He persevered. He rode the bench. He was on his way to the practice squad in Baltimore and was very close to being headed out of Cleveland.
After a disappointing showing in training camp 2007, Derek Anderson was on the verge of being the odd-quarterback-out. But then, on one fateful Sunday in early September, the doorway to opportunity opened a crack. Derek Anderson kicked it wide open and was on his way.
The coaching staff shouldn't be blamed for not anointing Derek Anderson to start the 2007 season. He was not the starter on opening day because he did nothing to earn the right. While the organization clearly was not sold on Charlie Frye as being the answer, the staff did not see enough from Anderson to make him the starter with confidence.
As 2007 began, there was division within the ranks of the Cleveland organization, mostly because neither QB took command of the opportunity.
Over the final fifteen games of the season, Anderson led the Browns on a surprising march to the cusp of the playoffs. Along the way, Anderson gained confidence, experience and, perhaps most importantly, trust from those surrounding him he could get the job done.
Despite some bumps in the road, and remaining doubters who point to an easy schedule, Anderson displayed why he was so highly regarded by Browns GM Phil Savage. He also showed that there are areas of his game which need refining.
Let's put aside our affection for everything orange and brown, and look at Anderson objectively.
DA IN A NUTSHELL
Derek Anderson has very good arm strength and gets plenty of snap off the wrist. His throwing motion can get out of tune due to occasional footwork issues which lead to some of his inconsistency he displays.
Most highly successful professional QB's are uncannily accurate. With Anderson, this attribute tends to come and go. When Anderson is on, as his passes are crisp and his decisions decisive.The QB tends to couple his big-play ability with a fair share of questionably thrown passes into coverage.
But Anderson's ability to throw downfield with reasonable accuracy is a quality that can't be taught. There is simply not one type of pass Anderson is not physically capable of making. While he struggles in the short passing game due to footwork issues and a lack of solid fundamentals (again, beginning with his footwork), this is a facet of his game that can be improved if the quarterback is willing to be coached to fix it.
One area that can't be coached as easily is Anderson's field awareness.
THE ACCURACY QUESTION
Watching the 6-foot 6-inch Anderson, one can see he shows a tendency to not follow through on the ball and his footwork is not precise. All this effects timing, balance and release point in the short passing game. Anderson is sporadic throwing touch passes, as he tends to float the ball when attempting to be precise. And, Anderson will guide the ball and/or throw flat-footed often in these situations.
Like most other big arm QB's, Anderson is not pinpoint accurate, but does possess the ability to get the ball into an area which his receivers can make a play on the ball. This was on display throughout the 2007 season, and was helped immeasurably by Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow's physical skills. This ability was critically important to his early development and success of the team.
After witnessing all the ups and downs Anderson displayed during the 2007 Browns season, it's clear that he has the potential to be a quality starting player in this league. He is unquestionably a much more complete and accurate passer when he sets his feet and rotates through. His tendency to be a half-step off target in many instances may be the result of a desire to wait on receivers until the last opportune moment.
HAVE ARM, WILL GO PLACES
The ball explodes off Anderson's hand, he spins the ball well at times and throws a very catchable ball. By far, this facet of the QB's game surpasses anybody which has traveled through Cleveland in recent memory.
Anderson has plenty of arm strength to make the opposition respect the vertical aspect of the game. This arm strength simply cannot be manufactured and is a significant basis of success of this QB in the Cleveland offensive scheme. While many of the Browns stats don't reflect a big play offense, Anderson's squad was among the league leaders in the 21-30 yard completion area last season.
A lack of serviceable top-end speed on the outside limited what Anderson could do in 2007, since that would allow the Browns to utilize Anderson's strength to the fullest. A legitimate deep-threat presence opens up significant options in the offensive scheme, including stretching the field and creating less rollover coverage by the opposing defense.
THE SHORT GAME
This same threat of speed should provide opportunities in the underneath routes, which is an area of the game where Anderson requires additional work.
In spite of himself at times throwing into coverage, Anderson is considered a modestly accurate passer in the intermediate and down-field game. He requires work on his technique and mentality to thrive in the short game.
The limited speed potential of the offense on the flanks, injury issues, and poor hot-read execution coming from those in the receiving game let the opposition sit on and rollover on routes. Anderson was consistent in attacking, but lacked overall results as the season progressed.
This is why a deep threat is so important to Anderson's development. Once the opposition was able to take away the vertical game (focusing on Braylon Edwards) with double-coverage or rollover help, Anderson's questionable short game came into play. This deficiency in the short-game was costly in the 2007 season for the Browns and could pose a problem heading into the 2008 season, unless Anderson is able to display better field awareness and recognition.
FIELD AWARENESS AND RECOGNITION
This is one of the biggest questions about this QB. While the physical tools can be refined, the mental aspect is difficult to impact. Anderson is still young, however, and possibly can be the exception to the rule.
Anderson often will stare down a receiver waiting for the very last opportunity to make a play downfield. Anderson does not look off a safety consistently, and at times looks through a linebacker, relying on his big arm to make plays. He struggled last season when teams rotated coverage and provided help over the top. Anderson pays for his inconsistency in recognizing and checking down quickly with interceptions.
Clearly, this QB has issues at times following the primary read, notably when a defense disguises well with movement. Anderson is not as quick as you would like to see a starting QB be in reacting and with his check-down progressions. Again, a key factor here could be his approach of waiting out the down-field play, but Anderson needs to utilize what is given when absolutely necessary.
Anderson is at a time in his development where he either takes the next step toward being a complete player, or falls short and remains the type of player he is today, one just slightly short of being 'that' guy. Due to his physical tools (height, arm strength), confidence, and the mysterious quality which is usually labelled "an ability to make plays and confidence", his upside is high. What Anderson could become is intriguing.
Only Anderson can determine whether or not he'll reach his ceiling and emerge as one of the league's better quarterbacks. He also needs solid coaching. If this quarterback can reign in the inconsistency and improve his overall skill-set in recognizing and succeeding in the short-to-intermediate game, he will be one of the NFL's better players at the position.
Again, the ball is in Anderson's court and he has a backup who has his sights set on being the number one guy.
Heading into the training camp, Derek Anderson has earned the right to be the starter. Once camp commences, however, the organization would be doing an injustice to the entire team if the evaluation process is not played out on a level playing field.