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A Browns rookie revelation

November 12, 2010

Ten years ago, a previous Cleveland Browns braintrust attempted to build depth at the quarterback position. With the 183rd selection of the 2000 NFL draft, Spergon Wynn of Texas State was the team's selection. Wynn was out of football after two seasons and only started a single game while playing for the team nestled along the shores of Lake Erie.

Tom Brady was the next quarterback selected 16 slots later.

Fast forward to 2010 as the Browns' recent third-round selection, quarterback Colt McCoy, was under center when his team defeated the three-time Super Bowl champion Brady and his New England Patriots, 34-14.

Cleveland has finally found its trigger man.

Quite a feat considering the franchise has not had a legitimate NFL caliber starter behind center since Bernie Kosar was so rudely cut midseason in 1993, ironically enough, by current Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

"There isn't any doubt in my mind," Cleveland's workhorse Peyton Hillis exclaimed. "Colt McCoy has been a winner his whole life and he's done great things for this team so far. He's proven it time and time again. With more opportunities and more shots, he's going to do more great things."

McCoy finished last Sunday without gaudy numbers. His 14 completions were not accompanied by a touchdown pass or an interception.

He simply led his team to victory displaying continued poise, leadership, accuracy, while playing smart football. He has done so in each of his first three starts. Three contests which have seen a first in NFL history becoming the only rookie to face three Super Bowl winning quarterbacks during his initial voyage.

"Look at the teams he's played against," Rex Ryan, the head coach of the New York Jets and Cleveland's next opponent, said. "He's not making mistakes. He's a smart competitive kid."

It was easy to overlook and undermine a 6-feet-1-inch tall quarterback prospect like McCoy as he entered the NFL.

Despite being college football's all time leading winner at the position, throwing for 13,253 yards while at Texas, and leading his program to a national championship appearance two months prior; he slid to Cleveland when the team finally selected the well known amateur 85th overall.

Team president Mike Holmgren even intimated in April that Cleveland's current regime had no plans to play him as a rookie.

Because injuries are an every day part of life in the NFL, the Browns' hand was forced after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace were sidelined. McCoy would have to step in and up into the starting rotation.

His play had exceeded all expectations.

Now the Colt McCoy brand has brought instant credibility and national exposure to a franchise lacking an identity. A buzz is surrounding the team and it's latest quarterback.

As McCoy's experience increases and his numbers eventually qualify to be ranked among his peers, his recent play may be more impressive than initially anticipated according to statistical comparison.

The young gunslinger's 67.8 completion percentage would rank fourth in the league behind Drew Brees, Tony Romo and David Garrard. The statistic is a mere 2 percentage points behind Brees' league leading 69.8 completion percentage.

Despite receiving the dreaded "weak arm" knock entering this years's draft, McCoy's yards per attempt resides at 7.8. Only five quarterbacks in the league are higher. Three of the five crack the 8.0 barrier. McCoy's number is higher than those of Eli Manning, Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

Quarterback rating is as indistinguishable as trying to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls, but McCoy resides with a rating of 83.5. Not a single entrenched starter for Cleveland has maintained the same rating while starting half the season or more since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. Even when Derek Anderson completed his 2007 Pro Bowl campaign, after the team's 10-6 effort, his quarterback rating was 82.5.

The difference lies in how Cleveland has attempted to develop their budding quarterbacks.

Teams such as Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Baltimore have written the blueprint for teams to follow. They ran the football and won with defense.

The 2004 Steelers and the 2008 Falcons both finished second in the league in rushing yardage those years. The 2008 Ravens came in two spots behind Atlanta.

Ben Roethlisberger averaged 21 passing attempts per game during the season. Matt Ryan upped the ante with 27 attempts on average. While Joe Flacco finished slightly under Ryan's mark. McCoy has been asked to throw the ball 26 times per game.

Comparatively, Sam Bradford, the draft's number one overall selection who has started every game for the St. Louis Rams this season, has shouldered the responsibility of throwing the football 36.5 times per contest. Peyton Manning did so 35.9 times each and every Sunday during his initial campaign.

Meanwhile, the Browns are staring down the 6-2 New York Jets.

Ryan's squad developed the same gameplan for last year's starting rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. The Jets finished first in the league running the football.

In the previous seasons listed, three of the four teams mentioned achieved a top two ranking in terms of total defense.

Cleveland's curve is much closer to Atlanta's. Both teams during their respective seasons were in the bottom half of the league in total defense. Atlanta finished 2008 11th in points allowed. The Browns are currently 11th.

The Browns are running the football effectively with Peyton Hillis amassing 644 yards. The overall team rushing attack is rated 13th, but they have shown an ability to pound the football and close out games. Over the course of McCoy's starts, the team is averaging 141.3 yards per game. It is an 38.5 yard per game improvement over the first five rushing efforts opening the season.

The Jets counter with the fourth best run defense in the NFL. They have also averaged 148.0 yards per game on the ground in 2010.

McCoy has been challenged and pressed into action early and often against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and New England. Each of the those previous teams present some of the most sophisticated blitz packages a unit can muster, and McCoy has risen to the occasion.

Now he must stare down Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Bart Scott of the Jets; another daunting task.

"The Jets will be the toughest defense that we've played so far, that's the truth," McCoy stated Wednesday after practice.

"I think their third in points per game, and they're in the top 10 in just about every category defensively across the NFL.

"They do a lot of stuff, they try to confuse you. Their secondary is awesome, their corners are great and we understand how big of a challenge it's going to be for us just to be able to move the football and score some points.

"We have got our hands full."

(Sobleski, a resident of Cadiz, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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