AFC North: Tim Couch

The party's over for Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns would do well to give Johnny Manziel time to develop instead of thrusting him in as a starter.
The offseason of Vegas-Austin-Mexico-Los Angeles clubs and beverages/bottles has concluded. The social media photos with rolled bills are complete. Manziel reported for his first NFL training camp on Wednesday in Cleveland to try to become the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback. On Thursday, workouts begin. It's not exactly a brave new world for the Browns' first-round draft pick -- he did manage himself quite well in college during the season while having a good time in the offseason, thank you very much -- but it is a more challenging situation than anything he has dealt with in his life. The young wunderkind who was simply always better than those around him finds himself at a whole new level, having to earn his place in the world of professionals.

But while attention will be focused on his every move, his coach has made no secret he'd prefer Manziel not be the team's immediate starter. Coach Mike Pettine told that in his "ideal world," Manziel would not start on opening day.

Go figure.

The Browns, a team in need of a new image, excite the area and the football world by drafting the most exciting player eligible, and they want him to wait.

But there's sound logic and strong precedent behind Pettine's thinking.

He talks about success stories for people who wait to start -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer -- and compares them to guys he has seen rushed into the starting lineup too soon -- Kyle Boller -- for a team not good enough to support them.

That's a scenario Cleveland fans know all too well, as they have seen quarterback after quarterback forced into the lineup, only to struggle with a bad team and fail: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brandon Weeden among them.

The other cycle that has been repeated in Cleveland is that a quarterback ballyhooed as a savior watches as the team drafts another. The public and media -- and eventually the team -- grow weary of the first "savior" struggling because the team is not equipped to help him. This starts the clamor for the next guy. He then is rushed in and struggles for the same reasons the first guy did.

Savior after savior has flamed out, quickly. Heck, a year ago in Cleveland, Jason Campbell was briefly considered a savior. He finished 1-7 as a starter.

"It's a bad cycle," Pettine said, "until you get the team around him."

Pettine has to balance a lot, starting with hype and expectation (multiplied exponentially because it's Manziel) that comes with any quarterback drafted in the first round. But he also has to balance what he has seen -- that a quarterback will struggle if the team around him struggles.

"There's no doubt [the quarterback is] the most important guy on the field," Pettine said. "But he's so much the product of his supporting cast."

In many past years, the Browns built the team from the inside out. Start with the quarterback and hope to add pieces. It can work, but the danger in that process showed constantly as a lack of a supporting cast left each young quarterback battered, shell-shocked and fragile.

Pettine wants to build from the outside in while still working with the best quarterback he can find.

That's why in the offseason the Browns rebuilt the running game with personnel and system. It is why they bolstered the offensive line, and why they've implemented a defensive scheme that has been successful everywhere it has been used. It's also why they brought in prominent defensive veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, guys used to winning who might change the vibe in a locker room accustomed to losing.

The final piece was a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer. In Manziel, the Browns got a guy who threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns at Texas A&M, a guy who for whatever reason has become a social media phenomenon.

"I don't think even he can get a handle on the why," Pettine said

At this point in his NFL career, Manziel has done nothing but be successful in college. As any Browns fan can attest, college success and/or a college resume does not automatically translate to wins in the NFL.

Pettine said Manziel was a great teammate in the previous time he was in Cleveland, calling him "very humble." The typical litany of positives followed: good in the weight room, attentive in meetings, smart.

Pettine then added this tidbit: "I think he's ahead of the learning curve."

In the world of hype, parsing and interpreting what has formed around Manziel, that comment would translate on the conversion chart to: "Holy smokes this guy is good."

But there are many factors at play, not the least of which are the beliefs and principles of the head coach. In organized team activities and minicamps, Manziel had his moments but never consistently looked like a no-brainer to be the starter. He never played like a guy who immediately had to be put in the lineup. Manziel himself admitted the Browns' offense is a lot more complex than the one he ran in college, where he didn't even have a playbook. There's the reality that the Browns open in Pittsburgh and then play at home against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Those are three very tough, physical and aggressive defenses that might make a team hesitate to start a rookie.

Two things are steadfastly true, though. First is that if Manziel doesn't turn out the lights, his on-field party will be over. Because he won't be able to succeed on the field if he's living the extreme high life off it. Pettine said he expects the off-field to be a "non-story" soon.

The second is that Pettine is determined to not give Manziel the job simply because of who he is.

"It's very simple for us," Pettine said. "Who gives us the best chance to win?"
A tiny item caught my eye amid the hoopla about media access and Johnny Manziel's first practice weekend with the Cleveland Browns.

It came from Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who pointed out that the playbook (on a tablet) that Manziel received from the Browns was the first one he had been given in his football career. At Texas A&M, King wrote, Manziel ran a group of plays given to him from week to week.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
David Maxwell/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel must adjust to the first playbook of his football career, but his biggest challenge involves mental preparation.
This flashed me back immediately to Tim Couch, who played in the NFL after not having a playbook in college. Everyone knows what happened to Couch, but the story became a big deal when folks learned Couch did not have a playbook at Kentucky. With Manziel, it was barely a blip on the radar.

Clearly the different approach will require an adjustment for the Browns' rookie quarterback. To go from no playbook to one on a tablet is a significant change.

It's all part of Manziel's transition as he goes from celebrated college star to ... ahem ... NFL backup. And several current and former NFL coaches believe the changes will be significant but that doesn't necessarily mean it won't work out.

The challenges are twofold. One is adjusting to running an offense based on two or three reads after running primarily a one-read, spread formation system in college. The other is adjusting to the increased emphasis in the NFL on line calls, coverages and reads as opposed to the college emphasis on the pace with which plays are run.

