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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Alex Mack – Player Profile

Player Profile – Offense – Cleveland Browns 

Alex Mack – Center:

The 2009 draft for the Cleveland Browns was not one filled with future Hall-of-Famers or even multiple All-Pros, but the team’s first rounder has continued to be a cornerstone of the franchise ever since being selected.  After trading down several times, the front office agreed upon the University of California lineman with the twenty-first selection.

One of the athlete’s strengths coming out of college was his wisdom off of the field.  Mack turned down offers from Northwestern and Stanford to play for the Golden Bears.  While there, he graduated Cum Laude (3.61) while majoring in Legal Studies.  The center finished his undergraduate work early and was studied Education in his fourth year at the Berkeley school.  Following the 2008 campaign, Mack won the equivalent of the Heisman award for academics – known as the Draddy Trophy.  Clearly the lineman proved he was smart enough to play at the next level; it was now a matter of performing on the field.

The Browns saw a possibility on their draft board who had thirty-nine straight starts for the University of California.  The center excelled at blocking both near the line of scrimmage (256 key blocks) and downfield (twenty-nine down field blocks and thirty-two blocks leading to touchdowns).  Coming in at six-feet four inches and weighing just over three hundred pounds, Mack had the size to play on the offensive line in the NFL.  As the top-rated center available in the draft, the former Golden Bear has lived up to his first-round status.

His rookie season of 2009 was one where he started every single contest.  The Browns had just five victories in the campaign, but they finished it with four consecutive wins.  These were largely fueled by the rushing attack – primarily by Jerome Harrison.  Filling in for Jamal Lewis, the former Washington State back tallied 286 yards against the Chiefs, 148 yards versus the Raiders, and 127 yards facing the Jaguars.  Despite a lack of team success, Mack anchored a unit deemed as the team’s bright spot.  As a result, he was chosen as a member on the All-Rookie team – drawing comparisons to veteran Joe Thomas.

The 2010 season was another frustrating one; the Browns garnered only five victories again.  With a different running back (Peyton Hillis), rushing yards were prevalent in the middle of the campaign.  The team totaled over one hundred yards in six of nine contests early in 2010; however the season finished with the team losing their final four games (including defeats to all three division opponents).  The end result was Mack and the rest of the Browns playing for a new coach, following the dismissal of Eric Mangini.

Overall, the team took a step back in 2011 – whether that was due to personnel, coaching, or other factors can be debated.  The Browns’ offense was rated thirtieth in the league in scoring, twenty-fourth in passing yardage, and twenty-eighth in rushing yardage that season.  Suffice to say, there were not ample achievements on that side of the ball.  However, Alex Mack started at center all sixteen games (for the third year).  One of these was against the Tennessee Titans, where Mack succumbed to appendicitis.  The center continued to play through, and had his appendix removed during the bye week – only to play in the following contest.  Perhaps the league noticed this; Mack was an alternate for the Pro Bowl and participated after a few linemen bowed out.

2012 produced another quarterback and another running back for the Cleveland Browns – Alex Mack was opening holes for another set of teammates.  With rookies at both positions, the Browns improved marginally from the season before in several offensive rankings (twenty-fourth in scoring, nineteenth in passing yardage, and twenty-fourth in rushing yardage).  I am sure the offensive line had to have been frustrated; many regarded them (once again) as one of the team’s strengths but team success could not follow.  Two more poor seasons and another regime change for the Browns.

Although some changes in coaching and management occurred, Alex Mack enters the 2013 season with a fair amount of stability within offensive personnel.  Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz haven proven themselves at the tackle positions, while the trio of John Greco, Jason Pinkston, and Shawn Lauvao are the team’s guards.  The offense is no longer relying on rookies at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback – hopefully this unit will resemble the one when coach Chud was a coordinator here (six years earlier).

I envision the Browns re-signing the center to a contract extension before the 2013 season closes, as his rookie deal is near its expiration.  He has played very well in his time as a professional, which should continue for many years.  Having a center is extremely important for an NFL roster; just take a look at the 2006 Cleveland Browns.  After starter LeCharles Bentley’s season-ending (and career-ending) injury in training camp, followed by the suspicious retirement of fill-in Bob Hallen, the team was scrambling to find the right man for the job.  Hank Fraley played admirably for the next few years with the team, but the franchise needed someone to anchor the center position for seasons to come.

