CLEVELAND - Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden knows he needs to get a grip.
With three fumbles in five quarters during the exhibition season, Weeden's inability to hold onto the football while under duress has become an unexpected issue for the Browns, who will open the regular season in two weeks against a lightning-quick Philadelphia defense that craves turnovers.
Weeden knows it's time for clamp down on the ball.
"You just have to have a death grip on it," he said Sunday "That's all there is to it."
In Friday's 27-10 loss to the Eagles, Weeden fumbled twice in the first quarter as the Browns fell behind 14-0. Weeden's first fumble wasn't his fault as Cleveland's protection broke down on a botched screen pass, allowing Eagles defensive tackle Derek Landri to shoot through a hole untouched and strip an unsuspecting Weeden.
Weeden acknowledged that the second fumble, which was recovered by Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, was because he was holding the ball too low while stepping up in the pocket. He fumbled on a similar play while trying to make a pass against Detroit in the preseason opener, when he was constantly pressured by the Lions' defensive front.
Weeden understands that he has to do a better job holding onto the ball, but he's not going to go to anything out of the ordinary to improve his ball-handling skills.
"I mean I'm not going to carry a football around with me at night," he joked. "If you start thinking about all of that other stuff, you get in trouble. I know it seems like a big deal because three of them were on the ground, It's not something I'm going to lose a lot of sleep over, but I'm definitely going to take it seriously and when I can work on it, I'm definitely going to work on it."
Browns coach Pat Shurmur and his staff are always harping on Cleveland's players to protect the football. They have several daily drills designed to reinforce ball security. Shurmur was asked if there was anything more he could tell Weeden other than to hang onto the ball.
"Yeah," he said. "Hang on to the ball. I think ball security is primary for anybody who touches the ball, especially the quarterback who touches it every play. He knows that we drill that. A great deal of fumbles in this league involve the quarterback in the pocket and he knows that. It's very important for him to maneuver in the pocket where he doesn't fumble and if he's getting tackled or sacked he needs to wrap the ball up. He knows that."
Weeden rarely, if ever, fumbled at Oklahoma State, where he typically lined up in the shotgun formation and usually got rid of the ball in the Cowboys' high-tempo offense before feeling much pressure.
But now that he's under center for the snap, Weeden has to drop back and be aware that defensive linemen in the NFL will be nearby as soon as he gets ready to throw.
After completing his first four passes for 66 yards on Cleveland's opening drive, Weeden moved the Browns (No. 30 in APPro32) to the Eagles 2. But after a holding call against guard Jason Pinkston backed them up to the 12, a blown assignment on the screen pass led to the sack and strip. Weeden never saw it coming and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
On his second fumble, Weeden was being a bit too care-free and had the ball swatted away by Darryl Tapp.
Weeden promised not to let it happen again.
"Those guys are taught to go for the football," he said. "I had the ball up high, and as I stepped up the ball came down to my belly button and he just reached for my waist and tomahawked through it. Those guys are strong. They're 300 pounds and they're stronger than I am. I've got to have good ball security up top and I think it's more of a want-to thing.
"I've just got to get it done. There's no other way around it."
Notes: RB Montario Hardesty, who has fumbled in the past two games, did not take part in team drills during practice. Hardesty said he's healthy -- he wore a sleeve on his left calf -- but he was replaced with the first-team offense by Brandon Jackson, who seemed to think he had been promoted. "I don't want to jump the gun, but it feels good to be out there with the ones," he said. ... Shurmur is "very optimistic" that rookie RB Trent Richardson will play in the Sept. 9 opener. Richardson has not practiced since undergoing left knee surgery on Aug. 9. Richardson could be practicing this week. .. Shurmur praised QB Colt McCoy for the way he's handled losing his starting job to Weeden. It's possible McCoy will be kept as Cleveland's No. 2 QB, but Shurmur isn't ready to reveal his plans. "You'll see what I'm going to do with the quarterbacks at final cuts (Friday)," he said. ... DE Marcus Benard dislocated his elbow against the Eagles and is out indefinitely. ... The Browns waived nine players, the most notable being WR Carlton Mitchell. They must trim five more players from their roster Monday.