Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden admits he doesn't have to deal with much condescending treatment from his veteran teammates.
"I haven't been called kid in awhile," Weeden told Buffalo reporters this week. "I wish they would. I've heard the old man jokes for the last five years. If I heard kid, I wouldn't even know how to react."
The fact Weeden is older than 40 of his 52 teammates makes him one of the most fascinating quarterback prospects to enter the league in a long time. Weeden, who turns 29 next month, will lead the Browns against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
The Browns chose to focus on the positives of Weeden's advanced age when they took him with the 22nd overall pick in April's NFL draft. Weeden spent five years in the New York Yankees' minor league baseball chain before enrolling at Oklahoma State in 2007 and turning back to football. The Browns think Weeden's maturity will shorten his learning curve in the NFL.
"I think his maturity helps him as he goes through the process of improving himself," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "There's times when you make a bad play, and he has the ability to put it behind him and go make the next one. So there's some things about where he's at in his life that will help him."
Weeden didn't have a lot of success as a pitcher after the Yankees made him a second-round pick in 2002. The highest level of pro ball he reached was Class A. He went 19-26 with a 5.02 earned run average in the minors. Weeden thinks his struggles on the mound make him better equipped to deal with the scrutiny that comes with being a franchise quarterback.
"How to be a pro, to sum it all up, is one thing I learned in baseball," he said. "This is even a bigger level, a bigger stage, than minor league baseball, but it prepared me for it a little bit. Also, how to deal with adversity. Baseball is a game of failure. You learn to bounce back. I've got a pretty level head on my shoulders. Dealing with failure, even though it and none of us want to do it, you've got to find a way to take the positives and move on."
That's what Weeden did after a miserable season opener two weeks ago. He went 12 for 35 with four interceptions in a 17-16 loss to Philadelphia. He was a different guy in last week's 34-27 loss at Cincinnati. Weeden hit 26 of 37 passes for 322 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
"I prepared last week like I've never really prepared for a game," Weeden said. "I really dissected what we did and came out and really focused on what we were trying to do. It worked. Not that I didn't prepare Week One, because I did. But I went overboard this past week."
The Browns have ranked among the bottom 10 in the NFL in offense 12 of their 13 seasons since the franchise was resurrected in 1999. They were third worst in the NFL in scoring last year at just 13.6 points per game. Colt McCoy, last year's starter, passed for more than 250 yards only once. Weeden is their 17th different starting QB in the last 13 years. They hope they finally have their answer at the position.
"I think he throws the ball well," Shurmur said. "We think his age gives him a step up in maturity. . I think he's a good decision maker. From what I've seen to this point he's been a good leader. And he works extremely hard. With all those attributes in his favor we felt that's what we wanted for our team."
Weeden, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, has the size and arm strength that McCoy lacks. In two years as a starter for Oklahoma State, he averaged 346 passing yards a game with 71 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
"Brandon Weeden to me would have been a guaranteed top 10 pick if he was 22 or 23," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. "You look at his numbers across the board. Versus ranked teams he completed 70.7 percent. Red zone, 69 percent. His arm, his release, his accuracy, his intelligence, his leadership. He's a heckuva quarterback."
Weeden's athletic skill is phenomenal. A 2-handicapper in golf, he was good enough to walk on last year to the Oklahoma State golf team, which entered the college season ranked No. 2 in the country. He never competed in a college tournament, but he was good enough to earn a bag on the 15-member squad.
"I'm a pretty decent player, but you're talking about one of the best programs in all of college golf," Weeden said. "I don't even have my clubs here in Cleveland. I'd be scared to go play right now. It'd be pretty ugly."
Weeden, however, is strictly a pocket passer. He showed the ability to slide in the pocket at Oklahoma State. He took only 12 sacks in 576 drop-backs last season. But whether Weeden is mobile enough to become elite in the NFL is something he will need to prove. He had three fumbles in five quarters in preseason.
"A big portion of the quarterback's game is he's gotta be able to throw the football from the pocket," Shurmur said. "We all know, especially facing a defensive line like Buffalo's, the pocket's not always clean. So then you've got to be able to move around, keep a downfield focus and make a throw. I saw him do that a couple of times last week."