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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Sale of the Browns – What Does it Mean – Part 1

The Sale of Browns to Jimmy Haslam III – What Does this Mean? – Part One

Current Browns owner Randy Lerner is in the process of selling a majority of the team to Jimmy Haslam III.  There will be several corresponding ramifications for the franchise – from the top down.  Will these be positive, negative, or status quo?  Time will only tell, but it’s never too early to speculate.

Possible Changes with Owner:

Pro (of the new owner) – Haslam was a Cowboys and Colts (as a Peyton Manning supporter) fan growing up and has been recently quoted as Steelers fan.  He is a Tennessee Volunteer donor to the football team – plain and simple, Jimmy is a football fan.  It will be refreshing to see a person in charge of the Cleveland Browns who has a strong love of the game.  Many fans felt Randy Lerner lacked passion and wanted no part of the Browns day-to-day activities and assigned others to complete these tasks; this will not be the case with Jimmy Haslam.

He is also the CEO of Pilot Flying J (a trucking company and traveling center), which has seen success financially since he took the business over from his father in 2001.  They saw a merger in 2010 (from Pilot and Flying J to become one company), acquired Maximum Petroleum in 2012, and opened several new stations nation-wide.  From these facts, one would have to believe Jimmy is a good businessman who knows how to run a company.  Along those lines, Browns fans can believe their owner will treat their favorite franchise like a business.  Judging from past history, results would likely be positive – Jimmy will put the right people (management, staff, etc.) in position to succeed both personally and as a whole.

Con (of the new owner) – No one knows if he will be meddling like a Jerry Jones/Daniel Snyder type, which could possibly be counter-productive to the teams’ progress.  If Haslam feels his way is better than the current way, changes will be made.  Some fans fear that he will impede the current regime’s progress by overhauling parts of the organization (to be discussed in the next blog).  Likewise, he could possibly attempt to override the general manager in personnel decisions, which could lead to friction in the front office.  Jimmy is a smart man who has had financial success recently; many hope this does not go to his head when becoming the majority owner of an NFL franchise.

My take – Although he’s was a recent partial owner the dark side, I am excited for the change in ownership.  I love passionate owners, assuming they are knowledgeable and willing to keep their ego in check at the appropriate times.  The bottom line is the Cleveland Browns have not been to the playoffs since the season Al Lerner passed away and bequeathed the team to his son Randy.  This is the first time in at least a decade (and some may argue even longer) where we will see an owner who wants and loves the opportunity to own a football team.  Yes, there may be (and probably will) be growing pains, but I feel the future is as bright as ever for the Browns.

Possible Changes in the Front Office Level:

Sticking with the current regime – One option for the new owner is to keep the front office in tact going forward.  The more unlikely scenario leaves Tom Heckert as general manager, Mike Holmgren as president, and Pat Shurmur as head coach.  The Browns have not had much success the past two seasons (nine wins and twenty-three losses) but there have been statements made by the front office to expect more victories in 2012.  It would be fair of Jimmy Haslam to give these men a chance under his watch – to see if the Browns will go down the path of playing better football and continually improving.  However, like many things in the NFL, jobs are not guaranteed.

My take – I believe Haslam will take the next few months to see first hand how the front office performs.  Improvement from the day the sale is finalized until the 2012 season concludes should also be noted.  Will Pat Shurmur learn from his 2011 mistakes?  Does Tom Heckert make a midseason move/acquistion to put the team in a great spot to win going forward?  Will the rookies contribute the way they are expected to?  I hope the new ownership has a bit of patience (within reason) when it comes to deciding on personnel.

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Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Offseason

 

Things to Watch for in Browns Training Camp – Overall

Things to Watch for in Training Camp:

Part Three – Overall Team:

1) – Which long shot(s) has/have a chance to make the roster and which rookies seem to pick up the game quickly?

The obvious starting point would have to be undrafted rookie free agents – currently the Browns have a couple of players that fall into this category.  Josh Cooper, Matt Cleveland, Emanuel Davis, and Bert Reed are a few of the members whom will be competing for roster spots or to possibly be a member of the practice squad.  With the perceived lack of productive wide receivers (even with the acquisition of Josh Gordon), the odds of Cooper or Reed ending up on the team may be stronger than in other positional groups; being Brandon Weeden’s second favorite target in college helps Cooper.  Cleveland will have a tougher time to become a member of the franchise with his namesake – the Browns drafted two offensive linemen this year (and already have one of the youngest units in the league).  He will have to be close to dominant in camp to have a shot.  Davis plays in the secondary and could help with special teams; the fact that last season the Browns kept James Dockery, an undrafted rookie free agent cornerback, in 2011 could work for or against Emanuel Davis.  It shows the team is willing to keep these players, however it is another member that will be in competition to remain on the roster.

