miami, all good defensive teams, the timing to get Brady on the field needs to be looked at, and I think the organization has done a good job with the approach and handling of Quinn."
Coming out of college, Quinn was seemingly the most qualified of all the college quarterbacks to step in and play early in his career. After several years under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, Quinn has been a quick study and proficient in the pro-style offense.
"Some quarterbacks can come right in and be successful, some others have not been as successful. There is no right or wrong way to develop a quarterback, but having surrounding talent is the easiest and quickest way to provide a young quarterback a solid start." Kosar said. "Look at me when I came to the Browns, I was a young, wide-eyed quarterback from Miami. I had the opportunity to learn from Gary Danielson. Having that veteran to befriend and learn the ins-and-outs of the game and issues from was instrumental in my early development. Also, I learned that the offense we ran with the Browns in 1985 was not going to win us many games, (laughing)."
"I think what you see here is, Ken Dorsey has been brought back to be that type of player, friend, etc with Brady. They became close during the spring and that relationship grew, and it was in the best interest of the team, now and for the future that his (Brady's) development was enhanced. I believe being patient and letting him (Quinn) learn, observe, and gain this experience is the best for him, especially until the offense, which I believe is going to be very good with Chud (offensive coordinator) scheme."
If the Browns fall upon losing ways during the season, the pressure to play Quinn will become difficult to ignore and the team could believe they have nothing to lose. As Kosar noted, timing is everything, so playing the rookie after the bye-week against a struggling St. Louis Rams team could be a good time to get the rookie some playing time.
"Fending off the anxiety is tough, but when he is ready I would believe he is going to play. Let's not forget, Derek Anderson could play very well and the need to push Brady into action may not be needed. I can't see sitting Derek if he is playing well, if I was in the position of the organization, my hopes would be that Derek plays well and Brady can remain in the position he is."