This is all added to the normal adjustment of moving up one level; it's a mental transition added to the physical ones, where the players chasing Manziel are all bigger, faster and stronger.

Nobody doubts Manziel's ability, or his potential for excitement. But the insights provide a little more football reality to the transition.

The point: The college playbook is small and the focus is on speed and getting the play run. It's not on things like pre-snap read, determining where the defense will pressure and adjusting the playcall to that read. College programs want plays run at a near frenetic pace. It's the focus in practice and games.

Yes, Chip Kelly's system translated to the Philadelphia Eagles, but that's because he brought many of the elements of the system he used in Oregon. Manziel will be going from a fast-paced college system to a variation of the West Coast run by Kyle Shanahan.

The sheer depth of knowledge Manziel will need should not be underestimated. It extends not just to the offense, but to understanding the defenses -- the disguised coverages and rush fronts and blitzes (think Troy Polamalu the past several years).

The NFL is a league in which protections are called at the line and pass routes are run based on blitzes and coverages. The right call at the line is crucial, the right read before the snap vital -- to the point it can be the difference between a first down or a strip-sack or interception.

Understanding the defense is as important as understanding the offense.

None of this means Manziel won't succeed. Far from it. He may succeed right away.

What it does is show the benefit to some quarterbacks of sitting and learning, and what it also shows is how tough the transition can be as colleges go further away from pro-style offenses.
Ben RoethlisbergerAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBen Roethlisberger, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2004, has forever impacted the franchise.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers needed more than a little luck to end their long search for the rightful heir to Terry Bradshaw, the quarterback they had taken first overall in the 1970 NFL draft.

Ten years ago today -- and almost a quarter of a century after they selected Bradshaw by winning a coin toss to secure the top pick over the Chicago Bears -- the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick.

As with Bradshaw, the pick set the franchise on a glorious course.

Bradshaw struggled early in his career and was benched and booed by fans before winning four Super Bowls, but with Roethlisberger, the Steelers got a serious return on their quarterback investment earlier than anyone could have expected.

An injury to starter Tommy Maddox in the second game of the 2004 season thrust Roethlisberger into action. And the quarterback who had been considered more of a project than the two picked ahead of him (Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) because he hadn't played against top competition at Miami (Ohio) responded by winning his first 14 starts.

The Steelers suffered a disappointing loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, but they finally found their quarterback after going through their share of them following Bradshaw's retirement in 1984.

Roethlisberger led the Steelers to three Super Bowls from 2005 to 2010, winning two of them, and he showed a flair for extending plays after his pass protection had collapsed, as well as directing clutch fourth-quarter drives -- both the result of a competitive streak that is as long as one of the three rivers that converge in Pittsburgh.

He authored his signature comeback in Super Bowl XLIII when the Steelers trailed the upstart Arizona Cardinals by three points and were backed up at their 10-yard line with less than three minutes left in the game.

Roethlisberger needed eight plays and a little more than two minutes to lead the Steelers to a game-winning touchdown, capping the drive with a 6-yard scoring pass to Santonio Holmes.

The pass was vintage Roethlisberger: daring and something more likely seen in a backyard game, not the NFL's biggest stage. Roethlisberger unleashed the pass under pressure, throwing it into a crowd but only where his receiver had a chance to catch it.

That unlikely play, in retrospect, serves as something of a metaphor for Roethlisberger's Steelers career, because so much had to break just right for him to wear black and gold in the first place.

“We didn't expect that he would end up in Pittsburgh,” Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, said.

Indeed, 10 teams picked ahead of the Steelers in the 2004 draft, including the Browns, who would have been hailed for taking the Ohio native to lift the struggling franchise.

And Roethlisberger's camp didn't know to what extent he was on the Steelers' radar.

The team had met with Roethlisberger at the NFL scouting combine and also hosted him for a pre-draft visit, but they never worked him out. Tollner figured he would go to the Raiders at No. 2, the Cardinals at No. 3, the Giants at No. 4 or the Browns at No. 6.

If none of those teams drafted Roethlisberger, Tollner thought, Buffalo at No. 13 would be the probable landing spot for his client.

Meanwhile, another member of Roethlisberger's inner circle was convinced the Giants were going to draft him. Terry Hoeppner, his coach at Miami, had spoken extensively with Ernie Accorsi about Roethlisberger and had gotten a good vibe from the Giants' general manager.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/John Marshall MantelQB Ben Roethlisberger hasn't forgotten about all of the teams -- especially the Browns -- who bypassed him in the 2004 draft.
That is why when the Giants drafted Rivers -- they subsequently dealt him to the Chargers for Manning, who had been taken first overall -- Hoeppner fired a water bottle in disgust across the table where he was sitting with Roethlisberger and others at the draft in New York City.

The Redskins took safety Sean Taylor with the fifth pick, providing an opening for the Browns, who needed a quarterback after Tim Couch, the first overall selection in 1999, didn't pan out.

"[Roethlisberger] is a northwest Ohio kid, and played in-state at Miami of Ohio and here the Browns are, they've struggled at the quarterback position for a long time," Tollner said. "Ben is sitting there and they elect to go with a tight end. It's something Ben's never forgotten and he never will."

The Browns' picking tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. proved to be one of the draft's pivotal points. But the Steelers also came close to passing over Roethlisberger after he lasted through the first 10 picks.

The team had zeroed in on Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, but owner Dan Rooney deftly shifted the conversation to Roethlisberger before the Steelers made their pick.

Rooney had good reason to speak up.

