BEREA — Norv Turner referred to himself as a realist, but sounded quite optimistic when discussing the offense’s hot start.
Yes, he was reminded it’s the preseason.
“I’m excited. Our players are excited. I hope our fans are excited,” the offensive coordinator said Sunday.
The first-team offense has had six drives in two games and scored on five of them for 27 points. That doesn’t include a Travis Benjamin punt return for a touchdown.
Turner has been considered one of the NFL’s best offensive minds since leading the Cowboys offense from 1991-93. Dallas won two Super Bowls, and quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin developed into Hall of Famers.
Turner brought his version of Don Coryell’s vertical passing attack to Cleveland when hired by coach Rob Chudzinski, and quarterback Brandon Weeden has been the biggest beneficiary.
“The thing Brandon has done is he’s made good decisions. He’s obviously extremely accurate with the ball, and he’s made some big throws up the field already,” Turner said.
“So those are things that you have to look at and say they’re positives, and those are things that we can build on.”
Weeden is 18-for-25 for 229 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions or sacks and a 139.8 rating. The numbers are quite an improvement from the 57.4 completion rate, 17 interceptions vs. 14 touchdowns and 72.6 rating as a rookie in 2012 running Pat Shurmur’s West Coast offense.
Weeden has spent more time out of the shotgun under Turner, where he’s obviously more comfortable. Turner likes to stretch the field — Weeden hit receiver Josh Gordon on a 34-yard pass down the sideline Thursday vs. the Lions — but Weeden has also done a good job checking down to the running backs or hitting his targets on shallow crosses that have turned into big gains.
“I’m excited with what Brandon’s been able to do,” Turner said. “The thing that we’ve spent a lot of time working on is trying to find out the things that he does best and combine them with the things that our players do best.
“Hopefully when we get into games we’re able to feature the things that all our guys do best and the things they do together and through the preseason action that Brandon’s had, we’ve been able to that. And we’ve had a lot of guys playing well and he’s taken advantage of the way they’re playing.”
Turner’s had success with a variety of quarterbacks during his career. He points to Philip Rivers, Trent Green and Alex Smith as players who took big steps in his system.
“It starts with a system that’s extremely sound,” Turner said. “It’s been proven over time.
“I do believe my background in terms of teaching and the process you go through to get those guys to play, I think there’s some things that we believe in and we try to keep it as simple as possible for the quarterback and put the burden on some of the other players. And I think it helps them sort through some of the things they have to work through.”
The offense, including Weeden, was inconsistent through training camp, but Turner pointed to experimentation in practice, the defense’s familiarity with the offense and the talent of the defense. He said the strong showings vs. the Rams and Lions shouldn’t be dismissed.
“I’m a realist. I know that you can only control what you’re going against,” he said. “We’ve played the Rams, we’ve played Detroit, they gave us more than people think. Both teams blitzed us and we handled it well. Both teams mixed the coverages pretty good and I thought we handled it well.
“It’s not the regular season, so we just have to continue to prepare for the regular season. I don’t think we’re going to go out and complete 75 percent of our passes in the regular season, but we’re doing it now and that’s something to build on.”
Weeden’s .574 completion percentage ranked 27th in the NFL last year, but Turner believes that’s misleading. He points to Weeden completing nearly 70 percent at Oklahoma State.
“When you watched him and he got set and got his sights on someone and the guy was running open, he didn’t miss him very often,” Turner said. “And that’s what he’s done here.
“It’s about percentages and if you’re trying to throw the ball to guys you shouldn’t be throwing to, you’re not going to be real accurate. If you’re making good decisions …”
That puts the emphasis back on Weeden’s decision-making and ability to read the field. Weeden was criticized last year for locking onto a receiver, and at times during camp he’s been slow to leave his first read or turn to the other side of the field.
“He’s doing really good,” Turner said. “He’s had some tough plays in the preseason where he’s gotten to the third or fourth receiver, made good decisions, he’s thrown the ball away. If you can go play a couple of games and not have an interception or have a ball that should be intercepted, I think you’re making progress.
“When he’s really confident and sure of what he’s doing, he’s going a lot faster, his setups are faster, the ball’s coming out quicker. It’s a matter of him being experienced with everything we’re doing so there’s not indecision, and he’s done a good job of getting the ball out fast when he’s really sure of what we’re doing.”
As a realist, Turner knows Weeden will be named the starter for the regular season. But he agreed with Chudzinski that the quarterback competition with Jason Campbell is “still close” and no one has lapped the field.
“I think Chud was being extremely honest with you,” Turner said. “I do believe Jason has played at a high enough level to say that it is close. How you phrase it or how you say it, I don’t know that that matters. I think we’re heading in the direction we want to be.
“I really believe first of all that Chud’s done an unbelievable job with this entire football team in terms of letting them know exactly what we want to get done, how we’re going to get that done and where we’re headed. I think he explained his plan to the quarterbacks from the start. He stuck with it. It’s not an issue in that building. I know it’s an issue outside the building. But I don’t think anyone is worried about when an announcement is going to be made, and I think we’ve got great production from all three quarterbacks. So whatever the plan was that we’ve put together, it seems to be working.”
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