*Don't miss "The Spew" Weekdays at 9AM!*
Monday 5.20.13 - 7-11 PM
Tuesday 5.21.13 - 10:30PM - Mid
Wednesday 5.22.13 - 10:30PM - Mid
Thursday 5.23.13 - 10:30PM - Mid
Friday 5.24.13 - 5-9 AM
Sunday 5.26.13 - 9AM - Noon
View Previous Video Rantz
The Sportsman of the Day
Get Twitter Buttons
By Bob Frantz
Preseason rules are preseason rules, and I get that. Pat Shurmur is merely following the same NFL template that virtually every franchise does when it comes to preseason playing time, so it's almost impossible to critique him for it.
In preseason game No. 1, first-team players may get a series or two to start the game, just to get their feet wet in live competition, but without any real risk of injury or exposure, especially for rookies who become starters right out of the gate. Shurmur followed that script to the letter in the opener against Detroit.
The second preseason game offers a better look at the starting offense and defense, as the No. 1s usually play most or all of the first half. In rare cases, the starters might even come out for a series in the third quarter. Again, Shurmur and the Browns played it by the book against the Packers on Aug. 16, with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden going 12 of 20 for 118 yards in two quarters before giving way to Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace.
Exhibition game No. 3 is commonly treated by NFL coaches as the "dress rehearsal" game, in which the starting lineups are on the field well into the third quarter, often playing the full three periods before resting. There was a slight wrinkle in the plans this season, however, because the Browns' opponent for the dress rehearsal game also happened to be their Week 1 opponent when the season starts. Accordingly, Shurmur altered the plan slightly against the Eagles last Friday night, allowing Weeden and his fellow starters to play the first half only, with a limited playbook and, as it turns out, limited success.
Which brings us to tonight's preseason finale against the Bears, once again at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Conventional NFL wisdom dictates this game is a B-team scrimmage and nothing more. The starters rarely, if ever, see the field in the last practice game, instead resting comfortably on the sidelines while low-round draft picks, free agent signees, and veterans trying to collect one last paycheck before ending their careers fight, scratch and claw for the final roster spots. Head coach Pat Shurmur is playing it safe, marching dutifully to a long-established drum beat.
But he shouldn't.
No, this is one time I believe Shurmur should listen to his own drummer and march in a different direction.
Anyone who watched the game against Philadelphia Friday night knows that the young Browns' offense, featuring three young offensive linemen, several young wide receivers, and eventually a young featured running back, all guided by a rookie quarterback, is not ready.
Not even close to being ready.
And the season, scary as it sounds, is 10 days away.
It would be easy to say it's only Weeden who needs the work, as his passing numbers through five quarters of preseason action leave a lot to be desired. At this early stage, though, that wouldn't be fair.
Certainly the 28-year-old rookie has a lot of learning to do between now and Sept. 9 — and far beyond that, of course — but it's not just about the mistakes he has made this preseason. Weeden needs some playing time tonight with the rest of the first-team offense, because the chemistry he needs to have with them once the season begins is simply not there. That chemistry cannot be developed during non-tackling team offense time during practice.
They need more game-time together.
It's been well-documented that Weeden has a far superior arm to that of his predecessor, Colt McCoy. That means passes are arriving much more quickly than veteran receivers like Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg Little are used to, and that impacts their route-running and preparedness to catch the football.
Rookie receivers Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon also have to adjust to Weeden's style, and he to theirs, considering the significant playing time they seem likely to get in their first seasons.
Even the guys up front, especially rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and young guards Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, need more time getting used to Weeden's cadence, and his audible calls, to avoid some of the false starts and missed blocks that have been the result of getting off the ball slowly.
"I think he's had an outstanding camp," Shurmur said of Weeden this week, in announcing his starting QB would sit against the Bears. "I thought he had an outstanding offseason. Really, he's kind of improved every day. For a guy that's going through this for the first time as a pro, I think he's very ready."
I'd like to agree with the head coach. But I don't.
I do agree that Weeden has indeed shown some outstanding flashes of talent and ability in this camp, and in the preseason games to date, but to say that he's ready is a mistake.
On the flip side, giving McCoy the start against Chicago certainly has its advantages, since the Browns are still trying to decide which QB to keep as a backup. Additionally, a strong performance by the former starter could entice a team in need of a quality backup to throw a better trade offer at the Browns.
From the standpoint of getting ready for the season, however, I'd much rather get Weeden and the first-team offense the reps they need to prepare for the Eagles, even if it means a departure from the tried and true preseason script.
Shurmur is playing it safe Thursday night, and there's nothing to lose in doing so. But there's not much to be gained, either.
Bob Frantz hosts "The Bob Frantz Show" on WTAM-AM 1100 from 7 p.m. to midnight weeknights, and following Cavaliers, Indians and Browns games.