The Steelers had built their dynasty in the 1970s -- and transformed an organization once synonymous with losing -- through shrewd drafting.

They had missed an opportunity near the end of Bradshaw's career when they passed on local legend Dan Marino in the 1983 draft and instead selected Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera with the 21st pick.

The Dolphins pounced on Marino with the 27th selection, and his strong arm and quick-as-a-hiccup release allowed the Pitt product to become an early star in Miami and eventually a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.

The Steelers, meanwhile, shuffled through enough quarterbacks in the post-Bradshaw era that seven different players led them in passing from 1983 to 2003.

Rooney fretted that overlooking Roethlisberger also might come back to haunt the Steelers.

"I couldn't bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect," Rooney wrote in his book "Dan Rooney: My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers and The NFL."

"So I steered the conversation around to Roethlisberger. After some more talk, we came to a consensus and picked Roethlisberger."

Ten years later, Roethlisberger remains the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl -- he was only 23 when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in February 2006 -- and joins Eli Manning and Brady as the only active quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl victories.

Roethlisberger, who turned 32 in March, already has broken many of Bradshaw's Steelers records and is five victories away from becoming the 13th quarterback in NFL history to win at least 100 regular-season games.

It hasn't all been smooth for Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

A motorcycle accident after his first Super Bowl victory left Roethlisberger seriously injured and may have contributed to his uneven play in 2006. And two sexual assault allegations made against him less than a year apart led to a four-game personal-conduct policy suspension by the NFL at the beginning of the 2010 season (Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime).

Roethlisberger since has rehabilitated his image, gotten married and started a family. He is considerably closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it, though he played every snap last season.

It's safe to say Roethlisberger is one of the best draft choices in Steelers history -- and the most critical one to reconnecting the team that has won a record six Lombardi trophies with its triumphant past.

Oh, and yeah, Roethlisberger is 19-1 in his career against the Browns, the most notable and personal of the teams that passed on him 10 years ago.

"I think that Ben getting where he did in hindsight was the best thing that could have happened to him because he went to a strong organization but he went in a position that kept him feeling like an underdog," Tollner said. "He entered the league a very respectable pick at No. 11 overall but very driven to prove that 10 teams made a very bad mistake in passing on him."

A look at the AFC North

January, 7, 2014
The lone AFC North team in the playoffs made another early exit Sunday when the No. 3 Bengals lost to the No. 6 Chargers, 27-10, at Paul Brown Stadium. With all four division teams now in offseason mode, here is a quick look at them by order of finish in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

2013 record: 11-5, 3-3 in division

Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins

Biggest question: Have coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton taken the Bengals as far as they can?

Biggest reason for hope: Despite losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Bengals have a very good nucleus. Rookie Giovani Bernard showed enough to think his time splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis is over.

Why they might disappoint: Dalton has faltered too many times in big games to think he can take the next step, and just making the playoffs is no longer good enough in Cincinnati.

Overall state of the franchise: The Bengals find themselves at a crossroads, but they have little choice but to stick with Dalton -- for now -- unless they want to draft a quarterback in the first round and hand over a veteran team to him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 record: 8-8, 4-2

Key free agents: OLB Jason Worilds, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Biggest question: Will the Steelers re-establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders while re-tooling their defense?

Biggest reason for hope: The offense will be able to mask some of the issues the Steelers have on defense if it builds on its strong second half of the 2013 season.

Why they might disappoint: The defense could get worse before it gets better if younger players don’t emerge in the secondary and Worilds signs elsewhere.

Overall state of the franchise: The Steelers are facing a lot of uncertainty, but a 6-2 finish and the way the offense has come together point to them returning to postseason play in 2014 after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Baltimore Ravens

2013 record: 8-8, 3-3

Key free agents: TE Dennis Pitta, LB Daryl Smith

Biggest question: Did the Ravens suffer through the dreaded Super Bowl hangover or are they in decline?

Biggest reason for hope: Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback, and there is still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.

Why they might disappoint: The Ravens, like the Steelers, are clearly in transition on defense. Two cornerstones of that defense -- outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- no longer dominate on a consistent basis.

Overall state of the franchise: Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are as good as any general manager-coach tandem in the NFL, and they have to be given the benefit of the doubt even though the Ravens slipped this season.

Cleveland Browns

2013 record: 4-12, 2-4

Key free agents: C Alex Mack, S T.J. Ward

Biggest question: Will a new coach and a quarterback finally stabilize an organization that has floundered, often spectacularly, since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999?

Biggest reason for hope: There are some pieces in place, most notably wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerback Joe Haden and left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Browns have a pair of first-round picks, including the fourth overall selection.

Why they may disappoint: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden are the quarterbacks the Browns have drafted in the first round since 1999. Why should Browns fans think they will get it right in this draft?

Overall state of the franchise: The Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season, and unless they find the right replacement and, oh yeah, a quarterback in the draft, the Browns will continue to bottom feed in the AFC North.

Accepting positives in a loss

October, 28, 2013
Not every team in the NFL walks out of a game somewhat pleased with a 23-17 loss.

Most teams, in fact, would be pretty steamed at losing.

But the Cleveland Browns are not most teams. They’ve won 26 games since 2008, and they’ve been searching for a quarterback since the days of the first Colonial Convention (Robert Treat Paine recommended Donovan McNabb over Tim Couch).

This season, the Browns labored through four games with Brandon Weeden, whose struggles have been well documented. But appreciating how much his struggles held the offense back does not become apparent until another quarterback plays.

Brian Hoyer brought life to the offense with his quick decisions and throws, and his two wins.

Then he got hurt.