The Browns selected several members in the 2012 NFL Draft; a few are expected to be opening day starters against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In training camp, the development of Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, and Mitchell Schwartz should be noted.  The playbooks should have been studied and if the three begin to master their techniques in July, the team’s season will begin to look promising.  The Josh Gordon supplemental draft selection is intriguing, as he comes into the same scenario as Greg Little did the year prior (missing the previous season); how quickly he learns the game could help determine the wide receiver depth chart.  As previously mentioned, the combination of Billy Winn and John Hughes could be the option for a starting defensive tackle spot – their competition with a few veterans will include a lot of eyes by both fans and coaches.  Owen Marecic is only a second year veteran, but his starting fullback job could be in jeopardy should rookie Brad Smelley outperform him in training camp and preseason.

2) – How healthy can the roster stay throughout the offseason?

Football, one of the most violent games, naturally includes players sustaining injuries and missing playing time.  This is the case for all NFL franchises – the rosters with more talent will be able to withstand these setbacks.  For the Browns, the team already will be without the services of defensive tackle Phil Taylor for several months.  It will be crucial; if they want to remain competitive, that no other starters get severely injured before the regular season commences.  There will be the usual bumps and bruises (especially in training camp), but the team cannot afford these to exacerbate.

The other side of injuries is that the team will be able to see the team’s overall talent level and depth should a major player miss time.  Although this will give way to a player’s opportunity, it reduces the option for rotating players and weakens the team’s depth should the new starter get sidelined for a long period of time.  One thing to watch with the Browns is how cautious the coaching staff is with players getting hurt – they may hold players out for injuries deemed to be not as serious in an attempt to prevent additional harm.  Stemming from the Colt McCoy concussion last season (and the resulting league-wide concussion talk), it’s more than likely that the team will err on the side of caution in training camp.

3) – Is there noticeable improvement (in all 3 parts of the team)?

In the OTAs and mini camp, many outlets – both locally and nationally – have praised the Browns offense and mentioned the progression from last season.  Yes, there have been perceived improvements (especially with the rookie draft selections).  However, training camp will provide another test for the unit to see if the new players are an upgrade and whether the group can lessen their mistakes.  Will we see larger gains and the ability to move the football downfield with ease in practice?  That will definitely be the key; if onlookers can see this is not the same offense that took the field in 2011, then the faith and confidence seen this offseason will continue.  Everyone will agree that the offense will not be perfect in training camp, but expectations should center around the steady learning of the West Coast Offense while getting timing and rhythm down.

The defensive unit made strides in 2011 but struggled mightily against the run – this area should be the main gauge of whether they have improved in the offseason.  If the front seven can get off their blocks and force the offense to shorter gains, supporters could have a bit more of comfort heading into the preseason.  Compound this with the fact that rookie of the year hopeful Trent Richardson will be the main target for the defense in practice (I do not expect the defense to shut him down entirely), surrendering runs of just a few yards would definitely merit improvement.  Additionally, the abilities of the secondary to blanket the receivers and the pass rush to get to the quarterback should be monitored.  Worst-case scenario (to still be considered an improving defense) is that these areas maintain status quo; a step back in either area – on a consistent basis – could be cause for concern in the 2012 season.

The special teams for the Cleveland Browns were extremely ineffective last season; this unit must improve if the franchise wants a chance to pull out close games.  Punter Reggie Hodges will return from his season-long Achilles tendon injury – one would have to assume we will see a similar performance to what he did in 2010 (which was solid for the most part).  Likewise, the team should expect kicker Phil Dawson to have fine performances on a weekly basis.  Therefore, where the team needs to be better is in the coverage and return units.  The new kickoff rules have crippled returns for NFL teams; so the team must make the most of these opportunities when they arrive.  The new rookie class and younger veterans (i.e. Emmanuel Acho, James Michael-Johnson, and Travis Benjamin, etc.) need to step in right away and improve the Browns special teams.  Where the unit’s improvement will be noticeable is in overall speed and the ability to flip the field (creating a positive gain on returns and reducing the gain on coverage).

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Training Camp

 

Things to Watch for in Browns Training Camp – Offense

Things to Watch for in Training Camp:

Part Two – Offense:

1) – Will the quarterback/wide receiver stability continue to improve?

