First it was Tim Couch. Then it was Kelly Holcomb. Then it was Derek Anderson. Then it was Brady Quinn. Then it was Colt McCoy.
And let’s not forget about the cast of characters in between.
The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since former owner Art Modell hightailed it to Baltimore and the city was granted an expansion team in 1999. The epic failure in securing one tops the list of reasons why the Browns have been arguably the worst team in the NFL since that time.
Recognition of that fact motivated General Manager Tom Heckert to snag Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Browns overlooked the fact that Weeden will be celebrating his 29th birthday early in the regular season after spending several years pursuing a baseball career.
Coach Pat Shurmur was quick to declare that Weeden must earn the job in a competition with the incumbent McCoy. But the inevitability of Weeden starting the opener against Philadelphia is the worst-kept secret in Cleveland. Heckert even pronounced his expectation that Weeden will win the position.
The physical difference between Weeden and McCoy became starkly evident from the start of OTAs and mini-camp. Weeden can flick the ball with ease 50 yards while McCoy must heave it to toss it that distance. Weeden throws a tight spiral, whizzing the ball to targets on medium-range passes, while McCoy’s ball flutters. Weeden hits his receivers in stride, a critical component of success in the west coast offense, where gaining yards after the completion is so important. McCoy struggled to do so consistently as the starter in 2011.
It’s too early to declare Weeden the badly needed savior at that position. How he reacts to facing live competition and heavy pass rushes in preseason games will go a long way in determining if he’s ready. The Browns have, to some extent, set him up to fail by refusing to strongly address their wide receiver corps, which remains perhaps the worst in the NFL. They added only fourth-round pick Travis Benjamin in the offseason.
The Browns have a brutal scheduled in 2012 and, in fact, are the early underdog in every game. But the addition of superback Trent Richardson and a strong offensive line to go along with one of the top pass defenses in the league give fans legitimate hope. The emergence of Weeden as a franchise quarterback could make the Browns a contender in the AFC North, which already boasts three premier teams in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
And make no mistake about it: Weeden will be the man leading the Browns to the promised land or failing in the attempt.