Sunday it was Jason Campbell's turn. He struggled early, but hung in against a very good defense and finished with two touchdowns, 293 yards and a rating over 100.

The down side is that Campbell did little when given four chances to take the lead in the second half, but the up side is that he played efficiently and didn’t throw interceptions.

For the Browns this is a mini-victory.

Because the bar is just that low.

It’s that low because there has been so little success as a team, and so little consistency at the most important position on the team.

Campbell gives some hope for the second half of the season. But even this should be tempered. Campbell has played very little the past two seasons, and a lot of teams see him as a backup, as a guy who can play well but doesn’t get the win -- as his 31-41 record as a starter indicates.

The Browns face the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers in the next three games -- with the games against the Ravens and Steelers at home. All are in the AFC North.

They head to the second half with a 3-5 record, which is about where most thought they’d be. If they find a way to beat the Ravens, a team they usually play well, they’d be 4-5 heading to the bye, which is probably ahead of where most thought they’d be.

For the Browns, that’s a positive.

What a QB tale they've told

October, 23, 2013
The number 20 is special in many circles.

The 20th anniversary means a little more than the 16th, and a young man or woman who turns 20 feels a little more "adult."

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsJason Campbell's play at quarterback is a key reason why the Browns are optimistic about making the AFC playoffs.
So when the Browns name their 20th starting quarterback since 1999 -- the year the team returned from a three-year hiatus -- it's worth taking a trip down memory lane (the screams in the background are from Browns fans whose memories are being jogged ... feel free to offer appropriate sympathies).

  • Ty Detmer -- The plan to have him hold the fort lasted for one blowout loss, in the season opener against Pittsburgh.
  • Tim Couch -- The original No. 1 choice, had a couple of good years but not enough.
  • Couch
  • Spergon Wynn -- Chris Palmer was lobbied to play him by the front office, and he produced two first downs in one game.
  • Doug Pederson -- Now Kansas City's offensive coordinator, started the Dennis Northcutt/Kevin Johnson quarterback game.
  • Couch -- The only season when one quarterback started every game.
  • Couch
  • Kelly Holcomb -- The year of the Dwayne Rudd helmet-removal game and the blown playoff game in Pittsburgh.
  • Holcomb -- Incurred the "teeny-tiny break of a non-weight bearing bone in his leg."
  • Couch -- Late this season, Butch Davis told Couch he was his quarterback for years to come; Couch was released in the offseason.
  • Jeff Garcia -- He never quite fit in, though he thinks he does now.
  • Holcomb
  • Luke McCown -- Interim coach Terry Robiskie admitted when McCown played, it was men against boys.
  • Trent Dilfer -- Good guy, but chewed up by the Cleveland system always looking for the next guy.
  • Charlie Frye -- Had moments as a rookie until the Christmas Eve massacre against Pittsburgh.
  • Frye -- Traded after the Browns lost the season opener.
  • Anderson -- Had the best season of a Browns QB since 1999, won 10 games, but didn't win the game needed to make the playoffs.
  • Anderson.
  • Brady Quinn -- The town was jubliant after Phil Savage traded up to get him and Joe Thomas in the first round.
  • Ken Dorsey -- At this point hopes were dimmed.
  • Bruce Gradkowski -- Signed to start the last game when everyone else was hurt.
  • Quinn and Anderson -- Yo-yoed back and forth by Eric Mangini.
  • Jake Delhomme -- Mike Holmgren's interim solution.
  • Seneca Wallace -- Holmgren's backup solution.
  • Colt McCoy -- Holmgren's drafted solution.
  • McCoy -- The year he was put back in the game with a concussion in Pittsburgh.
  • Wallace
  • Weeden
  • Brian Hoyer -- Showed promise before unfortunate injury.
  • Campbell -- Passed over twice, now starting.
Let's take a look at some headlines on the Cleveland Browns beat:
  • Coach Rob Chudzinski didn't seem worried about not having a kicker yet, even though he won't have many days to get his timing with long snapper Christian Yount and punter Spencer Lanning, the holder. "In places I've been before, we've had different kickers throughout the course of the season," Chudzinski said, via The Akron Beacon Journal. "It's probably the one position where a guy can come in. It's unique in that way. There's not a lot of interaction with teammates and getting to learn systems. It's pretty much an individualized skill. I'm not concerned about it. Between the pool that's there and the guys that have been here, we'll find the guy that we need."
  • As The Plain Dealer points out, Trent Richardson is the last running back standing. His top three backups at the start of the preseason -- Montario Hardesty, Dion Lewis and Brandon Jackson -- are all gone.
  • The Akron Beacon Journal believes running back Bobby Rainey is the headliner of the six players signed by the Browns on Sunday.
  • Only once since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 has the same quarterback started all 16 games (Tim Couch, in 2001). That's why The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto likes the Browns' current depth at quarterback.
  • Safety Tashaun Gipson has the mind set of an undrafted free agent even though he is a starter now, according to the team's website.

BEREA, Ohio -- The Colt McCoy era is over. A new one -- make that older one -- began Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick.

The Browns have gone from a weak-armed quarterback to a geriatric one by NFL standards. At 28 years, 195 days, Weeden is the oldest player ever to be taken in the first round of the Common Draft era, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Weeden is only two years younger than Ben Roethlisberger. He's one year older than Brady Quinn, the last quarterback taken by the Browns in the first round.

Drafting running back Trent Richardson in the first round was a no-brainer. And, even though I think Weeden can be a quality starter in this league, taking him in the first round makes little sense for a team that is not a quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl.

