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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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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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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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Going from Here – Coming off a Win

Going from Here – Coming off a Win

Handling Success:  Next Steps

Now that the Browns have ended their long (long) losing streak, the main question is – how are they going to react to being successful?  With they assume the team has done their jobs and can go into cruise control?  Or is the young club hungry enough to start rattling off multiple victories in a row?  There are three vital areas surrounding the team that could help determine whether the team will win.

Baker’s First Start

Let’s start with the positive; Baker Mayfield will not enter this game with a fourteen point deficit (barring something wildly terrible
happening for the Browns).  On the other hand, this is the first opportunity for another franchise to game plan for the rookie.  I have faith Baker will have a solid performance, likely not as well as he did last Thursday however.  He should put together a winning output that can propel the offense to victory.

Different Stadium

Baseball dirt in a football stadium?  What year is it?  Where are we?  Ah yes, in Oakland we will see this on Sunday (as the Athletics will continue to use the field for some time).  The Browns will have to ensure they will not lose footing in those areas – be it a wide receiver, quarterback, or kicker.  The Raiders are used to this being their home stadium, but I hope it’s not their home field advantage.

Back to Being a Dog

Following being a home favorite for the first time in nearly three years, the Cleveland Browns are back to being underdogs on the road to a winless club.  I have to admit that I was surprised to see the line open up the way that it did – but perhaps that will put a chip on the shoulders of Baker Mayfield and the rest of the club.  I expect Derek Carr to play better than he has been so far this season, but the Browns’ defense should still make some plays.

Conclusion:  Immediately following the win over the Jets, I looked at the schedule and thought “oh, there’s a ton of wins on the horizon”.  After calming down and taking it week by week, I know that this will be a very tough matchup.  They could afford to get two to three more turnovers, as I fear that will lose at least one themselves.  Whether the offense or defense is on the field at the end of the game, I believe the Browns will win.  I shudder to think about this coming down to special teams – as the Browns have not had the upper hand in that department.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2018 in NFL Season, Players

 

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What to Watch for – Preseason Game #1

What to Watch for – Preseason Game #1

Preseason Game #1 – Browns @ Giants

The time is finally here; the Cleveland Browns are hitting the field and are beginning their exhibition season.  What’s done is done from 2017 and the roster has changed dramatically (thanks to John Dorsey).  The end result is a much improved team who should win games in 2018.  Looking forward to Thursday evening’s contest, what should Browns’ fans look forward to seeing in New Jersey?

Wolfpack and Offensive Line Depth

A few days ago, the Browns shifted former University of Nevada lineman Joel Bitonio from left guard to left tackle.  Meanwhile, his college teammate Austin Corbett fills in the vacated starting position across the line.  Will this be an improvement over an offensive line featuring Shon Coleman at left tackle?  At this point, the coaches believe so.  I want to see the five starters (outside of Kevin Zeitler who will be sidelined for a few weeks) play solidly while protecting Tyrod Taylor.  Meanwhile, having a guy or two stand out in the second team would be welcomed.

Stepping Up without Gordon

The wide receiver room took a shot with the departure of Josh Gordon (and his return time is still not know); in his absence Corey Coleman has elevated with Jarvis Landry in the first team.  This is a huge season for the veteran, who can secure his place with this team with a great year.  Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, and Antonio Callaway are a trio of wideouts who can carve out roles with this franchise.  I would love to see Callaway excel and become that third starer, but perhaps Higgins will come through in his third season (the way many are hoping Coleman will).

Secondary Spots

The starting spot opposite Denzel Ward remains up for grabs.  Many felt T.J. Carrie would have been this guy, however he is not playing exceptionally well this training camp.  The opportunity is there for Terrance Mitchell – who was a part-time starter last year in Kansas City.  I would like to see him defend Sterling Shepard for the Giants.  E.J. Gaines is another guy who can have a shot to start – how will he perform?

Conclusion:  Football is back!  And while it is very exciting, there is a ton to sort out for the Cleveland Browns.  Hopefully the starters hold their own in limited time.  Following that, one would expect to see multiple reserves pushing for starting jobs (including Baker Mayfield).  Obviously a win is not important – just look at last season; but avoiding sloppy play would be a good start to the exhibition season.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2018 in NFL Season, Players, Training Camp

 

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Latest Browns News

Latest Browns News

What’s Going on in Browns Town?

In the months following the NFL Draft but prior to training camp – the Cleveland Browns get together and practice on the field.  Granted it’s not what we will see this fall, but at least fans and reporters can get a first glimpse of the 2018 squad.  So what occurred during this time frame?  I discuss below plus give other thoughts surrounding the orange and brown.

OTAs in Session:

The Browns recently completed a weeklong session of Offseason Training Activities, which will continue for several more weeks.  A few things I took away were the increased expectations of both Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry, possible depth at offensive line, and intrigue in the secondary.

It is appearing that the connection from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Jarvis Landry is nearing pitch and catch.  The duo appears on the same page and are completing a high percentage of passing plays. Having “inside” routes lends itself to a shorter passes and a higher percentage of completions – but there still needs solid players in order for the executions to work.  I believe that Josh Gordon will get in synch with Taylor this summer, however the longer routes centered around timing will need a high number of repetitions first.  I did not hear a tremendous amount of glowing reviews surrounding wideout Corey Coleman.  I firmly believe 2018 will be his final one with the orange and brown – provided he does not improve substantially.  This is a year where he will not see one of the top opposing coverage players,so he will get his shot to prove his worth.

