April 21, 2014

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New Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner embracing fans’ fervor for team

AKRON — New Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner knew he was moving to a football-crazy area. However, he didn’t fully grasp how over-the-top rabid that Northeast Ohio was about its NFL team until the past few weeks.

Turner“There have been more stories written about (Cleveland St. Ignatius High graduate) Brian Hoyer becoming a Brown than any player in history,” Turner joked. “Now that it’s finally happened, that’s all anyone seems to be talking about.

“But I like these circumstances — if I didn’t, I would be sitting on a beach in San Diego right now — because I think we can put together an exciting offensive football team.”

Turner was the keynote speaker Monday at the annual Akron Browns Backers banquet at Tangier. Approximately 330 fans attended the event, along with myriad Browns alumni and players D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson.

Not surprisingly, Cleveland’s never-ending QB carousel dominated the conversation in the crowd. It also was the main subject during Turner’s brief visit with local media members.

Incumbent starter Brandon Weeden, veteran Jason Campbell, the recently signed Hoyer and holdover Thaddeus Lewis are the four quarterbacks on the roster. If Turner has his way, three of them will be part of the 53-man squad that opens the regular season.

“I think you need to go with three quarterbacks because it’s too important of a position,” said Turner, who spent the last six seasons as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.

“You’re playing with fire if you only keep two. Look at what happened a few years ago when Houston made the playoffs with a rookie (third-stringer T.J. Yates), but Indianapolis didn’t have an answer when Peyton Manning got hurt.”

The former University of Oregon quarterback then chuckled, pointing out that it was not his decision to make.

First-year Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, general manager Michael Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner will have the final say, just as they did in signing Hoyer, a former Patriots, Steelers and Cardinals backup, to a two-year contract last week.

“Brian has been a backup in good situations, but he hasn’t played enough for us to know where he’s at,” Turner said. “We do like his skill set, and the approach we’ve taken through Rob Chudzinski is if we can add players that can help us, we’ll do it. We think Brian can help us.”

Turner feels the same way about Weeden, though he stressed that the team’s offense and defense have only gone head-to-head in three offseason practices.

Banner and Chudzinski have gone out of their way not to anoint Weeden as the starter, but Turner defended his talent. Weeden started 15 games as a 29-year-old rookie, leading the Browns to five wins while passing for 3,385 yards, 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

“Brandon is a one-year player in the NFL who did a lot more good than some people give him credit for,” Turner said. “He likes football an awful lot, he’s very competitive and he’s made it clear that he wants to be the guy here.

“I can also tell you that I’ve seen he’s got a big arm, he’s a hard worker, he’s very intelligent and he’s very accurate throwing underneath.”

With that said, Turner openly bristled when it was suggested Cleveland’s previous offensive play-callers — coach Pat Shurmur and coordinator Brad Childress — didn’t cater their system to Weeden’s skills.

“I don’t like to hear that because good players play, and they play in any system,” said Turner, who has 114 career victories as a head coach of the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Chargers. “Brandon was in here with a very young group of guys who were all feeling their way together. Now, all those guys have a year under their belts, and I think you’ll see them improve as a group.”

The addition of Hoyer does present one problem that might not be solvable. It’s difficult for NFL teams to find enough training-camp reps for two quarterbacks, even those battling for the starting job as Chudzinski said Weeden and Campbell will do. Having three quarterbacks, or four if Lewis is still on the roster, is almost impossible to manage gracefully.

“That’s going to be our biggest problem, and it’s a hard one,” Turner said. “Maybe Jason Campbell, who has played nine years in the league, doesn’t need as many reps as the young guys. It’s something that we’re going to have to figure out, some way.”

Double-winner

Jackson was presented with the 2012 Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award, as voted on by the Cleveland chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.

The linebacker and Browns elder statesman won the team’s 2011 Player of the Year award, but was unable to attend last year’s banquet while rehabbing a back injury.

“It was definitely important for me to be here, and I made it a priority to do so,” said Jackson, who was Cleveland’s second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. “I’m honored and happy to be talking with the fans here tonight.”

Kicker Phil Dawson was named the Browns’ 2012 Player of the Year, but was not in attendance after signing with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent.

Jackson said he remains close to Dick Jauron, who was fired as defensive coordinator after last season. They both reside in Westlake and hope to play golf together soon.

“I see him all the time where we live,” Jackson said. “He taught me so much about the game. He was a cerebral guy, but he always stayed calm, which I respected.”

Sad news

Linebacker David McMillan, who played with the Browns from 2005-2007, was shot and killed Saturday in Decatur County, Ga., according to published reports out of Atlanta.

Jackson was a teammate of “D-Mac” during his final two years in Cleveland, and was told about his death by former Browns linebacker Andra Davis.

“When Andra called me during lunch and left three voicemails, I knew it was something important,” Jackson said. “I was shocked because David was a good teammate who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

“It’s such sad news. He was too young, too good of a guy. I will definitely be down there in Atlanta to show my respects to him.”

McMillan was a fifth-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft out of Kansas.

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.