In the modern, pass-oriented NFL, having a franchise quarterback is a prerequisite for success.
After a seemingly endless search, the Cleveland Browns might have found one in Brandon Weeden.
Cleveland enters its game Sunday against the Steelers with a 2-8 record, but its first-year quarterback has shown signs of promise, even if those glimpses have been offset at times by the usual array of rookie mistakes.
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Weeden has thrown for 2,298 yards, third in NFL history among rookie quarterbacks through their first 10 games. Among current rookies, he trails only No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of Indianapolis in passing yardage.
"He's getting better every week and he's done a good job from Week 1," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "You just look at their scores in the last four or five games, they could have, and you could say should have, won all of them and they won a couple of them. It's going to be a close, hard-fought game -- they're playing good football, and he's playing good football."
When the Browns selected Weeden with the No. 22 pick in the April draft, they did so with a clear mission -- find stability and hope under center.
Since returning to the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999, the Browns have had 17 starting quarterbacks, including Weeden, a mark that is only surpassed by the Miami Dolphins, who have had 18 in that span.
They tried the proven-veteran route with Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia and Jake Delhomme. They also tried to build around top draft picks such as Tim Couch and Brady Quinn. And the results? Over the past 14 years, the Browns had a 70-149 record and one playoff appearance.
With Weeden, 29, who spent five years playing minor-league baseball, the Browns are hoping for a different result.
Lately, he has rewarded them with much-improved performances. In three of Cleveland's past five games, Weeden has had a quarterback rating of at least 92.
Not so coincidentally, the Browns were 2-3 in those games after an 0-5 start.
"Will he be one of the greatest? I think he will," Browns running back Trent Richardson, a fellow rookie, said. "He's still got a lot to learn and he's still learning. That's one thing about Brandon -- he's always learning and has a lot of opportunities to learn from his aspect. From what I've seen from him, he's doing a tremendous job this year."
The Steelers have faced one rookie quarterback this season, Washington's Robert Griffin III. They beat his Redskins, 27-12, Oct. 28, holding the former Baylor star to a season-low 72.8 quarterback rating.
The two rookies have vastly different skill sets, but, even so, the defense's advantages against a rookie quarterback are not as abundant as they might have been earlier in the season.
"Early on, there may be some [advantages], but, by the time you get this far into the season ... he's had the whole training camp and all the coaching sessions and now all this game experience," LeBeau said. "He's just a young veteran quarterback now."
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Craig Meyer: email@example.com. Twitter: @craig_a_meyer. First Published November 23, 2012 5:00 AM