BEREA, OHIO (AP) - For a refreshing change, there is no controversy over who will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a stadium full of questions about the guy _ Jake Delhomme _ set to take the first snap at Tampa Bay on Sept. 12.
Coming off a miserable season in Carolina where he encountered what one publication delicately called "a 13-month turnover problem," the former Pro Bowler knows that at the age of 35 he has to prove all over again that he can lead an NFL offense.
"The older you get _ and this is the approach that I take _ is that this is my last year," he said. "Next year I’m going to say the same thing. You just don’t know in this league. I think you start to appreciate it more and start to enjoy it because this is a privilege."
Delhomme struggled with turnovers a year ago. He threw 18 interceptions and only eight touchdown passes. He looked old, he looked confused and he looked as if he was done.
After seven strong years with the Panthers and a 58-40 record as a starter, his one poor season resulted in the Panthers releasing him in early March. Hiding his tears behind sunglasses, Delhomme, a horse owner, vowed that he wasn’t "ready to go home and play with the horses just yet."
His time had clearly run out in Carolina, where fans were relentless in mocking him for his mistakes.
At the same time, the Browns were starting over at the position, releasing Derek Anderson and trading Brady Quinn to Denver. They had jostled for the starting job in an ongoing drama that seemed disruptive and distractive.
About a week after his release, Delhomme signed a two-year deal with the Browns that will pay him a guaranteed $7 million the first season. The Browns also acquired Seneca Wallace from Seattle and drafted former Texas star Colt McCoy in the third round, providing an entirely new cast under center.
Despite his errant throws last season, and despite his age, Delhomme became the starter almost by default. New Browns president Mike Holmgren said he was a marked improvement.
"The quarterback situation is much more solid and that improves a team immediately," Holmgren said. "By how much? We don’t know. But it’s solid. I know _ I know _ we’re in a better spot at that position than last year."
Delhomme looked good in offseason workouts and has gained the confidence of second-year coach Eric Mangini.
"Jake is an older guy who has got a real presence and he’s got a real control of the offense," he said after Saturday’s first workout of fall camp. "He’s got a lot of respect, which is deserved for the things that he has been able to do. But he backs that up with his work ethic and he backs it up with his leadership."
It’s hard to quantify how bad the Browns QBs were last season. Cleveland was at or near the bottom in the NFL in many passing stats, and was a distant last with just under 130 yards a game through the air.
To put that into perspective, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo and Tom Brady each averaged more than twice that many passing yards per game.
So anybody who can fling the ball down the field with any degree of consistency is a welcome addition in Cleveland.
Delhomme invites the scrutiny and pressure that comes with the job.
"When you suit up on Sunday, you are one of 32 in the world," he said, referring to NFL starting quarterbacks. "There’s a great deal of, if you want to call it pressure or expectations, but I think there’s a reason that quarterbacks play quarterback. To get to this level, you’ve had to kind of go through that at some point. You embrace it, ‘OK, this is what I’ve got to do.’ It becomes a pride thing and you want to do well and you want to be the guy to help your team win."
Whether Delhomme is that guy remains to be seen. A four-game winning streak to cap a 5-11 season a year ago saved Mangini’s job and provided a spark of hope for Cleveland.
It didn’t take long for Delhomme to shove that nightmarish 2009 out of his brain.
"I’ve put it behind me. Whenever your locker gets boxed up in Carolina, OK, it’s behind you now," he said with a laugh. "But I’ve had a fresh start here. It’s new. I don’t want to be that guy who sweeps things under the rug. Yeah, it happened. I think you learn from it. With the new plays, fresh start, things are going extremely well so far. I’m looking forward to another season."
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