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Players

 

News and Notes – Post Minicamp – Cleveland Browns

Post Minicamp – News and Notes – Cleveland Browns

Josh Gordon Suspension:

It was a tough hit for the Cleveland Browns’ offense as second-year wide out Josh Gordon’s services would not be available during the first two games of the 2013 season.  This stemmed from the athlete (allegedly) ingesting codeine while taking medicine (to treat an illness) during the winter – the result was a failed drug test for the former University of Baylor product.

There are a few ways to analyze this; first is the fan reaction.  Should Browns’ supporters be vehemently upset with young athlete who has now failed another drug test?  Do fans feel sympathy for Gordon and believe the league is too strict in not allowing him to play in every regular season game this year?  Or is there a middle ground, where fans are both disappointed in the player for not following the rules, while wishing the NFL would be more compassionate in their verdict?  Personally (assuming the excuse is 100% factual), I feel for Gordon and hope he can work harder in the offseason to overcome this – beginning in week three.  I am not excusing his behavior, but I hope this provides a forum to ensure mistakes are not made by anyone within the organization going forward – otherwise they could be looking for work.

Additionally, will fans and the team put up a “woe is me” attitude or see this as an opportunity for others?  The Browns’ record in season openers is well documented (1 – 13); any way they can garner a victory to start the year would be huge.  Missing one of their top targets is a definite blow to the offense, leading to some feeling the entire team will suffer.  In past years, I would have been one to go along with this thinking; however, what has occurred in 2013 still gives me hope.  The vibe this team gives off is one without disdain in the locker room and supporting Gordon – leaning towards teammates pulling together.

I have not felt this much confidence in the Browns’ receiving corps in a long while, and although the team may not attempt as many “big” plays against the Dolphins and Ravens, all is not lost.  As is the case, the remaining group will go forward – Greg Little, Davone Bess, and Travis Benjamin will be given opportunities.  Roles have preliminarily been defined for each of these three; Bess is the chains mover, Benjamin excels at deep, fly patterns, and Little is a solid underneath route runner.  Gordon was able to do a little of each; now the other three should work on incorporating additional responsibilities in order to stay on the field longer.  Otherwise, Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper will get a crack at finding their way into the lineup.

Another reason why I will not overreact to this, centers around the balance of the offense – Trent Richardson, Dion Lewis, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Montario Hardesty ought to be able to shoulder a fair amount of yardage in 2013.  I believe Lewis can occasionally play in the slot as well, incorporating another option in the passing game.  Provided all of the running backs are healthy; opponents will primarily game plan around stopping the run – I do not think this will come easily, however.

A wide receiver can be a huge part of an NFL offense (i.e. Calvin Johnson), but more cases than not he is a cog in the wheel.  Their individual success is extremely dependent upon the play of the quarterback – therefore the progression of Brandon Weeden over the next few months will be huge leading into September.  If the signal caller performs how he did in last season’s opener (completing twelve of thirty-five passes for 118 yards and four interceptions), and the Browns could have Jerry Rice in his prime at wide out and he would not be able to help the team a great deal.  Fortunately, I am confident Weeden will play well against the Dolphins and Ravens – winning these contests will be determined by several components, and the Browns’ passing attack is just a portion.

Conclusion:  While the Gordon suspension hurts the team and the individual, it’s not time to forgo the season and assume the Browns will not win more than five games.  Coach Chud and Norv Turner will have to slightly adjust their offensive game plan in the first two meetings, but assuming status quo (no further suspensions or injuries) they should still be able to keep their opponents guessing.  I am hopeful, as several veterans (some in their second or third season) are key pieces on the offense – the growing pains of starting multiple rookies, out of necessity, are no longer staring the team in the face.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Players

 

News and Notes – Post OTAs – Part 2

Post OTAs 2013 – News and Notes Part 2 – Cleveland Browns

In continuing with the Organized Team Activities breakdown, there are a few on-the-field topics.  Historically, this has been a time of year when enthusiasm and optimism have been running high – hopefully the 2013 campaign is one where these feelings still hold true in the fall.

