One of the key traits that landed Rob Chudzinski a head coaching job in the NFL is his ability to adjust his scheme to the talent at hand—and yet one of the key benefits his ascension to the Cleveland job is that holdover quarterback Branden Weeden is a fit for the offense he’ll run.
It’s a dream job for Chud, who grew up a Browns fan in Toledo and has served two tours with the franchise previously—tight ends coach in 2004 and offensive coordinator in 2007 (with 10 wins, the most successful season the Browns have had since returning to Cleveland) and 2008. During that play-calling stint Chud helped Derek Anderson put up Pro Bowl numbers, so with no immediate help on the horizon the hope is that Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner can pull off a similar miracle.
Another miracle the Browns would like? A jump in scoring like Chudzinski (with a little help from Cam Newton) brought to Carolina: the Panthers scored 48 touchdowns in his first year at the helm after finding the end zone just 17 times the previous season. Carolina also jumped from last in the NFL in total yardage to seventh.
Or, as new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam so succinctly put it at the press conference introducing Chudzinski: “Over the last two years Rob was the offensive coordinator at Carolina, they scored 88 touchdowns. We scored 48.”
Chudzinski has already indicated he’ll leave the play-calling to the former San Diego head coach, and the Browns’ offensive scheme will be a combination of their two styes. In a recent press conference Chud labeled the Browns’ new hybrid approach “attacking”, and given the pedigrees of the men in charge it’s safe to assume the passing attack will be distinctly more vertical than last season’s West Coast offense.
That’s good news for Weeden, and good for the receivers currently atop Cleveland’s depth chart—specifically Josh Gordon, who cost the team this year’s second-round pick in last year’s supplemental draft and flashed plenty of ability in his rookie season. Picture Gordon in a Steve Smith or Vincent Jackson down-the-field role, the same role that produced 16.8 yards per catch for Smith under Chudzinski’s watch or 17.6 ypc for Jackson when he played for Turner in San Diego. Even Danario Alexander posted a gaudy 17.8 ypc average as the Chargers’ lead receiver last season. Gordon was already a big-play threat at 16.1 yards per catch last season; that number—like the rest of his stats—looks to be on the rise.
Of course, Norv’s offensive scheme has always leaned heavily on a feature back; fortunately for Turner and Chud, the Browns drafted one last season in Trent Richardson. Turner wasn’t shy about giving LaDainian Tomlinson heavy workloads; while more recently he’s spread the carries, it had more to do with the talent at hand. If he’s able to dodge the injury bug, Richardson is in no danger of slipping into a committee approach.
Chudzinski concurs: even while Anderson was posting Pro Bowl numbers in 2007, feeding two 1000-yard receivers in Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, Jamal Lewis was producing 1,303 yards on the ground. Also, the Browns have some talent along their offensive line, certainly more than the Chargers had at their disposal last season, which bodes well for both the holes Richardson will see and the time Weeden will have to throw downfield.
While the Browns’ new administration hasn’t fully endorsed Weeden—Chudzinski recently said it was “premature” to label Weeden as the starter—it’s clear he’s a better fit for the offense Chud and Turner will run. No less an authority on Cleveland quarterbacking than Bernie Kosar, who played for the Cowboys when Turner was calling their plays, agrees.
“[Weeden’s] arm is something all us quarterbacks would love to have,” Kosar said in a recent interview. “It’s a powerful arm. Down the field throwing is something I obsessively believe in. I think the game is going back to that. It’s the best offense for him, and I think he knows that. It’s going to give him and the team the best chance to be successful.”
With no Andrew Luck or RG3 in this year’s draft class, the Browns are likely to give last year’s second first-round pick another shot to prove himself. In fact, quarterback development was a factor in Chudzinski’s hiring; Haslam said at his introductory press conference, “everywhere Rob has been, the quarterback has gotten dramatically better.” With a pair of quality mentors and an offense that better suits his talents, Weeden could surprise—if not to become a fantasy factor himself, at least enough to make Gordon one and take some of the offensive pressure off of Richardson.
Finally, given Chudzinski’s reputation for developing tight ends—from his days at the University of Miami with Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr. to his time as Norv’s tight ends coach in San Diego to his work the past two seasons with Greg Olsen in Carolina—Jordan Cameron’s name must be mentioned. Not only is he an athletic pass-catching tight end, but the Browns’ roster has been essentially purged of his competition. Cameron is an early sleeper candidate, and given the track record of the guys training him and the productivity of those who have preceded him there is a ton of upside.