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Author Archives: Will Gibson

Which Browns QBs Have Best Lived Up to the Hype?

You’ve seen the jersey by now. There have been so many different Browns under center that you’ve hopefully forgotten a few of them. The Browns’ passing game is taken as seriously as Tyler Perry at the Oscars.

Yet, the question begs to be answered: Which Browns quarterbacks have best lived up to the hype? We have seen first-round picks and journeyman veterans, local kids and NFL nomads. Each has come with his own set of expectations. Virtually none have lived up to them. But these things exist on a spectrum, and it is up to us to figure out exactly where they lie. So I put out a feeler to Browns fan Condoleeza Rice, and she assembled a crack staff of diplomats, advisers and statisticians to come up with the answer:

Browns QB Chart

This was a truly terrifying exercise. It’s common knowledge that Browns quarterbacks have performed only slightly better than VHS sales since 1999, but studying the names and statistics really drives the point home. Did you know that Bruce Gradkowski’s QB rating was 2.8 in Cleveland? Had you forgotten that Doug Pederson started eight games in 2000 when Tim Couch got hurt? Do you realize that one could make a strong argument for Couch being the best Browns quarterback of the century?

It’s stunning to look at the names and remember believing in some of these guys. Brady Quinn’s tumble down the draft board was hilarious—until we took him, then he was a godsend. Colt McCoy won 45 games and completed 70% of his tosses in college! Jake Delhomme’s veteran savvy! Charlie Frye’s moxie! Brandon Weeden’s…age?

The point is: The Browns’ recent QB history is absolutely as bad as you think it is, and maybe even worse. The psychic camels from the World Cup could do a better job of finding snap-takers. And despite the likes of Trent Dilfer winning a Super Bowl, one axiom holds true in the NFL: You need a quarterback—maybe not an “elite” one, but one who won’t snap defeat from the jaws of victory twice a season. One who can consistently be better than awful. Maybe even one capable of winning a game by himself. The Browns haven’t found that guy, and they had 20 chances through last season. Tonight, we’ll get a closer look at number 21.

No pressure, Johnny.

 

[Can’t name ’em all? Use the handy key and relive the misery! QBs are listed chronologically.]

 Browns QB Chart Key

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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Offseason, Players

 

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Don’t Bring Me Down: Which Brown Should You Pin Your Hopes On (D/ST Edition)?

Earlier this week, we mined the Browns’ offense in search of the best players to follow throughout the season. Today, we look at the defense in hopes that there are some gentlemen worth investing in. Who should be your guy when the foes have the ball? Decide for yourself.

First, look to the secondary—Joe Haden, Donte Whitner and company. Haden is an actual, real-life Pro Bowl cornerback, and more importantly, he has gone all-out in support of the Cavs and Indians. Donte, as you likely know, is a proper Clevelander and Ohioan, having attended Glenville and Ohio State. I sat with his grandmother at training camp last week, and she was a delightful lady (She has not met LeBron yet, and she thinks it’s wonderful that Donte is playing at home again). With any luck at all, the DBs will embrace the Dawg Pound ideal and bark as loud as anyone since Minnifield and Dixon. If youngsters like Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine can follow suit, the defensive backfield will be in good shape. Long live #TeamDBSwag.

The defensive line looks solid, but there doesn’t seem to be any one player who will consistently generate headlines or big stats. Athyba Rubin is sort of like the Browns’ Varejao: We like him because he works hard, and he’s one of the few guys who has been here for more than two years. Phil Taylor is more mountain than human, but this will be his fourth season, and there are more YouTube clips of a professional dart player of the same name than the Browns’ defensive lineman. Still, he plays as though the other team stole his lunch money, and he clubbed Roethlisberger in the head a few years ago, so we can safely assume he is against sexual assault. And speaking of criminal behavior, here’s Desmond Bryant’s mug shot:

Desmond Bryant

The linebackers and rush guys could be the best bets of the bunch. Mike Pettine’s Bills had 57 sacks last year, good for second in the league. In Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo, the hope is that the Browns have three edge rushers capable of making quarterbacks abandon the pocket and/or evacuate their bowels. Rookie inside ‘backer Chris Kirksey looked spry in the first meaningless preseason game, and his pass coverage drew especially good reviews. Karlos Dansby was an animal in Arizona last year, with 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and two defensive TDs. However, he’s 32 and has over 150 games under his belt, so there may not be much tread left on those tires.

