July 24, 2014

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Teammates, coaches see progress in Browns QB Brandon Weeden

BEREA — Brandon Weeden still doesn’t want to talk about his age.

He didn’t like the intense focus during the draft process on the fact he was 28 years old. It was viewed by many as a negative that should scare away teams.

The Browns didn’t blink and took him at No. 22. Now that he’s starting in the NFL, he doesn’t understand why people assume his extra years make up for a lack of experience.

“Yeah, I am 28 years old, but I’m still seeing things for the first time,” he said. “Other quarterbacks get it. When you’re back there and the bullets are flying, you can be 16 or you can be 36, it’s still not easy. You’ve still gotta get a feel for the game and that comes with taking reps.”

Weeden isn’t making excuses for a four-game start that has been typical of a rookie. He’s just explaining the growing pains that go away with game snaps, not flips of the calendar.

Weeden began with four interceptions against the Eagles and a microscopic passer rating of 5.1. But his maturity showed in how he handled the adversity. He prepared harder in Week 2 and threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns as the Browns scored 27 points in a loss to the Bengals.

Weeden’s second 300-yard outing came last Thursday night against the Ravens, as he overcame an interception returned for a touchdown and gave the Browns a chance at the end with 320 yards. He’s the first Browns rookie with multiple 300-yard games and joined Derek Anderson and Kelly Holcomb as the only guys with at least two in a season since the franchise returned in 1999.

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“It’s just like anything else. You get more and more comfortable,” Weeden said. “I think it’s just confidence — confidence in the guys around me, confidence in my ability, making good throws and building off of those.

“It’s getting better, but I’m not anywhere close to satisfied because we haven’t won a game yet. That’s my main goal. Until we start winning games, it’s tough to be satisfied whether you play good or not.”

Quarterbacks will always be judged by their records, and the next chance for a win is Sunday against the New York Giants. But progress can come in losses, and Weeden’s coaches and teammates have seen plenty of examples.

“Brandon is going to his checkdowns more,” running back Trent Richardson said. “He’s looking for the open receiver more. He’s making good decisions. He’s taking over in the huddle. He’s starting to lead us.”

“I just think he’s way more comfortable and I think he knows us as receivers more,” receiver Greg Little said. “How we’re going to run routes, how we’re coming out of breaks.”

Weeden has completed 54 percent of his 167 passes for 997 yards, three touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 60.4 rating. He’s third in the league in attempts and 32nd in rating. He’s been hurt by more than a dozen drops and the lack of a consistent running game.

Offensive coordinator Brad Childress saw growth within the Ravens game. The Ravens blitzed early and Weeden missed the one-on-one matchup downfield. When Baltimore came back to it again in the fourth quarter, he hit Little on the goal line, but he dropped it.

“Coming back and being decisive with that — that was a full pressure — I thought he was seeing things good,” Childress said.

One of the toughest adjustments for a rookie — of any age — is going through his progressions when the primary target isn’t open. The pass rush is fierce, the coverages complex and the windows tiny. The quarterback needs to slow himself down, keep his wits and let the play develop.

“That’s always a work in progress,” Childress said. “They know the system forward and backward, but yet being able to come off of one and get to three, it’s easier said than done sometimes. I feel like he’s getting there.”

Weeden feels he’s progressed going through his progressions from Week 1 to Week 4.

“No doubt. There’s still some times where I could have gotten to No. 3 and No. 4, but overall I’m getting better and a lot more comfortable in that area,” he said. “I think getting to your backs, too. I’ve been a lot better the last few weeks.

“Not only gives those guys a chance, it’s completions. It’s moving the chains. We all want to throw 70 percent, and throwing to backs will help you do that.”

The Giants have the 22nd-ranked defense overall and 19th-ranked pass defense. Their star-studded defensive line helped win the Super Bowl last season, but they are banged up in the secondary. Starting safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle didn’t practice Thursday with knee injuries and starting cornerback Corey Webster was idle with hand and hamstring injuries.

Weeden finally connected on a deep ball last week, a 43-yarder to Little.

“We’re gonna have to complete more than one big one to really get the respect down the field,” Weeden said. “Upfront the Giants are really good. They’ve got guys who can really rush the passer. But if we have time, I like my (receivers) in matchups.

“We’re gonna take shots and do things we’ve come to do all year.”

New York quarterback Eli Manning is 31 years old, in his ninth season and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He remembers what it’s like to be a rookie.

“He’s talented. He’s very mature and has all the skills,” Manning said of Weeden. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re still a rookie, learning a lot, a lot thrown at you. The NFL game’s just a little bit different.

“Starting from Day 1, there’s gonna be some good days and tough days and in between. He’s doing a good job, he’s competing and he’s keeping his team in games.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.