There are two areas to watch in passing drills, first are the quarterbacks (mainly Brandon Weeden) putting the ball on the money no matter who is running a given route.  Are the passes located only where the receiver can catch it, or will the defenders habitually have an opportunity for an interception/deflection?  Will the football be waiting for the receivers after they come out of their breaks?  Are passes threaded between defenders giving the receiver an opportunity to catch the ball?  Will deep throws consistently have the same accuracy and velocity as shorter ones?  We have heard about how Brandon Weeden’s impressive performance in rookie minicamp and OTAs but it will be another test to see how he does with live contact and defensive pressure to make correct decisions – quickly.

On the other end of the spectrum, fans have to look at the receivers and their abilities.  Are they running the correct routes?  Will Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi, Travis Benjamin, and the other speedsters separate themselves from the team’s defenders on a regular basis?  Most importantly, have the wide outs shed their main problem from last year and are they hanging on to passes?  Among the group, it will be interesting to see how Little progresses from his rookie season and whether there is a jump towards becoming the “number one” wide receiver.  There has been much talk from the front office regarding Massaquoi and how he needs to step up this season, or it could be his final one in Cleveland.  Training camp is a tremendous starting point for the wide receivers improving on their abilities while gaining timing and feel with the quarterbacks.

2) – How will offense respond after a month off from OTAs/minicamps?

One would expect after not playing together for over a month that the offensive unit will be rusty when entering training camp.  The question then becomes, how quickly will the players get back on the same page?  In past seasons, fans have not hear about the Browns having “sharp” or efficient training camp offensive practices on a frequent basis.  One thing to keep an eye on in camp is which players will be in sync before others.  Obviously, the veterans should know more about the ins and outs of the schemes, techniques, plays, etc., but will the rookies become overwhelmed with everything that encompasses an NFL offense?

The level of focus from the Browns’ offense should be extremely high even if several players have ways to go in learning the West Coast Offense.  The athletes should have a majority of the terminology down from prior practices and will pick up the remaining in training camp.  Additionally, the offensive players should reduce both mental and physical errors that may have occurred in May or June for several reasons.  The fact is that the season is fresh and the players have not incurred much physical attrition at this point – errors relating to lack of strength, conditioning, or injury should not be apparent at this stage.  Mental mistakes will occur as a part of the learning process, but the time off and continual repetitions that occurred should help the players.  Coming off a season where the offense was ranked 29th in total yards and 31st in total points, and the Browns offense needs to begin their improvement as soon as possible.  They cannot afford to lose time in training camp and fall behind in their progression due to errors from players who were underprepared.

3) – How will the offensive formations and plays differ from last year?

With the new offensive personnel that arrived in 2012, one might wonder how the Cleveland Browns will alter their offense.  How the team lines up will be telling on who the team values more to make plays.  Will the Browns employ double tight ends a fair amount of the time?  This may promote either a stronger running game, or the fact that the tight ends are some of the team’s better receivers (possibly by default).  Does Travis Benjamin crack the starting lineup or will he be the fourth or fifth wide out?  There will be some competition for playing time – should several members of the position group excel, the team could field three or four wide receivers on a regular basis (a big change from years past).  Aside from Trent Richardson, can one of the other running backs (or fullbacks) see the field more than sporadically?  These players have to prove their worth by being the best at one thing (at a minimum) like receiving or blocking.  A back could gain the confidence from the coaching staff which could, in turn, lead to multiple sets that include two of these Browns players.

The types of plays will also likely differ from the 2011, due to the new personnel of the Cleveland Browns.  Brandon Weeden has a stronger arm than Colt McCoy and has shown in OTAs the ability to throw downfield with velocity and accuracy.  Expect to see the offense reflect this, as opposed to the shorter plays we saw last season.  Trent Richardson is projected to be one of the best running backs in the league – he will likely be featured in this offense.  Also, the addition of Brad Childress as offensive coordinator will help the team by implementing another opinion on what types of plays work and which do not; his past experience as a head coach is a valuable tool.  Childress spent time in Minnesota figuring how best to run his offense with the personnel on the roster.  Therefore, the Browns’ unit will likely look different in training camp and going forward – the hope is that they become more effective as well.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Training Camp

 

Things to Watch for in Browns Training Camp – Defense

Things to Watch for in Training Camp:

Part One – Defense:

1) – Who steps up at defensive tackle and how will the defensive line rotation look?