The Browns have too many other needs on offense to reach for a failed minor-league pitcher. The Cleveland front office believes it found a franchise quarterback in Weeden, but you have to wonder who is going to block for him at right tackle and who is going to catch the long passes from Weeden's big arm. The Browns are right that Weeden will be an upgrade over McCoy. But, like McCoy, he might have trouble reaching that potential with the holes surrounding him.

In a span of a few hours, the Dawg Pound went from high-fiving over the selection of Richardson to scratching their heads over Weeden.

Why didn't the Browns take a wide receiver like Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill? Why didn't Cleveland pick up Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff or Stanford guard David DeCastro? Why did a rebuilding franchise select an older quarterback?

"We went through the process of evaluating him, we became very fond of him," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "We all did, from Randy [Lerner, owner] to Mike [Holmgren, team president] to Tom [Heckert, general manager] to myself. I came away saying this is a guy we'd like to have on our team. That's where we're at right now."

It was interesting that Shurmur pointed out that the owner had input on this decision. The pressure is on, and the clock is ticking.

At his age, Weeden has to start immediately. There's no time to let him sit and learn. And, because of his age, the expectation is to win immediately.

Browns officials shrugged off Weeden's age as being an issue. The number they concentrated on is 22, which is Weeden's wins in 25 starts in college.

"We feel like the kid's a winner," Shurmur said. "I wasn't concerned about his age."

The arrival of Weeden could mean the end of McCoy's days in Cleveland. The Browns gave McCoy a major vote of no confidence when they aggressively tried to trade up for Robert Griffin III last month.

The question now isn't whether McCoy will compete for the job. It's whether McCoy will even be on this team. Heckert didn't deny the possibility that the Browns could trade McCoy this weekend.

"To be honest, we haven't thought about that. We really haven't," Heckert said. "That's something we'll talk about tonight and tomorrow."

If it wasn't for Weeden's age, he would have been a top-10 pick. He has a strong arm. He's got a quick release. He is a hard worker. He is a respected leader.

There's a good chance that Weeden will be a productive quarterback and might end the string of other "franchise" quarterbacks like Tim Couch, Derek Anderson and Quinn. The problem is, teams draft quarterbacks in the first round to be the starter for the next decade. The odds are against that with Weeden, who will turn 30 in October next year.

The Browns have done such a great job in rebuilding the defense in the past two drafts that you want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll do the same on offense. When it came time for the Browns to pick at No. 22, Heckert said there was no decision to make especially after Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright was drafted by Tennessee at No. 20.

"Brandon was by far the best player for us," Heckert said. "There wasn't really even an afterthought. As soon as a couple of guys went, we knew we were going to take him."

Weeden might have been the best player available at that point. He was just not the right player for the Browns.
Andy Dalton & Colt McCoyUS PresswireThe futures of the Bengals and Browns are tied to young QBs Andy Dalton, left, and Colt McCoy.
Since the AFC North was created during the 2002 realignment, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been the biggest bullies within the conference. Those teams have combined for seven division titles in the past nine seasons.

With new eras beginning simultaneously for Ohio's two NFL franchises, young quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy will be aiming to shift the balance of power toward the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, respectively. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and if Dalton and McCoy turn out to be the long-term solutions, it could go a long way toward potentially turning the AFC North on its head.

The Steelers and Ravens have their answers at quarterback. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, 29, already has led his team to three Super Bowls, winning two, and is currently in the prime of his career. Baltimore's Joe Flacco, 26, has led the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances and continues to get better.

That puts an immense amount of pressure on Dalton and McCoy to catch up. Their futures directly tie into Cincinnati and Cleveland's ability or inability to close the gap within the division. If both are busts, there might not be an end in sight to the dominance by Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Neither the Bengals nor the Browns have any shot of overcoming these perennial contenders with shoddy quarterback play.

"It's horrible; there's nothing good about [inexperienced quarterbacks] facing the Ravens and Steelers," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They're not carbon copies of each other, but their philosophy is pretty similar. They're going to take away your running game, and you're not going to outwork them in the trenches or move them. Then you're one-dimensional, and then you're in trouble."

Cleveland has had a number of quarterbacks eaten alive by Baltimore and Pittsburgh since returning to the NFL in 1999. Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are just some of the players who were battered, beaten and couldn't maintain long-term success in the AFC North. McCoy is next in line to give it a shot this season.

Last season McCoy showed flashes of promise, but he got off to an inauspicious start against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. He went 0-3 against the Steelers and Ravens, throwing for two touchdowns and eight interceptions in those games. If McCoy has similar performances against Cleveland's biggest rivals in Year 2, he won't hold his starting job very long.

"I think he played like a rookie at times and then he far exceeded my expectations at other times," Browns president Mike Holmgren said recently of McCoy. "It coincided with the games we won and a couple games that we lost. ... Did he exceed expectations from me? I would have to say yes, because I didn't expect him to play. Is there a huge upside and much more to come? I would say yes to that, too, because he is a young man just learning to play the position in our league."

Holmgren echoes the sentiment of Cleveland's coaches and those in the front office, who remain optimistic about McCoy. But Williamson isn't convinced.

Williamson recently ranked the Browns last in his post-draft Power Rankings, leading Scouts Inc. to predict Cleveland will take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick in the 2012 draft. If this scenario plays out, McCoy's first full season as a starter in 2011 projects to be a disaster.

"I really worry about the guy's arm strength. I just can't get around that," Williamson said. "When the weather gets bad, he's not going to be able to complete passes in Cleveland. I think he's a real good fit in the West Coast offense. I think he has some moxie to him and I like the way he plays. But when it's December and the Steelers and Ravens are in town, you better be able to complete a deep out."

