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Pre Training Camp Outlook

Pre Training Camp Outlook

Camp is Here!

The NFL offseason is officially over, as a few teams have already begun 2019 training camp.  The Browns will kick off the start of their campaign on Thursday, and the excitement is palpable.  Judging by the fact the fanbase secured tickets for all available training camp practices (of which I was denied on multiple attempts – but I’m not bitter), as well as snatched up single game regular season seats in a matter of hours – and its obvious that Browns’ fans are ready for football.  But what are we excited about?  How about a little refresher heading into the season.

Youth in the Secondary

The Browns’ first draft selection this spring was cornerback.Greedy Williams.  I highly touted athlete who conceivably dropped in the draft due to physicality concerns.  Fortunately his speed, athleticism, and most importantly ability to cover should make up for his perceived weakness.  Who’s to say he can’t learn this skill at the next level?  One thing Denzel Ward could teach him is to tackle properly while not bite off more than he can chew (i.e. possible injuries attempting to tackler larger players).  That said, I am looking forward to Williams working with Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, and Ward to solidify the cornerback position.

Knowing One’s Role

It’s been well documented that influx of talent on the offensive side of the football for the Cleveland Browns.  While that is exciting for supporters of the franchise – a big question remains; how will the talent mesh together?  Can Antonio Callaway accept the third receiving spot and improve upon his route running?  Will David Njoku be a forgotten man in the offense, or will he find opportunities as he should present matchup problems versus linebackers/safties?  Then there is the Duke Johnson scenario – a guy doing all he can to get out of town. Provided Drew Rosenhaus cannot work his magic for a trade – Johnson should have a prominent role at the running back position.  He figures to be a receiving option and could be on the field when fellow rusher Nick Chubb is also playing.  What will happen when Kareem Hunt returns from his eight game suspension?  I am not certain how touches will be divvied up, but I think Freddie Kitchens will and anticipate great output at that position group.

Handling Expectations

After the initial wave of enthusiasm for the Cleveland Browns (following free agency and the draft) – some are now ramping up their critiques heading into camp.  The arguments that “these guys haven’t done anything yet” or “they are over their head” could be valid points for some teams, but not this franchise.  The personalities of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and Freddie Kitchens are such where they are not intimidated by difficult situations or “big stages”.  The will help other players who are not as equipped with daunting tasks.  I understand that the Browns currently don’t have a track record of sustained success but teams have to start somewhere.  The 2001 Patriots, 1999 Rams, 2013 Seahawks are three examples of teams that came out of nowhere to win a Super Bowl.  Not saying the Browns will accomplish this feat in 2019, but teams can be playoff contenders without following multiple playoff appearances.

Conclusion:  The Browns have a difficult journey ahead; expectations are plentiful and teams will be ready to defeat this “lovable bunch” as this mantra is losing steam by the day (which I am fine with).  I am very eager to see how the season progresses and the players develop into the winter.

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Posted by on July 20, 2019 in NFL Season, Players, Training Camp

 

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OTA News: Cleveland Browns

OTA News: Cleveland Browns

Organized Team Activities – What’s the Latest?

Despite being bombarded in the local and national news for who is not at voluntary practice, the Cleveland Browns actually held team activities over the past few weeks.  This is last time the guys will be together until training camp starts in late July.  There were headlines coming out for multiple position groups, which could make for interesting competitions this summer.  Let’s look further into what is going on in Berea.

Elephant in the Room

Odell Beckham Jr. has not been a participant in every OTA practice – just to put it out there for the millionth time.  Would I like to see him there every day?  Yes, of course – I want to see camaraderie within the wide receiver room as well as between that group and the quarterbacks.  However, I know he will be a solid (putting it mildly) player this regular season and hopefully postseason.  Making the most of his time at practices is all I am looking for at this point by OBJ.

Duke Johnson has also a been a no-show for the Browns’ practices.  His situation has been different, as he (with help from his agent) is looking forward to moving on to a situation where he is more predominantly featured in the team’s offense.  I don’t really know what I would say to Johnson and his representatives other than the team does not appear to want to trade you and you will have a role in this offense (at least for the first half of the season).  Duke has a right to not show up, but I expect Kitchens will make sure he and all the running backs get a ton of work during training camp.

