Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Results: Inconclusive

It shouldn't be the most compelling story in Browns training camp. Not nearly a month in. But it is, and it will continue to be. And the team is going to suffer for it.

The Browns have a quarterback competition. That bloated horse carcass has been flogged for quite some time. Eric Mangini has already gone on record as saying he will wait until all four preseason games have been completed, and examine the whole body of work produced by both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, before deciding on an opening day starter.

The burning question should be, what are the final two preaseason games going to show that the first two didn't show?

In the exhibition opener at Green Bay, Quinn had a solid game while Anderson's was migraine-inducing. In the second game against Detroit, Anderson had one of his Peyton Marino Montana games and impressed, while Quinn finished with a pedestrian 3-for-5 passing effort on a couple of penalty-marred drives.

Eight quarters of exhibition football in the books, and no clear-cut leader. Anderson exhibited his numerous flaws and so did Quinn. Anderson threw picks, Quinn threw a pick. Anderson looks like the more experienced passer, Quinn looks more composed more often.

Another two exhibition games probably aren't going to produce any new revelations for Mangini. And unlike the exhibition season, it's generally a bad idea to wait until game day to name your starting QB once the games start to count.

I've made my feelings known about the situation in this space a few weeks ago. Quinn needs to be given the '09 season to make his case, just as Anderson got '07 and half of '08. Anderson is what he is: a great arm for vertical passing, a suspect decision-maker, and tends to wilt mentally when under pressure.

If Mangini is hoping his decision will become clearer over the next two weeks, he probably has another thing coming. Sooner or later, Mangini is going to have to make a decision, even if it means closing his eyes and pulling a name out of a hat. That might be the only way Mangini can create any separation between two talented but flawed QBs.

And it's about a heck of a lot more than who is under center versus Minnesota on Sept. 13. If the Browns are to build upon any progress they achieve, if they are to make any headway in evolving out of the primordial rebuilding soup, they need a starting QB. It's an essential building block, if only because right now they have two, and having two quarterbacks might be worse than having none. It's certainly true when you have two QBs who are playing cat and mouse with the starting assignment.

Mangini's decision affects not just opening day. This is about the Browns of 2009 and beyond. This is about defining a direction and living with the results. This is about being right or wrong. Through this process, we might find out more about Eric Mangini as a coach than Quinn or Anderson as quarterbacks.

There is only one right outcome: picking the better of the two quarterbacks, not just for this year, but for the coming years. The first wrong choice is selecting the less capable of the two quarterbacks. The second wrong choice, with longer-reaching consequences, is continuing to ping-pong between Quinn and Anderson, keeping the team in a permanent state of flux.

The fear of the first wrong choice might drive Mangini to the second wrong choice, which will expose him as a waffler, and might cause him to lose face, both in the locker room and with the public at large.

If Mangini commits to either Quinn or Anderson, parting ways with the other, he opens himself to the possibility of watching the cast-off become the "One That Got Away," blossoming into an elite passer in another team's uniform.

But if that's Mangini's worst fear, that alone says a lot about the Browns' new coach. He needs to worry about the future of his team, not what might happen elsewhere if he lets go of the wrong QB.

In other words, building a sense of stability, at this point, might be more important that being right about your QB choice.

Even if Quinn becomes nothing more than a mediocre NFL quarterback with the Browns, while Anderson moves on to another team and sets passing records -- or vice versa -- it's still better than the current setup, with a team once again in the fragile, embryonic stages of rebuilding, facing a cloudy future due to the instability of the cornerstone position on any football team.

Teams can win without a great passing attack. But they can't win without stability or leadership. That is what the quarterback position needs to provide, before it provides passing yardage and touchdowns.

But the quarterback can't provide stability and leadership if the coach doesn't provide it first. And many times, that requires tough decisions from the guy who wears the headset on Sundays.

This might prove to be Mangini's toughest decision as coach of the Browns, because of what it affects, both this year and beyond. Picking the wrong quarterback could have damaging consequences. But picking neither -- or perpetually waiting for a clear-cut winner to emerge -- could be devastating well beyond a Week 1 loss to the Vikings.

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