The sophomore slump is coming for some of the NFL’s brightest young stars. Brandon Weeden need not worry.
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson each enjoyed rookie seasons to remember in 2012. The trio broke records, took home some fancy hardware and led each of their teams to the playoffs. So much early success is encouraging for their respective futures, but it also makes them prime candidates for the second-year slip. Weeden, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up.
Weeden, a 28-year-old rookie last season, was expected to make a more immediate than some other young quarterbacks last season – partially because of his age. Instead, the Browns, who drafted the former Triple-A pitcher with the 22nd overall pick, endured a dismal season offensively, including some underwhelming results from their rookie gunslinger.
In 15 games as the starter last season, Weeden completed just 57 percent of his passes and committed 18 turnovers (17 interceptions, one fumble) compared to just 14 touchdowns. Those numbers won’t exactly instill confidence in your receivers, never mind your coaching staff, which is why new Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski brought in both Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer to compete with Weeden this summer.
The quarterback competition seemed to light a fire under Weeden in training camp, and the results have been plentiful this preseason. Weeden has outpaced his counterparts in each of the Browns’ first two preseason games, showing poise, improved accuracy and confidence with his throws. Campbell and Hoyer have both shown positive signs as well, but not nearly to Weeden’s level, which is why Chud chose the sophomore quarterback as the team’s Week 1 starter on Tuesday.
Weeden has completed 18 of 25 passes (72 percent) for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the equivalent of about three quarters of play so far this preseason. Even more impressive, though, is that Weeden has yet to turn the ball over at this point. Granted it is the preseason, but, even peering beyond the raw statistics, Weeden already looks like a different quarterback than he was as a rookie.
He seems more confident throwing deep and intermediate routes, which is evidenced by his six completions of 15-plus yards (four over 20 yards) already this preseason. He’s also begun to further establish his connection with second-year receiver Josh Gordon and third-year tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon has been Weeden’s target on the majority of his deep balls, linking up with the speedy receiver on four of the six passes of 15-plus. Meanwhile, Cameron appears to be his go-to guy in the red zone, catching a pair of touchdowns from Weeden during the Browns’ 24-6 win over the Lions in their second preseason game.
Any proclamation that Weeden will have a better season than either Luck, Griffin or Wilson, never mind all three, would be mere conjecture at this point. However, if the preseason is any indication, then Weeden has certainly been the more consistent of the quarterback quartet. Griffin has been sidelined while continuing to recover from offseason ACL surgery, and both Luck and Wilson have had one pedestrian performance followed by one spectacular to this point. And yet, Weeden, unexpectedly, has been the epitome of strong and steady through two weeks.
Weeden is clearly benefiting from the Browns’ offensive adjustments under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has provided the quarterback with a renewed sense of confidence and focus in the passing game. There will likely still be growing pains at times for Weeden this season, but his advanced age and experience should allow him to avoid the slump-like tendencies that Luck, Wilson and even Ryan Tannehill seem certain to face in year two.