Linebacker Room

In a not surprising move, Genard Avery has been spending time at both outside linebacker as well as defensive end.  I would love for him to be this team’s Swiss Army Knife, as he would provide depth to a group featuring Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon and could be another great pass rusher on third downs.  Meanwhile, keeping him at linebacker at times will limit the Browns having to employ either a rookie for a career backup as a starter.

Speaking of rookies, Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson have been working with the second units at the Mike (middle) and Will (weak side) linebacker spots, respectively.  This is how things should work in the NFL; for so long the Browns had no talent and depth so rookies came in and had to be the “guy” immediately.  Can one or both jump into the starting roles this season?  Of course, but I would rather them prove it day in and day out on the field first.

Adarius Taylor is the veteran who has been getting first team reps at the Sam (strong side) linebacker spot.  I would be a little surprised if he holds on to that job for the season (at least full-time) but a part-time role would not be a bad move by the club.  I am very eager to see what he, Avery, Takitaki, and Wison do in camp this summer and how the linebacker position group shakes out.

Waiting in the Wings

Highlights have been prominently displayed featuring good plays made by wide receiver Rashard Higgins.  The fourth year target for Baker Mayfield had a slow start to his career, but came on strong to end the 2018 campaign.  Couple that with the fact he will likely see opponent’s fourth best defensive back at any given time, and Higgins has a real shot to make some plays for this offense.  I would be surprised to see him eclipse Antonio Callaway as the team’s third wide out, but knowing (and owning) his role can help himself (via future contract possibilities) in addition to the team.

The Browns’ coaching staff are really liking what Kareem Hunt has been doing on and off the field since becoming a member of the team.  Staying healthy, making wise decisions off the field, and maintaining an appetite for football that can wait until November are three vital traits that Hunt will need this offseason.  I hope he slides right in and looks like the 2017 version of the guy running the ball, but many things need to go right in the next five months prior to that occurring.

 

 

 

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Free Agency Recap and Draft Preview

Free Agency Recap and Draft Preview

March’s Happening and Looking Forward to April

The Browns made several moves to enhance their roster for 2019 and beyond.  In doing so, the fans and media (local and national) are noticing – some are even stating the team has most talented skilled positions in the league.  Is it hyperbole?  Possibly, but I’ll take these guys over any group.  That said, let’s review a few things from March and what that means for April for the Cleveland Browns.

Group One:

It was somewhat of a busy month for John Dorsey and the Cleveland Browns.  At this point, we are all aware they jettisoned a pair of 2019 draft picks (first and third round), Jabril Peppers, and Kevin Zeitler for Odell Beckham Junior and Olivier Vernon.  These two players fit in category one – full-time starters.  I expect both to be on the field a majority of the time, only coming off the field in certain situations.  I expect both to acclimate quickly to this franchise and locker room (looking at OBJ’s instagram account, it appears he is eager and excited to be on the club).

As a result, the Browns will not make either of these positions a priority in April’s draft.  They could take a flier on a guy in the middle to later rounds, but fans should obviously not anticipate a splash pick at wide out or defense end with their first or second selections.

Group Two:

The Browns fortified the interior of their defensive line by nabbing tackle Sheldon Richardson.  The former first round pick had a tremendous first few seasons with the Jets (averaging 5.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 14.5 hits on the quarterback) before his production dipped in Seattle and Minnesota.  Always a fan for reclamation projects, Dorsey found a guy who could pair well with Larry Ogunjobi in the middle.  I put Richardson in the second category – part-time starter.  He will likely be on the field for the first two downs, and situations will dictate what the team does on third down.  Sheldon will still likely be there in short yards to gain, while passing downs will include multiple pass rushers for the Browns.

This move does not take defensive tackle out of the equation for a early selection (that includes a guy like Jeffrey Simmons – who is a talented DT, but tore his ACL while training for the draft and will likely miss the 2019 campaign).  What the Richardson signing does is fills a gaping hole alongside Ogunjobi and pushes down Trevon Coley further down the depth chart.

