Cleveland Browns: Can Hue Jackson solve the quarterback riddle?
By Joel W. Cade
Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson has a special ability to elevate quarterback play. Now he faces his biggest challenge.
Success for the Cleveland Browns in the 2016 NFL season begins and ends with the quarterback. For a team that has struggled for 16 seasons to find or develop a franchise quarterback, this is a depressing scenario.
But all may not be lost, Browns fans. This past off-season the Browns hired a head coach with a reputation for elevating the play of quarterbacks. In fact, his ability to elevate Andy Dalton’s play in Cincinnati made Hue Jackson the top head coach candidate this off-season, according to Football Outsiders’ Cian Fahey:
"That’s why Hue Jackson was the top head coach candidate this offseason. Jackson wasn’t coming from a privileged position. He had worked with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but he didn’t have a great quarterback. Jackson had to craft an offense around Andy Dalton, making the adjustments that heightened the impact of Dalton’s strengths and hid his weaknesses from view. It was the second time in Jackson’s career that he had proven his ability to adjust his offense around limited talent; the first time he did it in an un-winnable situation with the Oakland Raiders."
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What separates Jackson from the rest is his ability to build an offense around limited quarterback play. If there is anything in abundance in Cleveland, it is limited quarterback play. This year’s cast offers hope, but all three of the main options come with weaknesses.
Robert Griffin III flashed in his rookie season. However, he was unable to maintain that success over the following years. He spent the entire 2015 season on the bench before being released by the Washington Redskins.
Josh McCown was an adequate starter last season. At one point he set a Browns record for the most passing yards in a single game. However prolific his passing, McCown was able to lead the Browns to only one win last season.
Cody Kessler was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Kessler’s major strength is his ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage. As a rookie he will have to adapt to the speed of the NFL game. Kessler would be best served sitting behind both Griffin and McCown this fall. According to Fahey, however, should it come to the point that Kessler does start, Jackson can rely on his work with Dalton for a blueprint:
"Jackson could try and recreate the same type of offense that he ran with Dalton last year if rookie Cody Kessler starts for Cleveland. Kessler’s main selling point is his ability to read the defense before the snap and execute read/pass options. Kessler’s overall quality is questionable at best though, meaning that Robert Griffin III should remain the favorite to start."
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At OTAs and mini-camp the Browns were installing the entire playbook. When training camp starts on July 29, the Browns will begin paring down the playbook around a specific starter. The sooner the Browns name a starter in training camp, the quicker Jackson can mold the playbook around that person’s strengths as a quarterback.
What separated Jackson from other head coaching candidates this past off-season was his ability to elevate quarterback play. With the dismal history of quarterback play for the Browns over the past 16 years, Jackson will need to muster all his magic if the Browns are going to be successful on offense. But even then, will it be enough to overcome the Browns lack of playmakers?
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What do you think, Browns fans? Does Hue Jackson possess the magic touch that will turn around the team’s quarterback woes?