The injury to the 2011 starter Phil Taylor opens up a job, at least for a half of the season, for one member of the Cleveland Browns.  In a press conference following the free agent period, general manager Tom Heckert stated newly acquired defensive lineman Frostee Rucker will start and play primarily opposite Jabaal Sheard at end and would likely move inside to tackle on passing downs.  Juqua Parker, the other 2012 pickup, will fill Rucker’s primary spot while being a pass rusher.  That rotation helps with the newly vacant position of defensive tackle part of the time, but who fills in for the remainder of downs?

Currently, Brian Schaefering and Scott Paxon, both veterans of two seasons, have a leg up in the experience department regarding playing time as an NFL defensive tackle.  Couple these athletes with the 2012 rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn (among a few under the radar veterans) and there will likely be good competition for that fourth spot on the defensive line.  It will be interesting to see who is able to stand out in training camp regularly – being in shape, shedding blocks, making tackles, and disrupting the offense.  When the rotation occurs in passing situations, it will be very likely that the other starting defensive tackle (Aythba Rubin) will come off the field, as the Browns will want to employ quicker players with fresh legs.  Therefore, two of these players (previously reserves) will likely see a fair amount of playing time before Taylor returns.  For a positional group that does not receive as much fanfare, constructing the best defensive line possible is imperative for success in 2012.

2) – How do the defensive players look coming back from injury?

Each of the three players that fall into this category face different situations regarding possible playing time, a guaranteed roster spot, and how they will hold up physically in 2012.

Let’s first examine third-year veteran T.J. Ward who overcame a foot injury.  The strong safety has been in the starting lineup for all twenty-four games he has participated in.  He is a second round selection by the current front office who has played rather well when healthy.  Ward, whom has expressed that he has healed completely from his 2011 injury, will get starting repetitions in training camp.  The expectation is that the safety will recover well and improve on his prior two seasons – especially in pass coverage where he has not been as strong.  His play early on in camp may be an indication on where he is physically and how hard he has worked since rehabbing his injury.

Next is eleven year linebacker Scott Fujita, who broke his hand last season (and is currently suspended the first three games for being a member of the Saints’ bounty scandal).  Being an aging veteran who will not participate for the entire 2012 season, Fujita’s roster spot may not be guaranteed.  In April, the Browns drafted James Michael-Johnson and Emmanuel Acho, both linebackers, with the intention of them becoming potential starters one day.  His hand is back to one-hundred percent, but there are more angles to this circumstance.  The Browns have to decide whether keeping Fujita is worth the potential problems and negative press surrounding the team (resulting from Scott challenging his ban to the commissioner).  Assuming the veteran remains with the Browns in 2012, I expect him to be a situation player with a reduced role.

Finally, Marcus Benard is entering his fourth season after he missed twelve games last year with a broken hand (which the completion of healing process has also been confirmed) resulting from a motorcycle crash.  Like Fujita, Benard’s roster spot is not going to be guaranteed in 2012, but instead of age it is due to his roster position and how he entered the league.  Breaking onto the scene in 2009, Benard came from the practice squad to the active roster while recording three and a half sacks in his first six games.  This increased to seven and a half sacks over fifteen games in 2010.  The undrafted free agent will have to compete with drafted players, whom are usually given more time to prove their worth; his track record will give Benard a shot.

Being a defensive end could be troublesome – especially with the additions of Jabaal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and Juqua Parker who will figure heavily in playing time.  #58 will be one player to keep an eye on in training camp to prove whether he belongs.

3) – Will the defense look like a unit or 11 guys on the field?

Last season, the Browns defense was up and down in the NFL overall rankings (top ten in fewest points allowed, second fewest passing yards, third most rushing yards per game).  The end result is that there still is room for improvement in 2012 – to see if this occurs, we should focus on the eleven individuals who comprise the group.  Are there missed assignments, and if so, are they corrected quickly?  Does one teammate know where the remaining ten players are on the field each snap?  Along those lines, can one athlete anticipate another member on the Browns’ actions in a given situation?  In order for the defense to improve from 2011 and become dominant, every single player must be on the same page every down.  This starts with leadership – both the coaches and veterans have to get the message across, especially in training camp.  Communication is also important among teammates, which can be enhanced here as well.  No success is guaranteed if the defense, as a whole, appears to be in sync; however if they exhibit cohesion early on there is reason to feel optimistic that opposing teams’ offenses will be on the field less in 2012.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Training Camp