Group Three:

The departure of Zeitler allows second year guard Austin Corbett to step into the starting role at right guard.  Searching for reinforcements, the Browns acquired Eric Kush and Kendall Lamm this past month.  Both coming from the Bears; Kush is primarily a guard while Lamm has been at the tackle spot.  Meanwhile Adarius Taylor is now a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, after the Buccaneers let him walk.  Finally Demetrius Harris was signed before the team released Darren Fells at tight end.  These players are the third group:  reserve role/emergency starter.  These are depth signings and I applaud them, but there are more important moves coming.

I think the priority for offensive line and tight end has diminished a bit with these signings.  The Browns could still get a guy in rounds three through seven, but I don’t see either spot being filled at the forty-ninth choice.  I prefer to see the team select either a safety or linebacker with their first choice, as both spots need depth seeing Jamie Collins and Jabril Peppers leave this franchise.

Conclusion:  Exciting times are a coming for northeast Ohio and the professional football team.  Some might want to realize they have not accomplished anything of significance on the field – but the expectations are high nonetheless.  In some aspects I feel the Browns are following the Ohio State model – good offseason, talented players, and fans expecting to win every game.  I am waiting for the type of vitriol from other fan bases that accompanies the scarlet and gray (but that with comes with consistent winning).

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2019 in Free Agency, NFL Draft, Offseason, Players

 

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In the Playoff Hunt?

In the Playoff Hunt?

Latest from the Cleveland Browns

Despite being less than a month away from the Scouting Combine and just over a month the free agency, the Cleveland Browns found their way back in the NFL news yesterday.  Additionally, a major apparent injury occurred for a likely first round draft choice this week – which could cause a minor shakeup in the middle portion of day one in this draft.  Away we go, let’s dive into these topics.

Kareem’s Dream

After being released for an assault to a woman in a Cleveland hotel last year, running back Kareem Hunt has been looking for an opportunity to re-join the NFL.  Along comes John Dorsey who originally drafted Hunt in Kansas City in 2017.  Since that time, the back has accrued 2,151 rushing yards and 833 receiving yards with 25 total touchdowns.  Looking at his on-the-field production, this seems like a no-brainer.  However, there is obviously more to the story.

Kareem’s history of awful decisions off the field really puts the Browns in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.  Dorsey has been lauded for multiple shrewd moves, but many are asking whether getting Hunt is worth the risk.  First and foremost, he will be suspended multiple games in 2019 (thus raising the question of what will he do with his free time).  Secondly, will Hunt’s behavior rub off on other players?  The hope is that Christian Kirksey, Baker Mayfield, and Jarvis Landry can reign him in and get him on the same page as the rest of the locker room.  Finally, he’s on a zero tolerance policy with the team – one slip-up and the Browns are ready to move on.  I’ve gotten tired of this several years ago with Josh Gordon; I understand it’s a different person and a different situation but having that hang over a franchise’s head could be detrimental.

For the positives:  The Browns could end up with a great player who could excel for many years.  This will be Hunt’s third season in this league (provided he plays) so his productivity might last for quite some time.  Dorsey did not give up any assets for the running back as well.  If Hunt takes another misstep or is suspended for a lengthly time, then the Browns are not out a tremendous amount of assets.

Personally, I don’t think this move will work out and I would not have signed the former Toledo running back.  I would love to be proven wrong, but after missing time I don’t envision a scenario where Kareem joins the team and is the reason why they enter and go deep into the playoffs.  I fully understand those fans willing to forget about his past but also get why some will never root for Hunt.  This is a tough spot for the Browns.

Simmons Hurt

Defensive tackle prospect Jeffrey Simmons succumbed to an apparent ACL tear earlier this week while preparing for the NFL Draft.  His position was one the Browns were looking to upgrade and Simmons would have likely been a target in the first round.  Now, Simmons’ position is up in the air and the Browns have one fewer option at number seventeen.  I would be ok with the team still taking Simmons later in the draft (and prepare him for the 2020 season), but would like to see them secure two athletes before that decision.

