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Joe Banner protecting Mike Lombardi from media access, Trent Richardson's crowning hit, and other tidbits from NFL owners meetings

Mar 19, 2013 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi

 

Photo/AP

PHOENIX, AZ

The Morning Kickoff …

What’s up, Mike?:  Mike Lombardi waved off Cleveland-area reporters covering NFL owners meetings on Monday. The smooth-talking Browns general manager continues to evade discourse with reporters who cover the team regularly. Lombardi had much more to say about the Browns before he was hired by them.

Lombardi, who criticized Browns players such as Joe Haden, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon in his former life as NFL Network analyst, has not granted an on-the-record interview since was introduced by CEO Joe Banner on Jan. 18.

When Lombardi was introduced as Banner’s hand-picked choice as his top football assistant, Banner conceded he was “going out on a limb” by appointing Lombardi to such an influential position. On Monday, Banner indicated that he is shielding Lombardi from media interaction.

“I don't think anybody would deny that whether people are for him or against him, he's a lightning rod at the moment,” Banner said. “It attracts a lot of attention and it gets a lot of strong reaction and I think it's better for us right now and better for him to keep things calm, low-key, focus on his work and then kind of more gradually let that situation take care of itself in terms of his availability to you all.”

In his former role with the old Browns under coach Bill Belichick in the 1990s, Lombardi never was quoted. But Lombardi was in a subordinate role back then.

Now, although Lombardi reports to Banner, he has the position of general manager. He already has been promoted from his original title as vice president/player personnel.

I expressed to Banner that it comes across as Lombardi not wanting to be held accountable for anything he might say.

“You can blame me,” Banner said. “There won’t be a shortage of someone to hold accountable. This is a gradual (process). I think it makes more sense, obviously from our perspective, to kind of let this happen. Evolve into it, as opposed to jumping into it.

“He’s not going to be hidden. He’s not going to be somebody over time you won’t have an opportunity to talk to. But as I say there are certainly no accountability issues. I’m sitting here and you can hold me accountable for whatever we do. And ultimately whether it’s responsibility because of the people we hired or my own role in decisions that we make, I’m a big boy and I accept that comes with the territory here. You hope that credit comes if you do well too, but the accountability is not going to be anything anybody here is going to shy away from.”

Trent’s crown: Browns running back Trent Richardson elicited “oohs” and “ahs”  in his first NFL game with a head-on collision that blasted the helmet off the head of Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurtt Coleman.

That hit is now the focal point of the NFL’s crackdown against using the crown of the helmet by an offensive or defensive player. Under a proposed rules change, Richardson’s hit on Coleman would be a spot foul and be subject to a fine.

“Basically, the best way to phrase this is we’re bringing the shoulder back in the game,” said St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the NFL competition committee. “We want to bring the shoulder back to the game. We all know the helmet is a protective device. It’s not designed to be used like it’s being used as of late and we want to protect our players, specifically out in space.”

The rule change does not mean running backs could no longer lower their head while plowing to the goal line. It would prohibit a top of helmet hit by an offensive or defensive player outside the tackle box – the area outside the offensive tackles and more than three yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Richardson’s hit on Coleman was well beyond the line of scrimmage in the open field. It immediately won Richardson kudos with Browns fans. But it was singled out as an improper use of the helmet that will be eradicated to preserve player safety.

“We really feel on the Richardson play he has options and he doesn’t have to lower his head like that and hit (Coleman) in that manner,” said Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating.

It so happened that Browns rushing great Jim Brown was on hand at NFL meetings to announce the settlement of a class action lawsuit against the league by retired players and the creation of a league fund to help former players in need.

Brown was asked his opinion of the proposal to ban backs from using their head to smash into defenders.

“I didn’t use my head,” Brown said. “I used my forearm, the palm of my hand, and my shoulder, and my shoulder pads. I wasn’t putting my head into too much of anything. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

“At least it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me if I’m not guaranteed that my head isoing to be strong enough to hurt somebody else and not hurt myself.”

Odds and ends: Starting in 2012, every team is assured at least one prime-time TV appearance per season. The Browns played in Baltimore on a Thursday night in 2012. If Banner has his way, the Browns will not be forced to play on the road in 2013. The 2013 schedule will be announced the week before the April 25 draft … Banner said there is no discussion on the team’s part to replace the natural grass in FirstEnergy Stadium with FieldTurf or a similar synthetic surface … Banner also said a revamped, modernized scoreboard will not be in place for 2013. “I can’t tell you exactly when, but I can confidently tell you that will be part of whatever we do,” he said.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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