Offensive Personnel Looking Good:

It is always nice to hear about Browns’ players performing well in practice.  This includes the receiving trio of Josh Gordon (who will be absent the first two games – more on that later), Greg Little, and Davone Bess.  Positive articles have come out as of late, noting the two incumbents have been working hard under strength coach Brad Roll.  Ironically, both missed their final collegiate season before turning pro – perhaps we can see a vast improvement from each after their first (Gordon) or second (Little) full NFL seasons.  Some of this can be attributed to Davone Bess; the veteran has done an excellent job imparting his wisdom on proper route running and how to avoid defenders.  These reasons alone should provide optimism to the fan base.

Along the same lines, the system that coach Chud and the offensive coordinator (Norv Turner) runs has received a great deal of praise by Cleveland media.  Up-tempo has been a frequent descriptive term for the pace of practices; several are excited by how much the team’s speed appears to have improved since last season.  Also, the consistent deep throws are refreshing – even the owner agrees.  Jimmy Haslam stated that he “no longer sees three yard routes” as he watches from the sidelines.  I have faith that Weeden can hit on these throws, while the receivers can haul them in – why can’t the 2013 offense put up a great deal of points?

A question that comes to mind now, is should we take these accolades with a grain of salt?  After all, the team is not wearing pads and, in some cases, playing against air.  These are professional athletes – they should look very good-to-excellent in the spring.  For now, all reporters can do is mention what is occurring and speculate how it will translate into the regular season.

Defensive Position Battles:

The defense is a bit more in transition than the offense this offseason – the result is that a few jobs are up for grabs, and an opportunity to get a leg up began in OTAs.  The defensive line (Phil Taylor, Athyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant), right cornerback (Joe Haden), strong safety (T.J. Ward), and two linebackers (D’Qwell Jackson and Paul Kruger) are a few of the positions that seem pretty set.

At the inside linebacker spot opposite Jackson, a pair of second-year pros vie for Scott Fujita’s former position with the team.  James-Michael Johnson (a fourth round selection from Nevada) and Craig Robertson (an undrafted athlete out of North Texas) each spent time with the Browns’ defense last season.  After being injured the first couple of games in 2012, Johnson appeared in ten outings where he totaled thirty-six total tackles.  Robertson appeared in all sixteen meetings last year – where he had ninety-three tackles, a sack, and two interceptions.  Based off of experience, it appears that Robertson will begin training camp as the favorite; it will be up to him to hold onto that job.

The outside linebacker to pair with newly acquired Paul Kruger will likely be either Jabaal Sheard or Barkevious Mingo.  (Recent acquisition Quentin Groves will play a role as an outside linebacker spot as well, but he will more than likely be included in certain situations).  Sheard is the de facto incumbent, as he was a former starting defensive end with the franchise – in a 4-3 defense.  The former University of Pittsburgh star had fifty-five total tackles and seven sacks last season; showing he is capable of being an NFL starter.  However, after investing the number six-overall selection into Mingo, the Browns might feel pressure to give him ample opportunities to shine.  I believe Sheard will start out the season as the starter, but for how long will be determined more by Mingo’s play than anything.

The starting left cornerback job can be seized by a few, as former starter Sheldon Brown is no longer with the team.  Third-year member Buster Skrine has the most experience with the Browns, but will he be able to hold off rookie Leon McFadden and free agent Chris Owens?  Skrine is coming off a campaign where he had eighty-five tackles, eleven passes defended, and a fumble recovery.  There are still questions surrounding the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga star though, as he could not make enough plays to cement himself as an every-down player.  The Browns drafted a San Diego State University cornerback in the third round – McFadden seems positive and up to the challenge to get on the field during the season opener.  Owens is the wildcard; he will have to blow the coaching staff away in order to secure his spot.  Like the outside linebacker battle – I see a veteran getting the nod until the rookie can prove himself.

