It's not often that a modest 1-yard gain in a season-opening loss holds so much significance.
The Browns, who have had one winning season and five head coaches in the past decade, traded up to select Richardson third overall in April's draft and 19 spots later used another first-round draft pick on Weeden. And by starting the two rookies right away, the Browns hope to build the foundation of a contending team with a similar blueprint to the one the
"My hopes, of course, are that we can have the same success that the Ravens have had — going to the playoffs the last four years, the AFC championship game," Browns coach
But three games into their NFL careers, the rest of the puzzle looks to be very incomplete.
The Browns, who have 15 rookies on their 53-man active roster, are winless heading into Thursday night's game at M&T Bank Stadium, and they rank near the bottom of the NFL in total offense and total defense. Weeden has thrown six interceptions and Richardson is averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
"They've had to learn on the run," said Browns linebacker
The Browns believe they are tough enough and mature enough to handle the high expectations. But still, this has been a rude welcome for a pair of players whose college teams won 12 games apiece in 2011.
Richardson, a teammate of Ravens linebacker
Weeden spent five years as a minor league baseball player before joining the football program at
The Browns were mostly praised for selecting Richardson and Weeden, but they might not have been their preferred prospects. In March, Cleveland unsuccessfully attempted to trade up for the second overall pick, presumably to select Baylor quarterback
Still, after missing out on Griffin,
"I'm not big on taking a tailback in the top 10. But I thought this kid was special," said Mayock, who is calling Thursday night's game for NFL Network. "And in the
Mayock said he was surprised by the selection of Weeden because he thought they would try to build around former starter
"He is very mature and very intelligent, but he's kind of starting at ground zero as a quarterback — a lot less knowledge of calling plays, making checks and handling pass protections than most quarterbacks in the league," Mayock said. "So he's got further to go, but he's a talented kid."
Some pundits said similar things about Flacco when the Ravens drafted him in the first round in 2008 out of Delaware. Mayock was not one of them. The Philadelphia resident recalls a couple of his scouting buddies telling him that he had to go check out a big-armed kid down at Delaware. Months later, he was stumping for Flacco to get invited to the Senior Bowl.
"It's nice to have a big arm, but more important are all the intangibles that go along with it," Mayock said of Flacco, who played in a spread shotgun offense at Delaware. "I think he had a chip on his shoulder that drove him to be a better football player. And I think it's still there — and I like it."
In the second round of that draft, the Ravens grabbed a pint-sized powerhouse from
Five months later, after Flacco earned the Week 1 start when
"There was definitely that nerve going into our first game together and here we are five years later still playing as a duo," said Rice, who rushed for 4 yards on the first play that afternoon.
The Ravens went 11-5 in 2008, improbably advancing all the way to the AFC championship game. Rice, who was part of a three-pronged rushing attack with McGahee and
"You saw games of brilliance when he just went out there and did his thing," said linebacker
The early success of Flacco and other rookie quarterbacks has since emboldened teams to throw their first-round quarterbacks into the fire, too. In the past five drafts, 15 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Fourteen are starting for their teams today. The other is
And the Browns weren't alone in starting a pair of rookies in the backfield in Week 1. The
That's why Shurmur and the Browns front office might not be around long enough to see if the Weeden-Richardson experiment is a success. A new ownership group is taking over control of the team, and new owners like to hire new coaches, especially when the old ones aren't winning many football games.
Pressure is already mounting on these Browns. Some were calling for McCoy to replace Weeden after Weeden threw four interceptions in a season-opening loss to the
The Ravens, who will be grumpy Thursday after a short but tiresome work week, don't plan on cutting them a break. They praised the rookies for their poise, but they admitted that Weeden has at times been illiterate when it comes to reading complex NFL defenses, and while they know it may take a few defenders to drag down Richardson, they are confident they can take away the Browns' running game.
But the Ravens can look at the success they have had with Flacco and Rice since 2008 and know that it could one day happen for the Browns with Weeden and Richardson, too, even if it doesn't immediately.
"They're going to make some rookie mistakes, but it can happen for them, no doubt about it," guard