Post OTA/Minicamp Thoughts: Why 2012 is Different for the Cleveland Browns from Other Years:
1) – The coaching staff and front office seems extremely frank during interviews:
Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren have both been with the team since 2010, so the team’s past history of being straight with fans (in these departments) has not changed. When Heckert was interviewed regarding the draft, free agency, or the teams’ plan for the future, etc. he has remained consistent in telling us about the Browns’ building process and creating a sustainable winner. The actions that followed have agreed with his words – picking up draft picks and avoiding free agency, for the most part. The same style of communication can be found with Mike Holmgren; the President of the Browns stated that 2011 incumbent quarterback Colt McCoy would have a chance to compete for the starting job in 2012. Holmgren also told McCoy the team would bring in an additional signal caller in the offseason – this came to fruition after the drafting of Brandon Weeden. Once the competition plays out, which was also promised by head coach Pat Shurmur, the team will name its opening-day starter.
Last week, Tony Grossi (via espncleveland.com) sat down with newly hired offensive coordinator Brad Childress for the coach’s first formal interview as a staff member of the Cleveland Browns. Childress’s sentiments echoed those of the front office and fellow members of the coaching staff; he agreed with the management’s assessment of McCoy and felt the position must be upgraded this offseason. When given an opportunity to embellish on players’ roles (even fringe members) Childress candidly spoke of the running backs and how backup Chris Ogbonnaya must excel at special teams to remain on the roster. This has been a very refreshing change for Cleveland Browns fans – it helps them feel closer to the franchise while gaining a new level of trust for those in charge.
2) – The team’s mix of younger athletes with older “team guys” creates a very close-knit group:
The recent NFL collective bargaining agreement created a new slotting system based on draft position (in terms of salaries for rookie contracts) that will, for all intents and purposes, lead to the end of training camp holdouts. This will naturally lead to teams being together and on the same page with little, to possibly no, resentment among teammates may have developed in the offseason. In previous seasons, (i.e. 2007 – Brady Quinn, 2005 – Braylon Edwards, 2003 – Kellen Winslow, etc.) Browns’ rookies did not always show up for the beginning of training camp while they remained unsigned. In addition to missing learning lessons, the younger players could have been perceived by veterans as having a sense of entitlement.
The 2012 draft class will have anywhere from three to five opening-day starters for the Browns (Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, and possibly John Hughes and James Michael-Johnson). These members will all be on the field next month and join their teammates – this should alleviate a good deal of potential hostility among players (outside of position battles, which occurs on every team). Fortunately, the Browns have a veteran leader at almost every position group (i.e. Sheldon Brown in the secondary, D’Qwell Jackson at linebacker, Aythba Rubin at defensive line, Joe Thomas at offensive line, and Josh Cribbs at wide receiver) that possess personality traits (like selflessness and humility) to help the younger, inexperienced athletes. The only exceptions are at running back and quarterback where both groups include youthful players (sans Seneca Wallace) vying for playing time. I feel the team’s makeup will only help the franchise going forward – the days of “me first” guys in the Cleveland Browns locker room are behind us.
3) – The OTA/minicamps and training camp schedules will promote learning:
This is the first full offseason with three separate weeks of OTAs and a week of minicamp before the standard training camp begins. There is approximately a month-and-a-half in between the end of the non-contact learning sessions and the beginning of the full contact practices. During the OTA/minicamps weeks, the team installs and reviews plays, formations, techniques, etc. with several days off in between sessions. This is obviously more conducive to learning than just one, longer OTA/minicamp period with a smaller window of opportunity for instruction between coaches and players.
Additionally, athletes, while giving their bodies rest before the grueling NFL schedule, should have plenty of time to study their playbooks to enhance their roles on the team. Members of the Browns will be given ample opportunities to ask questions to coaches and veterans while learning and processing the teams’ systems implemented in 2011 – for both offense and defense. Since this is the first non-lockout season following the new OTA/minicamp and training camp schedule, learning for all players (collectively) should be easier than it was in the past.