Former No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer did have success, which is why Cincinnati is the only team other than Baltimore and Pittsburgh to win the AFC North. The Bengals won division titles in 2005 and 2009.

Palmer, who demanded a trade and threatened to retire this offseason, was particularly tough against the Ravens. He was 9-4 as a starter versus Baltimore, and the Ravens certainly won't miss Palmer if he never plays another down in Cincinnati.

That is where Dalton comes in. Barring an unexpected change of heart by Palmer, Dalton is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Cincinnati after leading TCU to an undefeated season in 2010.

Dalton, like many successful quarterbacks, comes to Cincinnati with confidence and a very competitive attitude.

"Obviously, everyone knows about the current situation with Carson Palmer," Dalton said. "As far as I know, it's open [competition]. We're trying to figure out who will be the guy, and I’m looking forward to it."

Dalton's biggest strengths are his accuracy and leadership, which will be needed in Cincinnati. Dalton recently said he models his game after some of the top quarterbacks in the league.

"Growing up and watching the NFL, I saw what Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have done. They seem to have full control over their team," Dalton explained. "You see how well it's worked out for them. Recently, I watched Aaron Rodgers even before he won the Super Bowl. He's a guy who took advantage of his opportunity when it was his time. I think those are three guys that I've watched and studied. Hopefully I can take something from each of their games."

Neither McCoy nor Dalton was a top draft pick. McCoy was a third-rounder in 2010, and Dalton was taken in the second round last month. Yet both are projected to start very early in their careers and, thus, will carry pressure similar to being a first-round pick.

Time will tell if Dalton and McCoy will eventually lead to a quarterback changing of the guard in the AFC North. But count Williamson among the biggest skeptics.

"They both won a ton of games in college, were wonderful college players, and you want your daughter to marry them," Williamson explained. "But they just don't throw the football as well as they have to be 'The Guy' in that division."

Browns have a lot riding on Colt McCoy

December, 17, 2010
Colt McCoyScott A. Miller/US PresswireColt McCoy has three more games to prove he deserves to be the Browns' starting quarterback beyond the 2010 season.
BEREA, Ohio -- It felt as if there was a changing of the guard at the Cleveland Browns' training facility this week. After talking it over with president Mike Holmgren and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Browns head coach Eric Mangini named rookie quarterback Colt McCoy the starter for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Mangini gushed about McCoy's work ethic, quick learning curve and how the rookie wouldn't accept it when everyone in the organization -- from Holmgren on down -- said they didn't plan for McCoy to see the field this year. Instead, McCoy is projected to play eight games, which is half of the Browns' season.

McCoy landed his initial opportunity through injury, but he's regaining the starting job with solid play in five starts. He threw for 975 yards, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had an 85.3 passer rating. The rookie proved to be the best quarterback on the roster and essentially forced the team into this decision.

"I wasn't really looking at this as just being the case where we're throwing a young guy in to see whether or not a young guy can do it," Mangini said. "I think Colt really did a good job with the opportunities that he had. I think he's earned the chance to play these three games."

Is McCoy the long-term solution in Cleveland? It's too early to tell.

But the Browns (5-8) and the rest of the NFL are about to learn a lot more about McCoy in the next three games against AFC North opponents. The first test is Sunday, a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) and then there's back-to-back home games against the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens (9-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3).

The training wheels are officially off for McCoy.

"It's no landmark day," McCoy said Thursday. "Today is the day that I know I'm the starter and I have to go out and play. I have to go out and get better and I have to go out and help us win."

McCoy's play down the stretch will affect a lot with the Browns, starting with the NFL draft. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and Cleveland has lacked stability there since returning to the NFL in 1999.

A lot of quarterbacks have passed through Cleveland's revolving door, including Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and now Jake Delhomme. Poor quarterback play is one of the biggest reasons Cleveland has just one playoff appearance in more than a decade.

McCoy showed promise, going 2-3 in five starts. But five games do not make a solid season. Three more contests will provide a half-season's worth of film to evaluate the rookie.

"The No. 1 goal of the Cleveland Browns right now has to be finding out what they have in McCoy," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They like what they've seen from him, but can he be the guy? Or do the Browns need to draft a guy or bring in a free agent? I think the Browns need to have a clear picture of that going into the offseason."

The Browns also need to find out whether McCoy can play in inclement weather. Garcia, Frye and Quinn didn't have the arm strength to throw against the heavy winds that come off Lake Erie in Browns Stadium during the winter.

McCoy's biggest asset is his accuracy, not arm strength, which raised some red flags when the Browns drafted the University of Texas product in the third round. McCoy didn't see a lot of bad weather as a four-year starter in the Big 12.

"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin]."

McCoy believes playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. But when he was pressed by the media this week regarding his arm strength, a confident McCoy fired back.

"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy scoffed.

Running the carousel in the AFC North also will be a great learning tool for McCoy. If Cleveland is to turn the franchise around and make a run at the postseason, it first has to win within the division.

The past three seasons the Browns are just 3-12 against AFC North opponents. It's a major reason former head coach Romeo Crennel was fired in Cleveland and Mangini is currently on the hot seat. If McCoy can get hot and pick up two or three wins against Cleveland's biggest rivals, everyone in the organization looks better heading into the offseason.

It's obvious the Browns have a lot riding on McCoy's performance in these final three games.
BEREA, Ohio -- Veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme made no secret about his intentions this year with the Cleveland Browns.

[+] EnlargeJake Delhomme
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesJake Delhomme is looking to rebound from a disastrous 2009 season.
"I play this game for one reason and one reason only -- to win," Delhomme said. "That's what this game is about. There's something about walking into a locker room after a game with those 10 minutes when it's just the coaches and the players. There's nothing greater than seeing a mission accomplished for the work you put in."