I enjoyed hearing the rotations of both the offensive line and members of the secondary during the OTA practice sessions.  Left tackle is the big question mark, but Shon Coleman and Austin Corbett should put on a solid competition during training camp.  Chris Hubbard appears to be the front runner for the right tackle position, but there will be multiple players attempting to steal his spot.  For the first time in years, it appears that the Browns have a solid unit upfront as opposed to a Joe Thomas and an Alex Mack.  Meanwhile, the Browns have T.J. Carrie, Denzel Ward, E.J. Gaines, and Terrance Mitchell (to name a few) working at the cornerback positions.  I’ll take my chances with these guys, as opposed to groups in the past.  The two favorites at this point would likely be Carrie and Ward, but there could be some shuffling throughout the season.  The safety spot features Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Jabril Peppers, and Demarious Randall – three very capable athletes who can anchor the back end of the secondary.

Gaining Respect for Baker

In a short video which featured several NFL rookies attempting to draw the helmets of their current team, Browns’ signal caller Baker Mayfield was included.  It’s no secret that he had the easiest task, as the Browns do not have a logo on the side – like the other thirty-one clubs.  However, his response to his final drawing what what I took away – “I didn’t draw the stripe because I haven’t earn it yet”.  That says everything you need to know about Mayfield’s mindset heading into training camp.  I believe he is sincere and not just saying what many think he should.  I give him respect for this response, but clearly his play on the field is what matters most.

 

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Looking Forward to the Season

Looking Forward to the Season

Message to Browns’ Fans:  Buckle Up

The NFL Draft is in the books and rosters are being finalized heading into the minicamp sessions. After the dust settled, the Browns added nine members from Thursday to Saturday night.  Additionally, multiple undrafted free agents chose to sign with the orange and brown.  So, what does this mean for the Cleveland Browns?  Well for starters, they will secure at least one win and should be vastly improved.  Let’s look at a few choices.

Day One Picks:  Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward

My reaction to both the first and fourth overall selections were the same, a one word phrase of “woah”.  This is not to say I was extremely positive or negative about the choices – I was rather surprised that both were taken that early.  I admit I am a prisoner of reading NFL “experts” (over the past few months) who had Sam Darnold and Bradley Chubb rated as superior prospects.  However, thinking about it rationally – there is no guarantee that those “experts” are right.  Likewise, John Dorsey might not get these choices correct either.  Mayfield was probably my second choice for quarterback but I am willing to give him a chance (once the team does).  Meanwhile, I really like Denzel Ward – sure the team could have solidified their defensive line, but their secondary was embarrassing last year.  I would rate these two as solid choices with a ceiling of two routine Pro Bowlers and a floor of a pair of mediocre athletes.

Day Two Picks:  Austin Corbett, Nick Chubb, and Chad Thomas

A trio of large, tough football players were acquired on the second day of the NFL Draft.  Corbett is a left tackle who will be given a shot to compete with Shon Coleman to replace Joe Thomas.  I will admit that I have not heard of the lineman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t excel in the pros.  I like the selection of Chubb, who should tote the football between tackles for the orange and brown.  Could he take the lion’s share of carries from Carlos Hyde?  That remains to be seen, but I would not put it past Chubb.  The running back competition should be a fun one to watch this summer.  Thomas is another guy who I had not heard about prior to the draft weekend.  It appears that he is a solid in run defense but can also be a force as an edge rusher.  He will be eased into this lineup, as Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah do not appear to surrender  playing time soon.  Overall, I would label these choices as boom or bust – the team could find two reliable starters and a quality rotational guy.  Or the worst case is they have three backups who make little impact.

Day Three Picks:  Antonio Callaway, Genard Avery, Damion Ratley, and Simeon Thomas

Rounds four through seven of the draft typically see reserve players, special team athletes, projects, and risks.  That was the case for the Cleveland Browns as they selected four members during these rounds and all fit into at least on of the above categories.  Callaway and Thomas have had troubles with the law and missed time in the NCAA as a result.  The difference between the two is Callaway has a longer rap sheet but also has tremendous upside (provided he keeps his head screwed on).  Avery is destined to be a special teamer for the Browns, but might get his opportunity at linebacker some day.  Ratley did not finish his collegiate career with eye popping statistics, but he should focus on hanging around on the roster until he learns the wide receiver position at the pro level.  My conclusion is these four guys are strictly question marks and I am pulling that at least one actually contributes to this team for several seasons.

Final Analysis:  The cliche is that “the team got better” after draft weekend.  For once, I actually think this might be true for the Browns.  I read criticisms that Ward might be the only day one starter – to which I ask, why is that a bad thing?  It would be refreshing not having to see a rookie quarterback, safety, and tight end forced into action prematurely as there was little competition on the roster (as this was the case last season).  Perhaps the veterans on the Browns actually have talent and can help this team win games.  The bottom line is that fall will be fun again and things will be different in 2018.

 

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