Conclusion:  The Browns made a bold move on Monday and it can either be another gem or a waste of time.  I’m not a big fan but I’ll give John Dorsey the benefit of the doubt.  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Simmons will more than likely not be chosen by the Browns in the first round.  I’m not sure who they get instead but have high hopes.

 

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And It’s Freddie

And It’s Freddie

Browns Name their Guy

The guessing game is over and the Cleveland Browns have filled their head coaching vacancy – with former offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.  In a monumental rise in the ranks, the former Alabama quarterback went from the team’s running backs coach to head coach in under one year.  As previously mentioned, I am good with this move for the franchise.  I’m not over the moon about it, but I am also not disappointed or concerned that there was a better option.

Three things I can cite that help Kitchens are his camaraderie with Baker Mayfield, offensive creativity, and his personality.  It’s no secret that the new head coach and the Browns’ quarterback got along together as evidenced by mic’d up portions of games this year.  The two appear to be on the same page and have a similar mentality (being the underdog – chip on shoulder, etc.), which should be beneficial for both parties.  The play calling we saw last season was so refreshing compared to years prior.  The full-house backfield, end around runs or passes, and vertical routes are a few of the examples of things fans saw during the 2018 campaign – most of which were successful.  I am eager to see what Kitchens will do for an encore, with a full offseason to practice and prepare with the orange and brown.  Finally the personality is one that I support and the team does as well.  Kitchens has a swagger, rooted in confidence and not concerned about external factors.  He mentioned not campaigning for head coaching positions and that he just keeps his head down and works.

Mass Exodus

I want to thank Gregg Williams for the job he did as interim head coach this past season.  He came into a team that was 2-5-1 and one win over the prior two seasons.  Finishing the year at 5-3 with some exciting performances gives the team and fanbase hope going forward.  There is excitement, energy, and confidence in Cleveland – which has been dormant for nearly thirty years.  There was a possibility he could have been given the full time job by John Dorsey – but I can understand his reasoning for going for a younger, offensive-minded guy (which appears to be the new trend).  I wish him all the best (unless he faces the Browns) and I know the fans will give him a warm reception.

New Hires

A pair of guys have agreed to be a part of the 2019 Cleveland Browns.  First is the special teams coach Mike Preifer, who takes over for Amos Jones.  Preifer, who was born in this great city, comes over from the Vikings (where he was in the same role for eight seasons).  It’s a low bar to improve over last seasons output in that department – which included missed kicks, penalties on returns, and poor coverage.  He’s no Brad Seely, but I tend to think that Preifer will improve the unit to at least middle of the road (provided the team can improve at kicker) unit and that’s fine for me.

With Gregg Williams being let go, the team needed to acquire a replacement at defensive coordinator.  They went with Steve Wilks, who was recently the head coach in Arizona and defensive coach for the Panthers for six seasons.  In addition to being a coordinator, Wilks has spent a great amount of time with defensive backs.  The Browns already have a solid secondary room with talent, but I would not be surprised to see them take a leap in production in 2019.  Like special teams, there is room for improvement for the defense and I like this hire.

Conclusion:  As the calendar flips, so do coaches in the NFL.  I cannot wait to see what Kitchens and Wilks do for the team and to see what they can take from the 2018 squad and improve upon.  Of course free agency and the 2019 draft will be critical and are just around the corner.

 

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Very Important Coaching Decision

Very Important Coaching Decision

A Cap on the 2018 Cleveland Browns’ Season

The finale did not go the way the Browns were hoping for, but the narrow defeat to the Ravens was not the end of the world for a few reasons.  First, the Browns showed they can compete with one of the better teams in the league.  They also displayed a toughness on the field and an ability to fight back in contests.  Baker Mayfield broke the rookie passing touchdown record in the process (with twenty-seven scores).  Keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs was also a side effect that did not bother me.  Now that the 2018 campaign is finalized, there are big questions for the front office.