The Browns are hopeful they finally have a proven starting quarterback this year. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland has had a plethora of rotating quarterbacks that included Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson.

Delhomme looked good in Wednesday's practice that was open to the media. He hit receivers Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey for a pair of diving touchdown receptions to the outside. Delhomme also was accurate and in command of the huddle throughout Wednesday's organized team activities.

"The things that we have heard about his leadership and our research is definitely showing up since he's been here," said Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini.

The Browns have a quiet confidence about Delhomme.

Expectations are fairly low, because Delhomme is 35 and coming off the worst season of his NFL career. Last year Delhomme threw for 2,015 yards, eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions before being benched by the Carolina Panthers.

"I love six of the seven years I had in Carolina," Delhomme said. "I'll be perfectly honest. Everything was great, [but] last season just wasn’t a lot of fun."

Much of Cleveland's success rest on Delhomme's shoulders. If he has a bounce-back year, the Browns have a good chance to improve on last year's 5-11 record. If Delhomme has another disastrous year, Cleveland could be in major trouble.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Will the Cleveland Browns have enough patience to successfully groom rookie quarterback Colt McCoy?

When it comes to quarterbacks, patience certainly is not a virtue in Cleveland.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
AP Photo/Amy SancettaColt McCoy is expected to start the season No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart.
It's a city that is desperate for a championship and a franchise quarterback to call its own. It's been 17 years since Bernie Kosar last donned a Browns uniform. Cleveland fans have been quick to anoint the Browns' next franchise quarterback, only to be disappointed.

Often the Browns' organization followed suit by rushing quarterbacks onto the field and usually without much of a supporting cast.

For example, Tim Couch was a No. 1 overall pick after the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. He played 15 games his rookie year and spent that season -- and most of his career -- taking a pounding for an expansion franchise. Thus, Couch never had the chance to fully blossom as an NFL quarterback thanks to various injuries he suffered.

Kelly Holcomb, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and most recently Brady Quinn all followed and were among the young players who were shuffled in and out of Cleveland’s revolving door at quarterback. The team never established a consistent direction at the league's most important position.

This brings us to McCoy -- this year's highly publicized third-round pick. He is the next young quarterback to generate hope and a significant buzz in northeast Ohio.

Ideally, Browns president Mike Holmgren wants to wait a year, maybe two, before McCoy sees the field. But the second veteran starter Jake Delhomme struggles with a multi-interception game, there will be pressure in Cleveland to see what McCoy can do. Yet Seneca Wallace, not McCoy, is currently No. 2 on the depth chart if Delhomme falters.

In the past decade, few NFL franchises have failed more at grooming a long-term solution at quarterback than the Browns. That is why it's important for the team to stick to its plan and let McCoy learn from the sidelines in 2010 -- no matter what happens with the quarterbacks in front of him.

The Dawgpound responds

March, 11, 2010
I had my say Wednesday about Derek Anderson's comments and the way quarterbacks are treated with the Cleveland Browns. Now it's the Dawgpound's turn.

Here are several responses we received from Browns fans in our AFC North inbox:

[+] EnlargeBrowns Fans
AP Photo/Mark DuncanDerek Anderson had his say. Now Browns fans weigh in on quarterback play in Cleveland.
Ty from Atlanta, Ga., writes: We need to re-examine how the fans treat QBs? Tell us when we had a consistent starter to cheer for in the first place. You also didn't mention how miserable the QB situation has been since the Browns returned. You usually write pretty accurate stuff but you are way off base on this. I bet if you had interviewed this frustrated fan base you would know why we look to the guy with the clipboard. Maybe it's because the starter is either always hurt or the starter is never consistent. That's a front-office thing not a fan thing.

Tony from Rootstown, Ohio, writes: Come on, James. Do you really blame us for coveting the official clipboard holder? The poor level of play we have been subjected to the last 10 years is mind numbing. Most Browns fans are embarrassed that the minority booed Derek that day he laid hurt. Most of us don’t wish to see these men hurt, let alone enjoy it. If the players don’t consider 10 years of sellout crowds, $4 hot dogs, $8 beer and hundreds, if not thousands, for tickets a sign of support, what should we do as fans? We are frustrated. Take a look at what we have endured as fans, the team redefines inept with every season and Sunday. Yeah, its the fans fault.

Kovacs from Santa Monica writes: I get your point JW, but Browns fans aren't changing their ways. We are dyed in the wool, stubborn maniacs. Should we have cheered when DA got hurt? No. Was it all his fault? No. Frustration is the word. How can a franchise with such a proud history at QB be left with the garbage that we've had since rejoining the league? Our two best seasons of QB play during that period came from flash in the pan one-year wonders (Kelly Holcomb and DA). Other than that the position has been absolutely garbage. So I say again, we probably shouldn't have cheered when the guy got hurt.

Doug Kitts from Ravenna, Ohio, writes: Cleveland is a brutal town for QBs, yes. But can't some of the blame be laid at the feet of the coaching staffs that have been here. Ever since the Holcomb/Tim Couch debate began with Butch Davis there hasn't been a single coaching staff that has completely backed a QB. If you combine that sort of wishy-washy front with a very frustrated and reactionary fan base it's no wonder the fans so quickly turn. Look, fans should have never cheered for any player to be injured. I don't, by any stretch, condone it. But there comes a point in time that maybe it's not just a cynical group of fans. Maybe it's their reaction to complete and utter ineptitude since this "franchise" was brought back to Cleveland. The front office and coaching staff can do a lot to "set the tone" for a fan base.