And, of course, there are always the special teamers. You may scoff, but some of the greatest modern era Browns were specialists: Josh Cribbs, Phil Dawson, even the unblockable Chris Gardocki and unflappable (for a time) Ryan Pontbriand. There’s hope with the current bunch too. Travis Benjamin is an over-caffeinated roadrunner on kick returns. Billy Cundiff was pretty good last year, and more importantly, he helped screw up the Ravens’ chances in 2012. And Spencer Lanning is the punter, because a “Spencer Lanning” couldn’t possibly play any other position.

Again, this is an important decision. Seasons are defined by who your guys are. If you chose Charlie Frye in 2006 like I did, it was a long year. If you chose Lee Suggs in 2004 like I did, it was a long year. If you chose Brodney Pool in 2008 like I did – Look, the odds aren’t great. But football fandom is weird, and you’ve gotta do it. Do your best, cross your fingers, and enjoy the ride.

IF You Like...(D/ST)

 
 

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Don’t Bring Me Down: Which Brown Should You Pin Your Hopes On (Offense Edition)?

Hope, like rust-based puns, springs eternal in Cleveland. We’re getting close to the real season, which means that fans everywhere must decide who their favorite players will be. Who can you really count on, week after week? Who will you enjoy watching, and who will make you feel like you’re getting your time and money’s worth? Could there actually be a jersey worth purchasing out there? Let’s break it down by position group, starting with the offense.

First, it doesn’t matter if you support Johnny or the Destroyer. They’re both too risky. If you’ve been a Browns fan for more than six weeks, you know why. Quarterbacks don’t just come to Cleveland to die—they come to develop a gross, debilitating illness that requires years of care. That’s the rub of having the Clinic in town. That said, Johnny is the off-the-board favorite to be the most entertaining Brown all season long, on- and off-field. It wouldn’t matter if his left leg fell off tomorrow—I would still watch a 24-hour live feed of his life over any other Brown’s, and it’s not even close. The best-case scenario for the Browns’ actual season would see one of these two becoming a star. But again, if you’ve been a Browns fan for more than six weeks, you know not to hold out too much hope for the best-case scenario. Onward!

Wide receiver? Yikes. If Josh Gordon isn’t suspended, he’s obviously the most exciting pass catcher. But if you decide that he is going to be your guy for the season? Then you have to avoid reading the newspaper internet every morning, because the odds of something awful happening are just too great. Having Josh as your favorite is a bit like having unprotected sex that way. Miles Austin and Nate Burleson are nice enough people, but they’re 30-plus and aren’t worth getting into too much of a froth about. If there is a non-Gordon receiver worth latching on to, it’s Andrew Hawkins. He’s an NFL player who is seriously the size of a middle school student, and he runs a 4.34 40. Dudes look like they’re log rolling when they try to catch that little guy.

Offensive line? God bless Joe Thomas and the gang, but o-line play just isn’t that interesting unless you played it yourself. It’s important, of course, and I love a good block, especially when a pulling lineman gets a shot on a DB. But it probably isn’t something you want to watch every play. Unless Joel Bitonio plays left guard like a feral rhinoceros, you should look elsewhere. This is all coming from the proud owner of a slightly bootleg Joe Thomas jersey.

The running backs are interesting, sort of. Ben Tate could break out and become Arian Foster, north coast edition. Terrance West rushed for 1.42 miles at Towson last year. These two are worth keeping an eye on, but football’s evolution toward the passing game—and the belief that running backs are only slightly less replaceable than flathead screws—limits their potential. Still, Cleveland is Jim Brown territory, and running back play is held in high esteem. This is coming from someone who has the “RUN WILLIAM RUN” YouTube video favorited.