Tough Call for Dorsey

A full time head coach awaits the 2019 Cleveland Browns; making that decision is general manager John Dorsey.  Will he keep it in house with Gregg Williams or Freddie Kitchens?  Could he go for a recently fired head coach (like Mike McCarthy)?  Or will the Browns’ executive go the route of hiring a current assistant?  One thing is certain – there is little to no point to trust or believe reports that person X is the front runner (at least right now). Let’s not forget the erroneous Condolezza Rice report – as someone was falsely spreading information as fact.  If the 2018 NFL Draft is any indication, the Browns are not telling their true plans and all will find out after Dorsey makes his decision.

I am leaning towards an offensive-minded head coach – who can not only be a leader of men but can run his own system with Baker Mayfield and the other ten guys.  Many are saying that Freddie Kitchens is a few years away from being a head coach, which might be the case but his rise within the organization cannot be overlooked.  Everyone points to the Sean McVey hiring by the Rams as the example that a young coach who can succeed.  However, the flip side would be Josh McDaniels’ underperforming time with the Broncos several years ago.

Looking at two other offensive coaching options (Nick Sirianni and Kevin Stefanski) – I’m not sure they would be an upgrade over Kitchens.  Finally, Mike Munchak is getting an opportunity – following stints with the Titans and the Steelers.  While he has had experience, I don’t know if he can lead a team to the promised land.  There are obviously options with defensive coordinators and special teams coaches; but that’s not the route I am hoping the team goes.

Conclusion:  At this time, I am content with the Browns keeping with Williams or Kitchens as the other candidates don’t really seem like upgrades.  Perhaps there will be an under the radar candidate who is better than status quo, which would also be welcomed.  Unfortunately, I cannot provide any good examples at this point (and there might not be any).  At the end of the day, John Dorsey has earned goodwill with this past offseason and I expect a solid coaching hire.

 
 

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Cleveland Browns – December and Beyond

Cleveland Browns – December and Beyond

Turning that Corner

Just a few months ago, the Cleveland Browns appeared on the HBO Hard Knocks program with Hue Jackson as head coach, Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator, and Tyrod Taylor was the starting quarterback.  We all know those three men’s fate (in additional to other changes in personnel since) – but that time in Browns’ history feels like five years ago.  The elevation of Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens within this franchise has been rather refreshing; the sniping and apparent arguing (between Jackson and Haley) are gone from the building and all coaches seem to be on the same page.  Oh yea, that rookie quarterback is also playing much better now than he was just a month or two ago.  What can Browns’ fans look forward to the rest of the season?

Meaningful Games

Not since 2014 have the Cleveland Browns had any contests of consequence in the month of December.  The Browns, while two games under .500 are still “in the hunt”.  The odds are stacked against them to make the postseason, as the face a trio of formidable foes in as many weeks – but the games are nonetheless important and exciting.  Traveling to Houston (to face the Texans) and Denver historically has been less than ideal for the Cleveland Browns – as the only win over the Texans in Houston was the finale of the 2004 campaign, and the Browns last win in Denver was October 8th, 1990 (yep, you read that right).  In a season where streaks have been broken, it would be nice if the franchise could end those two droughts.

Head Coach Position

For the first time since 1962 (when Paul Brown was fired), the Browns’ head coaching job is viewed by many as extremely attractive.  I am very eager to see what John Dorsey does during the hiring process.  Will he keep the staff status quo, go with a current NFL coordinator, or current NFL or NCAA head coach?  There is an off chance that the next coach does not fit into any of these categories.  However, looking at what Dorsey did last March and April (acquiring on-field talent) – I have faith the general manager can do similar things with the coaching role.  It’s obviously critical that the next person in charge must be in synch with Baker Mayfield via personality and mission to excel.

What to Expect?

Looking short-term, the Browns play the two aforementioned away contests as well as a home matchup versus the Carolina Panthers.  It would be incredible but unlikely that the Browns win all three, and I am hopeful to come away with a 2 – 1 record after these contests.  They will go head-to-head with teams who are solid on both sides of the ball, something that could not be said a majority of last month.  Will Baker Mayfield and the offense continue to grow and excel?  Can the defense limit Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton, and the Broncos’ offense?  I’m looking forward to those answers (as well as the development of other rookies and second year players) unfolding.

 
 

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