Bruce Hicks from Indianapolis, Ind., writes: I enjoy your writing but was blown away by your latest blog. D. Anderson has every right to his opinion and I don't think he needed to apologize. However, except in maybe four NFL towns, the backup QB is always popular and Cleveland IS frustrated. What NFL city wouldn't be that's hoping for one decent starter? And, with Quinn and Anderson we have zero.

Justin from Cleveland writes: I understand why DA would feel so strongly about the fans here. But seriously, he threw away so many games in 2007. I watched most of the games and if he could have connected on short routes and really been the reason we won 10 games, then we would love him. It just remains that he was awful. He was never a good personality, preferring golf over football constantly. If he could have gotten it together and tried AT ALL he could have been ok. But he threw so many bad passes that he played himself out of our favor.

Josh from Atlanta, Ga., writes: You said the backup QB is the most popular in Cleveland. Well, that's only because the starter has been so bad since Couch was here. Even in Anderson's Pro Bowl season his numbers against winning teams were TERRIBLE. How [former GM] Phil Savage didn't see that is beyond me.

Thought of the Day finale

December, 9, 2009
In our latest version of "Thought of the Day" in the AFC North, we asked which team was better: The 1999 expansion Cleveland Browns or this year’s Browns?

Here were the responses from our division inbox:

Kovacs from Santa Monica writes: Despite the poor effort, bad play and head-scratching front office moves, I have to take the 2009 Browns. This season has been painful, but I think that Randy Lerner is finally figuring out what he needs to do to run a team. The franchise needs a face and somebody to do the day-to-day stuff. It looks like the Browns will get that after the season.

Dirk from Everett, Wash., writes: The 2009 Browns are much more talented across the entire team, but the '99 Browns unfortunately were the better team. The '99 Browns were clearly overmatched, but they played with a desperate eagerness that made them a little dangerous on the field and worth watching. The '09 Browns often play with little obvious energy and passion. Tim Couch 10 games into his career was definitely better than Quinn 10 starts in, despite having only one reasonably decent weapon to work with. The '09 Browns would be much better if they stopped acting like Eric Mangini so much. He only stands on the sideline glowering at everyone.

Domenic DiPuccio from Brook Park, Ohio, writes: If I had to choose, it would have to be this year’s version of the Browns. Back in 1999 there was hope, now there is just apathy. They have had eleven years to build something that resembles a football team and we, the fans have yet to see it. This franchise is the laughing stock of the entire NFL. I think that the Lerner family will finally realize that the fans have had enough. There will be three games blacked-out here in Cleveland for the first time since the team's return, and I know many fans are talking about giving up their season tickets. The love affair with the Bleeding Clowns is over Randy Lerner. It is time to do something to make this city proud again, or you could always move the team to Los Angeles. I heard they want an NFL team.

Lucas Bertaux-Skeirik from Cincinnati, Ohio writes: The '99 Browns are definitely better. They scored more points per game, and the '09 Browns only win was against Buffalo, 6-3. You can barely count that as a win. The ‘09 Browns are playing in a tough division this year, with the Bengals being good, but it still does not excuse their 1-11 record.

Lupe Gonzalez from Lorain, Ohio writes: Hey guys wake up! 1999 Brownies were led by a pathetic QB in Couch. Brady Quinn has what it takes to be a great QB. Many changes need to be made offensively and defensively. Spend the money and get quality players to help Quinn make the Browns contenders!

Craig from Lwood, Ohio, writes: Does anyone really care? But if I had to pick, it would be the '99 squad. They are going to have more wins, and even if the '09 team squeaks out another W, it won't be against the Steelers. So the '99 teams gets the tie-breaker with their W over the black and gold.

Dan Wise from Minneapolis, Minn., writes: Big Game James, in regards to the "Thought of the Day" for the ‘09 vs ‘99 Browns, the ‘09 team seems to have more talent on it but if you look at the overall picture, the 99 team was better. The ‘99 team gave the fans hope. We knew it would be a rough season but there was hope. The only hope this team has is that Mangini is gone and Lerner hires the right people. The ‘99 team played with passion and gave it their all. This team seems to quit at times and there is fighting in the locker room. All in all the ‘99 season was so much more enjoyable as a Browns fan, even if the quality of players was not nearly as close.

Matt from Castle Rock writes: It’s 1999 without a doubt. It means the Butch Davis, Mangini, Chris Palmer and the Romeo Crennel/Phil Savage years never happened. In a strange twist, I would take Romeo and Savage to start the expansion Browns though.

Kyle Phelps from Cincinnati, Ohio, writes: The biggest difference between the '99 Browns and the '09 Browns is Tim Couch vs. Brady Quinn. Couch was labeled a "bust" because he struggled on the Browns, got hurt, and just wasn't right afterwards. But if you look at how he played, he played hard and with heart. I'm not saying Brady Quinn doesn't have heart, but he just doesn't have the same level of natural talent as Couch did. Plus the 1999 Browns had a lot of young players with potential. The current Browns are young but a lot of the players do not look like they are going anywhere. As for being a collectively better team I'd say the 1999 Browns were better, if not just because their QB was actually good.

AFC North Final Say

James Walker: These are all interesting points from both sides. But if those two teams played on Sunday, I think the 2009 Browns have a little more talent and would win by a slight margin. But in the end, you are what your record says you are. So if the current Browns cannot at least match the 2-14 record of the expansion Browns, it's hard to argue this year's version was better. Stay tuned.

If you have any future "Thought of the Day" topics, feel free to send them to our AFC North inbox.