How about tight end? Jordan Cameron was a Pro Bowler last year, and he was in that video with Blake Griffin, so it would seem that he has some juice. Tight end has become a modish position, and Cameron has the size and skills to be the next Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham. Remember, however, the last Browns tight end with this much potential. [Mildly sexist note: If you’re a woman, odds are he’s already your favorite player. And rightly so—he’s a hot dude. Nothing wrong with that.]

There’s one other category to explore: Players with fun or funny names. Think guys like Ben Gay, Chad Mustard, Foswhitt “Fozzy” Whittaker, and Syndric Steptoe. We all like to be hipster fans to some degree, and embracing a lesser-known player can earn you some street cred. On the offensive side of the ball, sadly, there aren’t too many great names to choose from. Mitchell Schwartz opens up a wealth of Spaceballs jokes. Chris Ogbonnaya’s name is unusual, but not really ha-ha material. Kyle Auffray sounds like Pig Latin, but he’s not likely to make the team. Where have you gone, Adimchenobe Echemandu?! Thank heavens for Barkevious Mingo and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen on defense.

So who should be your favorite when the Browns have the ball? It depends on your taste. Here is a TL;DR version for those on the go. Choose wisely, and good luck.

If You Like...(Offense)

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Cleveland Browns Fans, Players

 

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Bronze Barge! Get Pumped for the Great Lakes Classic

Preseason football is a methadone oasis for NFL fans in the heroin- and football-free summertime desert.  Something like that, based on what I’ve read in the lead up to the year’s first full-contact action.

This is not a screed against the preseason.  We’ve been waiting to see these guys in action for months or more.  We want to see what Johnny and co. look like in actual football jerseys.  We want to see if he’ll wear his Volt-colored cleats.  We want to see if he’ll hide a vial of coke in his helmet.  This is an exciting time!  It’s where it all begins!  It’s okay to get excited!  Use exclamation points!

Great Lakes Classic Trophy

That said, the Great Lakes Classic — the since-2002 preseason “rivalry” between the Browns and Lions, with the winner taking home a bronze barge trophy — is among the very dumbest ideas in the combined history of sports and statues.

My main beef with the GLC is its premise: a preseason rivalry game.  The idea just doesn’t click.  Rivalries do not exist in the preseason.  That’s why it’s the preseason.  Rivalries are built in the playoffs, or at least in the freaking regular season.  Do you think Browns newcomers like Justin Gilbert or Miles Austin, or even stalwarts like Joe Thomas, care about this thing?  Like, at all?  The whole idea is so silly that it even inspired a song:

The trophy itself isn’t awful if you’re a huge fan of barges.  It’s a handsome bronze, and it reportedly has some heft to it.  The Browns are at the stern, which lends itself to all sorts of cheap jokes, but that’s okay — the same issue would exist if the Lions were at the back.  You know, like they are in the NFC North.  Also, if you could have described from memory with any accuracy what the trophy looks like, then you are a true diehard who may also be living too hard.

But really, it’s a nice trophy.  If you can look past the fact that it’s a preseason prize, and that the Browns and Lions have seriously, seriously sucked for the past fifteen years, it’s not a bad piece of hardware.  If Cleveland State and Wayne State ever start up a football rivalry, maybe they can repurpose the thing.  After all, it reportedly cost $10,000 to make.

Read that last sentence again.

If the reports are true, that means the following: Someone proposed a ten thousand dollar preseason trophy, to be awarded to one of the two worst teams in modern football.  Someone else greenlit that idea.  Someone else was commissioned to build the trophy itself.  Again, to recap: There was an actual transaction in which someone was paid five figures to make a boat with the Browns’ and Lions’ helmets on it.

The high cost explains why we see so much of the trophy, right?  Wait, what?  You haven’t seen it in years, if at all?  Why would that be?

Well, according to now-years old reports from Jeff Schudel and Tony Grossi, the trophy stopped changing hands in 2005 when former Browns president Carmen Policy, ahem, jumped ship.  The trophy was last seen “collecting dust” at Browns headquarters, either on a side table or in a broom closet, depending on which report you believe.

