So much of the Browns talk this off-season has been about the drafting of Brandon Weedon with the team’s second pick in the first round. The discussions have been all over the place, including but not limited to, what do you do with Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace; the Browns should have mortgaged the future like Washington and drafted up for RGIII; Weedon is too old for a first round pick; and Colt never got a chance in the first place.
I ended my last column with a few short paragraphs about NFL quarterbacks. I want to elaborate on that topic this month, and to explain to you why Weedon was a good draft pick, and, if he was young as a traditional college athlete, he might have been the second pick over all behind Andrew Luck and ahead of Robert Griffin III.
The football world we now live in, and I have written extensively about this over the last few years in this publication, is one where most of the quarterbacks coming out of college are at least part-time running quarterbacks, carrying the ball 12-20 times a game, because of the popularity of today’s spread offenses. On passing plays if their first or second receiver is not open, they run. And over the last dozen years or so during the spread offense era in college football many quarterbacks have won with this formula. College football has never been more popular, and these great athletic quarterbacks with big arms and great running skills have been a big reason why. Vince Young at Texas, Tim Tebow at Florida, Robert Griffin III at Baylor, Michael Vick at Virginia Tech, Pat White at West Virginia, the list goes on and on. They have been terrific to watch, and all have done amazing things on the field.
But these spread offense quarterbacks does not translate well to the next level.
There has never been a running quarterback who has won the Super Bowl. Never. They have won the NCAA National Championship, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, and every conference in college football, but have never won the NFL Championship. There are several reasons for that; the most important one is the quality of athletes that play defense in the NFL. Those defenders will not allow a running quarterback to make it through a sixteen game season as well as the playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowls are won by traditional NFL drop back passers. Eli Manning, Aaron Rogers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Rothlisberger, Brad Johnson, Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, and on and on all the way back to Bart Starr. Even those quarterbacks who made it to the Super Bowl and lost were all traditional NFL quarterbacks, guys like Rich Gannon, Chris Chandler, and Jake Delhomme. No spread offenses, no quarterbacks taking off on a run when their main receiver wasn’t open.
There are so many unique skills a NFL quarterback must have, so many things he must be able to do. He must be able to get back deep on the stretch play and give the ball to the running back when he is still in a position to read the complete offensive line. This sounds easier than it is, especially when you are taking the snap right from under center most plays and not in the shotgun. He must be able to throw the deep out, the 20-22 yard hitch play that is a part of every offense. He has to read coverages: man to zone, open or closed, linebackers blitzing or not. Not only does it take a special athlete, it takes a special human being. There are only a handful of premium quarterbacks in the NFL, and even a fewer amount have won the Super Bowl.
And we haven’t even talked about the intangibles. Playboys like Joe Namath and Born Again men like Kurt Warner have both won Super Bowls, not only did they have the skills but also that something extra that the great winners always seem to possess.
Let us look at Vince Young’s NFL career. A great spread quarterback at the University of Texas; he was an immediate starter for Tennessee Titans. Now, five seasons later, he is on his third team as a backup in Buffalo. What happened? That first season with the rebuilding Titans gave false hope, as he ran for 552 yards on 83 attempts. Coach Jeff Fischer knew that Young’s days as a rusher were over, and could not make him more of a drop back NFL passer. He did not impress anyone as Michael Vick’s back up in Philadelphia, as the Eagles are hoping to have Michael Vick be a true NFL quarterback. Now Young is trying once again to reinvent himself in Buffalo.
Tim Tebow came into the NFL with as much college success as any quarterback in recent memory. And even after leading the Broncos to the playoffs last year and winning a playoff game, he is a back up for the Jets heading into training camp. Why did Denver desert him? John Elway knew the big secret, he would not last in the NFL as a running quarterback and the Broncos felt they did not have the time it would take to turn him into a traditional drop back quarterback.
Which gets us back to Brandon Weedon. Yes, he did run a version of the spread in college, but with one major difference from most of his fellow quarterbacks, he was not a runner. He averaged less than four rushes a game, and spent most passing plays sitting in a pocket, reading coverages, finding not only his first and second receivers, he found his third and fourth options also. The pro game is faster and the defenders are more talented, but at least the Browns have an idea of how Weedon will play when the bullets are flying. That is what made him different than RGIII, and what might have put him second in the draft if he was a 21 year old instead of eight years older.
This is not to say that all drop back college quarterbacks are going to be successful. We only have to go back to that time just a moment or two ago when the Browns had two young drop back quarterbacks, Derek Anderson coming off a Pro Bowl season and everyone’s All American Brady Quinn, coming out of a pro offense at Notre Dame. Anderson is now with the Carolina Panthers fighting for a job as a back up, and Quinn is on his third team in Kansas City doing the same thing. NFL Quarterbacks are never a sure thing.
To the Browns credit, while they have been waiting to find someone with Weedon’s skills, they have done the logical thing by bolstering the offensive line. It is now filled with young, talented players, most of whom have already proven themselves. If Tim Couch had started his Browns career with the current offensive line he might still be playing for the team. Weedon has a chance to grow with some pretty good young guys around him. I am not predicting immediate success for Brandon Weedon, but I feel pretty good about it.
One last note…I have been writing this column for over five years now, and hopefully will keep writing it long into the future. I sometimes get emails or phone calls about past columns, especially those about the nuts and bolts of football. I have redone my writing website, and have started to post some of those past columns. Go to www.gregcielec.com and look under the football column tab
(Greg Cielec is a freelance writer, college football coach, and life long Browns fan. For more about his writing career go check out his website and blog at www.gregcielec.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)