With Usama Young departing in the offseason, the Browns must look to replace their former free safety.  Two undrafted second-year players are in line to take over – Tashaun Gipson (of Wyoming) and Johnson Bademosi (of Stanford).  Both were active in each contest in 2012, but a majority of the time they were on the field was during special teams.  Gipson notched thirty-three tackles and had an interception against the Chiefs last season.  Since he spent more time in the safety spot, I anticipate he will get the first opportunity to start games in 2013.  Bademosi was a cornerback in college and played sparingly there in 2012.  He had twenty tackles on special teams, but he will now be called upon to join the defense.  The position change may take some time, but I would not rule out Bademosi getting a significant number of repetitions at free safety.

Conclusion:  Although it is a good rule of thumb to temper oneself, Browns’ fans can have some hope from what they are hearing from OTAs.  The matchups between a few defenders will now begin to heat up – I hope a few of these guys can take the starting job and never look back.  Meanwhile, I look forward to solid depth at spots where there has not been much for many seasons.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Offseason, Players

 

News and Notes – Post OTAs – Part 1

Post OTAs 2013 – News and Notes Part 1 – Cleveland Browns 

Well, the final week of Organized Team Activities just completed and there are a few Browns-related things to take away from them; both on and off the field.  Let’s first take a look at what is happening within the organization, but not necessarily Xs and Os.

Jim Brown’s Return:

The face of the franchise in the late 1950s to the early 1960s (and deemed by some as the best running back in NFL history by), former University of Syracuse star Jim Brown was contacted by owner Jimmy Haslam to be a part of the franchise he was once a part of.  Contrast this to the prior regime, where former President Mike Holmgren distanced the team from Brown – and subsequently created a rift between the two sides.

Regardless of public perception, I believe this is a solid move for the owner and the franchise.  It speaks volumes when a team and their arguably best player are at odds – hopefully the two have completely made up and there are no issues going forward.  It is widely known that Brown wears his heart on his sleeve and is not afraid to speak his mind.  However, I do not believe he will overstep his bounds in his new special advisory role – the former running back should be able to connect with players (including giving guidance and advice) on the roster.  Brown is also familiar with injuries and knows the toll professional football can take on one’s body.  Additionally, Brown can recall many teammates and fellow players who have struggled financially since their careers ended.  Perhaps he has the wisdom and presence that can trickle down to the younger stars to ensure they will not make similar mistakes to those of past generations.

There is a mutual respect between Brown and Haslam (it’s hard to argue this existed in prior regimes); this will be helpful for years to come.  No disrespect to former ownership, but judging from his press conference, it seems that Jim Brown feels more confident in a leader who is active and around the team on a frequent basis.  Both men are strong, smart businessmen that appear to get along well.  Will everything for the team go swimmingly when Brown is here?  Odds are they will not, but I feel several positives with come out with the re-hire. 

Worries Surround Richardson:

Before Trent Richardson entered the NFL, he required surgery on his knee (in February) in order to be healed for his rookie campaign.  This caused him to be held out of a few workouts, including the Scouting Combine.  After the Browns decided to draft him in April, Richardson needed another operation on his knee that prevented him from any pre-season activity (heightening some fans’ concerns).

As the 2012 season wore on, the University of Alabama athlete played with cracked ribs and missed the final outing as a result of injuries sustained.  Granted he is an extremely tough individual, but his history of being hurt appeared to be piling up – and in such a short time period.

Now, as OTAs wear on (and the team meets regularly until training camp in July); Richardson was inactive once again.  This time it was related to a pulled shin muscle, and coach Chud deemed it “precautionary” but the running back could miss mini camp in June as well.  Like many Browns’ fans, I hope he can have a tremendous season and career but I understand why the team might error on the side of caution until it’s closer to the regular season.

Conclusion:  The running back position for the Cleveland Browns have gotten headlines recently – from both past and present athletes.  I am intrigued, more than anything, with the role that Jim Brown will play and wish him the best.  Richardson will be the second (after quarterback) strongest indicator of the offense’s success in 2013 – being healthy and productive will be huge for this franchise.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2013 in Offseason, Players