April 24, 2014

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Browns QB Brandon Weeden impressing coaches, teammates with improvement

BEREA — The pass was perfect.

It wasn’t the best part of the play for quarterback Brandon Weeden.

When Josh Gordon dropped Weeden’s picturesque 47-yard rainbow that hit him in stride for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, the throw was negated. So was the act of bravery that preceded it.

Colts 310-pound nose tackle Antonio Johnson came free and had Weeden in his sights. Weeden didn’t flinch, stood his ground, delivered the ball and took the shot to his chest he knew was coming.

The drop, and loss, disallowed any celebration of the throw or show of toughness. But they weren’t forgotten.

“That’s big-time right there,” receiver Joshua Cribbs said Thursday. “Coach brought it up. He’s trusting that the receiver will make a play and we’re trusting that he’ll take that hit and allow us to make a play. When you got the quarterback doing it automatically, it’s good for the team.”

Weeden has good size at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, but the biggest question mark as he entered the NFL was whether he’d be able to produce in a dirty pocket. At Oklahoma State, he got the ball out quickly, wasn’t pressured often and didn’t take many hits.

“Everybody was questioning my ability to stay in the pocket,” he said. “You’re going to get hit. At this level, guys are going to come free and you’re going to take a hit. You have to step into it, deliver and make a throw. It doesn’t feel good, but it also feels good if you’re able to complete a ball after getting hit in the mouth.

“It’s all about guts, standing there and making a throw. The next day it hurts, but who cares?”

Comments like that are why Weeden was voted game captain this week. He’s gained the trust and belief of the locker room with his composure, performance and personality.

“It’s cool. I’m a rookie,” he said. “The veteran guys had the confidence in me to name me that guy.”

It comes with a touch of trepidation.

“I’ll be honest. I’m superstitious,” he said. “When I was a captain at Oklahoma State, I never went out for the coin toss. I always stayed on the sideline, threw exactly where I throw — where I got trapped underneath the flag (in pregame for the opener).

“I’m going to go out for the coin toss because it’s a special deal. But I’m going to make sure I get a couple throws in from the 30. They tried to get me in Indy — I saw the big flag out. Screw that. I’m not going to do that again.”

Weeden was able to laugh at himself after becoming an Internet sensation when he got caught under a giant flag before his first NFL game and had to crawl out. That he avoided the same fate last week is just one example that he’s a fast learner.

He hasn’t lost a fumble after fumbling three times in five quarters in the preseason. He’s completed at least one deep ball the last four weeks after starting the season in a drought. He’s thrown one interception – a tipped ball – in the last two games after nine in the first five.

“That tells me he’s working on it, that tells me that we’re coaching the right things, you don’t want to see guys repeating mistakes,” coach Pat Shurmur said.

Weeden went toe-to-toe with No. 1 pick Andrew Luck last week and leads rookies with 1,783 passing yards, nine passing touchdowns (tied for 13th in the league) and 25 completions of 20 or more yards. He’s thrown for at least two touchdowns in the last three games.

The numbers aren’t all good, as he ranks 29th in the NFL with a 56.6 completion percentage, tied for 32nd with 10 interceptions and 32nd with a 72.3 rating. But the numbers are on a steady incline since a forgettable debut of four interceptions and a 5.1 rating.

“I’m playing a little bit faster because I’m not having to think quite as much about what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s the main thing. Early in the year, I was thinking about all the X’s and O’s and what we were doing. You add that on top of how good and how fast those guys are on the other side of the ball, that’s a lot going on in your mind.

“So just getting comfortable with the offense is probably helping me slow the game down more than anything.”

The Chargers bring a veteran defense to town Sunday. They rank 13th overall defensively, 25th against the pass and second against the run. They’ve allowed only 71.2 yards a game on the ground, but 268.2 and 14 touchdowns through the air.

His coaches and teammates see a bright future for Weeden.

“I see our quarterback improving each week and I can’t wait to see how far he can take this thing as we move through the back half of our season,” Shurmur said.

A DONE DEAL

The Browns officially belong to Jimmy Haslam.

The $1.05 billion sale from Randy Lerner became official Thursday as the business transaction was completed. Haslam honored the occasion by watching practice and talking to Shurmur.

Haslam paid $700 million in the first installment and will complete the deal in four years.

Joe Banner was supposed to start his job as CEO, but was in Boston with his ill father.

INJURY REPORT

Backup offensive linemen Ryan Miller and Jarrod Shaw were ill and didn’t practice. That left Oniel Cousins as the only reserve on the 53-man roster.

** Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle) also didn’t practice. Patterson has missed the last two games and remains in a walking boot.

** Running backs Trent Richardson (rib/chest) and Montario Hardesty (knee) were limited, along with safeties T.J. Ward (hand/shoulder), Usama Young (hamstring), Ray Ventrone (hand/calf) and Tashaun Gipson (knee) and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring).

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