October 25, 2014

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Grasp imperfect: Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden taking fumble problems seriously, but not planning to obsess about it

BEREA — Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden isn’t going to walk around his house with a football, daring his wife to try to knock it loose. He isn’t going to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after a nightmare in which 300-pound monsters keep taking a prized possession out of his right hand.

Weeden knows he can’t continue to fumble — he has three in five preseason quarters — and vowed Sunday to fix the problem. But he’s not consumed by it.

“You just have to have a death grip on it,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.
“I’m not going to carry a football around with me at night. I’m not going to do that. If you start thinking about all of that other stuff, you get in trouble. It’s not something I’m going to lose a lot of sleep over, but I’m definitely going to take it seriously and when I can work on it, I’m definitely going to work on it.”

The process began again Sunday when the Browns returned to practice following a 27-10 loss to the Eagles on Friday. Weeden fumbled twice, losing one. He also fumbled in his debut against Detroit.
He’s been sacked four times, and fumbled on three of them.

“Ball security is primary for anybody who touches the ball, especially the quarterback, who touches it every play,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “A great deal of fumbles in this league involve the quarterback in the pocket and he knows that, we drill that and it’s very important for him to maneuver in the pocket where he doesn’t fumble. And if he’s getting tackled or sacked, he needs to wrap the ball up.”

The fumble in Detroit and the second one vs. Philadelphia — recovered by tight end Jordan Cameron — came on similar plays. Pressure came from the edge and Weeden stepped up in the pocket. In Detroit, he tried to throw a pass but was hit during the motion. Against the Eagles, he carried the ball too low and Darryl Tapp knocked it loose.

“Those guys are taught to go for the football,” Weeden said. “I had the ball up high and as I stepped up the ball came down to my belly button and he just reached for my waist and tomahawked through it.

“Those guys are strong. They’re 300 pounds and they’re stronger than I am. I’ve got to have good ball security up top and I think it’s more of a want-to thing. I’ve just got to get it done. There’s no other way around it.”

Practice isn’t the ideal environment to work on protecting the ball, because the quarterback is off-limits to contact. But they practice stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure and holding the ball high. Shurmur even runs behind the quarterback in individual drills and takes a swipe at the ball.

“You’ve got to simulate it as best as you can because you can’t really get game reps on it,” Weeden said. “It’s just one of those things that it’s better that it happens now and I’ll learn from it and I’ll definitely take some caution on it going forward.”

The first fumble against the Eagles came on Philadelphia’s 12-yard line as the Browns tried to run a screen. Weeden was just turning around from a play-action fake when defensive tackle Derek Landri blasted him.

“That to me was a team fumble that the quarterback fumbled, which he can’t do,” Shurmur said. “There are things all across the board, including design, that we’ve got to look at.”

Weeden said he and left guard Jason Pinkston watched the film on their off day.

“He said he let him go a bit fast and he watched it five or six times and said it made his stomach hurt,” Weeden said. “It happens. Those guys played well for me.

“I know it seems like a big deal because three of them were on the ground, but the first one we talked about against Detroit, I was trying to throw a pass. And the second one was just a little mishap and the third one was solely on me.”

Weeden has faced three good defensive lines and a lot of pressure in his three starts. It’s a contrast from his days at Oklahoma State, when he lined up in the shotgun and fired quick hitters before the pass rush could arrive. He said fumbling wasn’t an issue.

“Not very many and if I did, I think we fell on them,” he said.

Weeden insists he’s correctly diagnosing the rush before the snap and that routine regular-season game-planning would fix many of the protection issues. But he knows he must tweak his dropbacks and techniques in the pocket.

He took a seven-step drop on his second fumble Friday, which took him 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, creating an easier angle for the end turning the corner.

“That’s tough for those guys to protect. I was so used to in college being 7 or 8 yards deep and I didn’t have to work on pushing up in the pocket so much,” Weeden said. “That’s really not an excuse for it. I’ve got to find a way to help those guys upfront. It’s not acceptable for any of us. They can’t let me get to 10 yards and I can’t stay at 10 yards and try to throw a pass. We’ll continue to keep working on it and move forward.”

As Weeden adjusts to life in the NFL, the line must adapt to his style. Last year, it blocked for Colt McCoy, who was quick to leave the pocket. Weeden doesn’t have the same athleticism, needs a clean pocket to operate and is in no hurry to leave it.

“Certainly I think there’s different things you have to get used to with different quarterbacks, and I think that’s one of the learning processes we’re going through with Brandon,” Thomas said. “Any good quarterback, one of the attributes he has is going to be able to feel the rush and slide right, slide left, up, back, kind of feel the rush without having to take his eyes off downfield.

“But I think Brandon has done a nice job and I think he’s going to continue to improve.”
Step No. 1 is avoiding being stripped of the ball. Shurmur has a simple solution.

“Hang on to the ball,” he said. “You impress it upon them, you emphasize it, you drill it, you demand it and that’s how you get it.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.