BEREA, Ohio -- No one can say whether Brandon Weeden is going to lead the Cleveland Browns from the ranks of the worst teams in the NFL. No one, and this includes Mike Holmgren as well as Pat Shurmur, can declare that Weeden is going to stop the Browns' quarterback carousel that has spanned 16 starters since the city's return to the NFL in 1999.
But, after 40 days and 10 practices with the Browns, there is one assessment of Weeden that everyone can agree upon: The rookie first-round pick has the look of a franchise quarterback.
It only takes one practice to see how Weeden has the size and the arm to live up to that billing. The building excitement with Weeden comes from the fact that his potential extends beyond physical gifts.
He has the comfort level to tell quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple about a couple of red-zone plays he "wasn't a big fan of." He has the courage to throw a deep touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin after nearly getting picked off. He has the confidence to tell reporters about his goal of winning a Super Bowl even before taking a snap in a regular-season game.
While it's way too early to predict Weeden winning championships, he has brought hope to a franchise that has recorded 10 double-digit loss seasons and no playoff victories over the past 13 years. Everyone else in the AFC North went to the postseason last season, and everyone in the division has a franchise quarterback. The only way the Browns can get out of last place is to find one of their own. That's why Weeden is the crucial piece of the Holmgren era in Cleveland.
Browns officials haven't named Weeden the starter because they want him to earn the job. Technically, he's battling Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Unofficially, the Browns' mandatory minicamp this week has served more as a coronation than a competition.
Weeden took the first snaps with the starting offense throughout Tuesday's practice. He was the quarterback standing at the podium addressing reporters after the workout. He looks like "the guy" in Cleveland, even though Weeden himself refuses to acknowledge it.
"Not yet, just because nothing is formal," Weeden said. "We're still two months out until we play our first preseason game. I'm still working my tail off just to get better and keep learning. I'm getting more comfortable with what we are doing, but I still have a long ways to go."
The most overused term with Weeden is that he's mature. This has become a polite way to say Weeden is old. He'll turn 29 during the season, which makes him the Betty White of rookie quarterbacks.
The better description for Weeden is he's grounded. He hasn't been coddled like many first-round quarterbacks. He has tasted failure as a minor-league pitcher (he went 19-26 after being drafted in the same round as Joey Votto) and only became a winning quarterback at Oklahoma State after making the climb from a third-stringer.
Weeden understands what it takes to rebound from struggles, which will serve him well this year. All rookie quarterbacks make mistakes. The successful ones don't crumble from them.
"I won't make that same mistake again and if I do, shame on me," he said "I think you guys will find I'm pretty even-keeled, but I think my track record shows -- I put that one behind me. They always say, 'Wash your hands and move on.' That's kind of the approach I take, and that comes from baseball. I gave up a lot of home runs in baseball and they're very similar. So you've just got to toe the rubber, you've got to take snaps and move on and make the next play."
Shurmur was reluctant to give any glowing remarks about Weeden on Tuesday. It was kind of a game to watch him turn questions specifically about Weeden into answers that addressed the entire quarterback group.
He was even hesitant to put a timetable on naming the starting quarterback. "I think it's important to do it as quickly as possible," Shurmur said. "But yet, it needs to happen at a pace where the guys here have a chance to compete."
If Weeden's progression since his first practice on May 11 is any indication, he'll be ready to start against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 9.
"I'm leap years farther along right now than I was obviously Day 1, Day 2," Weeden said. "I think even from rookie minicamp, where I'm at right now is that I look like two totally different quarterbacks -- in my footwork, and you can tell I'm processing stuff a little bit faster and I'm not thinking quite as much."
Weeden added, "When you stop thinking so much and you just react and go through your reads one, two, three to your back, that's when you start moving the ball down the field and start getting completions and first downs."
Moving the ball down the field in short chunks isn't Weeden's forte. What stood out about him in Tuesday's practice was the amount of deep shots he took.
"Sometimes in this West Coast offense it can get labeled as an underneath route, catch-and-run route [scheme]," Weeden said, "but any time you can really step into one and let it rip, that's fun."
Weeden is entering the NFL at a time when expectations for rookie quarterbacks are at an all-time high.
Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons in 2008. Mark Sanchez helped the Jets to the AFC championship as a rookie in 2009. And Cam Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and Andy Dalton went to the Pro Bowl last year.
This doesn't faze a quarterback like Weeden, who has already said he wants to win a Super Bowl before he's done playing.
"We put the pressure on ourselves to win games," Weeden said. "We want to get to the playoffs. We want to take our team as far as we can. That's the way good quarterbacks should think."
That's exactly the way franchise quarterbacks should talk.