Shaw niftily ducks out of bounds untouched. He flips the ball to the referee and jogs back to the huddle – his huddle.
Nearly three months after our profile of his first week as a Brown, Shaw is fully settled in Cleveland. He swapped his trusty number 14 Gamecocks uniform for a red number nine Browns practice penny.
Four full days into training camp, it’s apparent Shaw has been getting cozy with playbook. It’s apparent in the way he throws the football with conviction. Hundreds of hours of studying at the team hotel or on your honeymoon in Punta Cana will do that.
Find something more difficult than a rookie quarterback’s battle with the playbook. It might be the hardest on-the-job training in any field of work.
When Shaw called a play at the University of South Carolina, it he only had to use three, maybe four words. With the Cleveland Browns, play calls can reach upwards of 15 to 16 words. One wrong word could lead to a receiver being on a different page than Shaw, resulting in an interception.
“The margin of error is so small compared to college,” Shaw said, of playing in the NFL. “You just have to be focused at all times.”
Shaw’s attention during practice remains razor sharp at all times. He’s constantly taking mental repetitions while the other quarterbacks are under center. He has to.
With the way things are set up, Shaw gets eight to 10 practice reps in 11-on-11 drills. There’s a lot of standing and watching for Shaw. It’s not the lead on SportsCenter every night, but Shaw’s duking it out with veteran quarterback Tyler Thigpen for the Browns number three spot.
Thigpen and Shaw share a unique relationship. They both live in South Carolina during the offseason, share the same agent and speak with a slight southern drawl.
They immediately hit it off as buddies. Thigpen, 30, has actually been instrumental in guiding Shaw. The playbook isn’t their main focal point in conversation either. Thigpen instructs Shaw on how to manage time during the summer break, or how much soreness a quarterback will feel on a Monday after a game compared to college.
It’s normal for two players to be respectful of one another when they are competing for the same job. It’s another for them to be rely on each other. Thigpen has been a full encyclopedia, making Shaw’s transition to the NFL a smooth one.
Their bond has been lauded from Browns coaches as to why an average team can turn into a playoff contender.
Training camp for most players a 15 hour day, and that’s before they get back to the hotel at 10 p.m., likely reviewing more practice footage. It’s exhausting. It’s challenging.
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do while you are in college to learn how the NFL is until you actually get into the NFL,” said Shaw. “There’s nothing you can say to someone, until you are on the grind in the NFL. That’s the only way you are going to learn about it.”
Even though he’s now regarded as one of the best quarterback’s in school history, Connor Shaw was never automatically given the starting quarterback position at South Carolina.
Head coach Steve Spurrier drilled it home to Shaw that players earn every snap. So walking into this new pressure-filled practice culture coach Mike Pettine has launched is actually an aspect that makes Shaw feel like he’s at home.
“I’ve always been fighting for my spot,” Shaw said. “Nothing is given. If you go out and win the Heisman, you’re still going to have to compete for your job. That’s the way coach Spurrier taught me and that’s the way coach Spurrier coached our whole team. Nothing is ever given. That’s the way I play my best.”
The preseason will dictate Shaw’s future with the Browns. He knows this. He wants it that way. He wants the games to matter the most, because when they did in the SEC, Shaw rarely walked away in defeat.
The spotlight on the Browns third-string quarterback spot is dim. The livelihood Shaw and Thigpen bring to both
Choosing Shaw or Thigpen won’t be a decision that’s made quickly.