Browns pin quarterback hopes on old rookie Weeden

Brandon Weeden (#3) of the Cleveland Browns checks with the bench during the game against the...

Brandon Weeden (#3) of the Cleveland Browns checks with the bench during the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 10, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (AFP)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:30 PM ET

BEREA, OHIO - Tim Tebow turned 25 Tuesday. Cam Newton is 23. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are 22.

Yet Brandon Weeden, the rookie Cleveland Browns quarterback, turns 29 on Oct. 14.

That's two months before star quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers does.

Why is Weeden so old? Because he shelved his college and pro football careers for five years to give pro baseball a go.

It did not go.

So he switched back to football in 2007, enrolled at Oklahoma State, and during the past two autumns was one of college ball's most prolific throwers.

The Browns picked Weeden 22nd overall in April, the fourth quarterback taken in the first round.

Here we are, about four months later, and the not-so-wide-eyed rookie already has been named the first-string quarterback.

He's the latest hope for a hapless franchise that hasn't had a quarterback hold the reins for more than two years since Tim Couch's disappointing turn ended a decade ago.

At Tuesday morning's training-camp practice, held indoors, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Weeden showed off his impressive abilities -- foremost his strong, accurate arm.

During his turns in red-zone 11-on-11s, Weeden was precise on five of seven throws. The prettiest was a wheel route to Montario Hardesty streaking into the end zone. Weeden dropped it right into his hands, but the running back alligator-armed it and dropped it.

"Brandon's very talented," No. 1 Browns wide receiver Greg Little said. "He can make any throw. And when I say that, he doesn't try to drill you with the ball every time. He knows (when) to take something off, or put a little bit more on it, or put air under it.

"Even when he's late through his progressions with a read, he can make that time up with his arm and get it there."

But he's still a rookie, and it's all coming at Weeden fast and furious. He smiled Tuesday about having to get his wife, Melanie, read him plays at night during the spring to help him memorize them.

"Now I'm good," he said. "Now I've got a feel for what we're doing."

We asked Browns head coach Pat Shurmur if the game has slowed down already for Weeden -- because it can take a couple of years, or longer -- for this to happen.

"I saw in the last game that this thing is not too big for him," Shurmur said. "There wasn't anything out there that surprised him, or he didn't see."

In limited reps in the Browns' first pre-season game last Friday in Detroit, Weeden completed only three of nine passes. Deceiving?

"Absolutely. No question," Weeden said defiantly Tuesday.

That's just one aspect of Weeden's character that Shurmur likes.

"I think he's a very resilient guy," Shurmur said. "So when he has a bad play or two, or a bad series or two, I've seen him bounce back extremely well."

Weeden isn't lacking in courageousness or confidence, either.

"I'm not scared to throw the ball into the end zone," he said.

For the next game, Thursday night in Green Bay, Shurmur has decided to play Weeden and the first-team offence for the entire first half.

What probably would help Weeden to succeed more than anything in Year 1 -- especially in the same AFC North division as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens -- is an effective running game.

The Browns are hoping No. 3 overall draft pick Trent Richardson makes that happen. But the 5-foot-9, 230-pounder -- seen as the most promising rookie runner since Adrian Peterson in 2007 -- hurt his left knee early in camp, had it scoped to remove a tiny, loose piece of cartilage, and likely is shelved for the remainder of the pre-season.

If that means more of the burden falls on to Weeden's shoulders, he just might be able to handle it.

"I think all quarterbacks, on some level, are definitely more mature than their age," rookie offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "He probably acts like a 35-year-old."

Just don't ever expect Weeden to deliver jokes as fast as his passes.

We asked Little if the quarterback can keep up with him when it comes to humour.

The 23-year-old second-year wideout didn't blink.

"Naw, he's too old."

SUCKING UP

As the Cleveland Browns' top wide receiver, Greg Little knows who butters his bread.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden.

And he knows how to butter him up.

"Yeah, it's just like you've got to take him out to eat, to the movies, those type things," Little cracked after Tuesday's indoor practice.

"You know, get him shoes every now and then. Make sure he has a snack. Send cookies to his room if we're on the road. Those type things. You've got to take care of the quarterback, so he can get you the ball."

Laughs all around. But Little was only half-kidding.

"Well, last week (before playing in Detroit), I sent cookies to his room. So this week (in Green Bay), I don't know, I may get him some fruit. Just trying to think on a healthier note."

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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