Still, it’s football.  I’ll be pulling for the Browns and hoping for the best out of the rookies.  Maybe Johnny will look like a star, or maybe Hoyer will.  Maybe Joel Bitonio will look like the mean SOB that we’ve wanted on the offensive line.  Maybe Andrew Hawkins will be the first NFL player to hit a growth spurt while scoring a touchdown.  It’s an exciting time.

But for me, there is only one Great Lakes Classic.  If you make a habit of watching ESPN2 at 3 AM, you know what I mean.  Long live Parker Bohn III.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Where Will You Be When the Browns Win the Super Bowl?

Browns-1

I was talking with my friend Brian at his apartment in downtown Cleveland.  It’s one of those cool converted warehouse apartments with big windows hugged by brick walls.  It is right in the center of downtown, with views of Lake Erie, Terminal Tower, and FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Browns.

I asked him a question that I’ve asked many friends: Where are you going to be when the Browns win the Super Bowl?

It’s a question that many young Browns fans ask themselves, one that can inspire tremendous hope and angst.  Despite the franchise’s pitiful history since its return in 1999, Browns fans hold fast onto tales of triumph.  They grow hazier with each passing season, but the legends of Otto Graham and Jim Brown still resonate in Cleveland.  All fans know the truism that the Browns were once dominant.  With every draft, today’s fans wonder who will be the player to take their Browns to the promised land.

So where will those fans be when the big day comes?  Some swear that they will be at the game, no matter the cost.  Others say they will be downtown, ready to join the party that no one can accurately predict because of the absurdity of the premise.  I posed the question to Brian.  He answered quickly, and with frightening conviction and amusement.

“Oh, I’ll be dead.”

The Browns are at a crossroads.  A great many Cleveland fans insist that they are the best fans in football.  They continue to sell out games and there have been no blackouts since 1999.  They have dealt with a crap team (or no team) for two decades, which is the best way to score fan street cred.  They are known as one of the most tortured fan bases in sports.

That said, there is evidence that Browns fans’ support is waning.  They did not crack the top 10 of Forbes NFL’s Best Fans list, which is based on five criteria: stadium attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, social media reach, and fan club presence.  They placed 15th in Sports Illustrated’s players poll of most intimidating fans, a far cry from the days of the old Dawg Pound.  A 2008 ESPN ranking, however, placed Browns fans as the third-best in the league.  What’s changed?

In short, nothing has changed, and that’s the problem.  The Browns have sucked since 1999, save a couple of seasons.  They haven’t had a strong multi-year streak like the Indians had in the 90s.  They’ve barely been competent during that stretch.  They have had eight head coaches since 1999, a number that actually seemed low to me.  Same goes for the six GMs.  Everyone gets fired every three years.

It’s getting harder every year to convince young Browns fans that this is a franchise worth investing in.  My then three year-old nephew was watching a game with his dad last season.  They live in Pittsburgh.  Trying to keep a potential Browns fan on track in enemy territory is no easy task.  When my nephew realized the Browns were on TV, he was incredulous.  He turned to his father and said, matter-of-factly,

“Dad, the Browns always lose.”

Smart kid.

What I’m getting at is that the next few years are very important for the Browns.  They don’t need to win a Super Bowl, but they do need to be competent.  Fans need to see progress during games and believe in the front office.  It doesn’t matter if Johnny Manziel is the starter or who the best player is.  This team just needs to be consistently less awful.  The tales of fifty year-old championships are gathering cobwebs, and the Browns are turning into the Franchise That Cried Next Year.  Few fans will come out and say that they are growing less avid, but the empty orange seats say otherwise.

I hope they turn it around.  I hope that my Super Bowl plans come to fruition one day.  I know that when the Browns get there, I’ll be downtown, running around like Jimmy V. in ’83.  It doesn’t matter where in the city I am.  I just want to be in Cleveland and around Clevelanders.  I’ll be hugging weird-looking strangers like it’s the end of Major League.  I just hope that I’m alive when it happens.  I hope Brian is, too.

 

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