BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Josh McCown takes the snap, drops back in the pocket, sets his feet and delivers a 20-yard strike to tight end Jim Dray.
McCown isn’t done there.
As Dray turns up field to run during the early portion of practice, McCown hollers “Jim Draaaaaaay!” and Cleveland’s starting quarterback — the Browns’ 23rd since 1999 — takes off in a sprint to catch up to his offensive teammates. They clearly enjoy his antics.
At 36, McCown acts like the same little kid from Jacksonville, Texas, who first buckled his chin strap and got behind center nearly 30 years ago.
Football’s still fun.
“You never would know that he has a 17-year-old daughter,” said Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who previously worked with McCown in Oakland. “That is the thing with Josh. He has juice every day.”
With his career winding down, McCown is savoring every snap. Signed to a three-year, $14 million contract in March, he has brought needed stability to the Browns, who have been thrilled with his grasp of DeFilippo’s offense, the mentoring he has given second-year QB Johnny Manziel and the enthusiasm he brings onto the field and into meeting rooms.
For McCown, whose career began in 2002 with Arizona, Cleveland will likely be his last stop in a career that has had more lows than highs. But the father of four, who was playing in the United Football League in 2010, has learned to not only handle pressure, but embrace it.
“Because of my journey and the things I have gone through I think this back half (of my career) I am appreciative of those things that happened to me because it really focused me on making the most of every day,” he said. “That is a great way to live. I am thankful for that.”
The Browns have tried everything to solve their quarterback riddle with minimal results. They’ve drafted four QBs (Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Manziel) in the first round, signed established free agents (Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Jake Delhomme) and even tried a few (Charlie Frye, Brian Hoyer) with local connections yet remain without their long-term answer at the position.
McCown, who went just 1-10 as a starter with Tampa Bay last season, might be able to get the Browns through a few years. While he’s in his 12th season, McCown has only made 49 starts and thrown 1,664 passes so there’s not a lot of wear-and-tear on his body.
“He’s like that car that has low mileage, kept in the garage and driven to church on Sundays by a little old lady,” coach Mike Pettine said. He’s got a lot left.”
McCown is indeed more athletic than expected, “The guy can 360 dunk,” DeFilippo said. He displayed good mobility in avoiding pressure during the exhibition season, but took some needless hits against the Buccaneers perhaps trying to get back at them for cutting him.
As the Browns prepared for Sunday’s season opener against the New York Jets, DeFilippo said Cleveland’s offense, which needs to find some playmakers, is in good hands.
“Josh gives the offense some stability and some calm in that he is going to get us into the right play and protection,” he said. “Most every look he has seen, he has seen before. That gives us a sense of comfort that Josh is going to go out there and perform well. I told all of our guys this morning, no one needs to go out and play like Superman for us to win.”
McCown’s not worried about outside expectations or predictions the Browns will have another bad season. He learned long ago that being the quarterback means being a target.
“When you decide to play quarterback that is part of it,” he said. “My little guy is a sixth grader and playing some receiver and some quarterback now. We talk about the influence you have on the game and that you have on your team. It is the nature of this position. I understand it and embrace it.”
And, rest assured, he’ll have fun doing it.