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Combine Chronicles: Browns QB talk, Michael Sam and Jim Harbaugh

Feb 24, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |



The Morning Kickoff …

Combine Chronicles: Things I heard and saw at the NFL Combine, some good and some bad …

I liked what Browns GM Ray Farmer said about the characteristics he looks for in a quarterback.

“First and foremost, I’m looking for a winner,” Farmer said. “I’m looking for a guy that can win football games.

“I think that smarts is an interesting part of it. We all talk about guys being smart. But I think it’s the ability and the quickness that that guy can process the information. All of us have an understanding of math and how to do certain things, but the question is how quickly can you process that information and then regurgitate it into being productive on the field.

“There’s a lot of intangibles, I’d say nuances, that we look for in the guy’s performance. People will talk about arm strength. They’ll talk about different athletic aspects -- can he move in the pocket, etc. But I truly believe that a guy being able to accurately throw the football, make quick decisions and process and throw from what I call a quote-unquote crowded pocket. Guys who can play in those instances are critical factors in my mind of what the quarterback needs to be able to demonstrate he can do.”

The problem with evaluating quarterbacks is you rarely find the total package – nice size, big arm, quick release, mobility, escapability, competitiveness, quick thinker. I agree with Farmer that quick-thinking is paramount. I would add extreme mental toughness. Without those two attributes, the quarterback will not win in the NFL.

I’m ambivalent about what coach Mike Pettine said about his search for a quarterback.

“Even though the quarterback’s a priority, we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where the quarterback has to win the game,” Pettine said. “I think that’s where some teams make mistakes. Even though it’s the most important position. If you don’t have that guy that you feel, whether it’s Brady or Manning, that can take over a game and win it for you.

“The Seahawks’ model, they proved it. If you surround him with a great defense and a great running game and you protect him and teach your team how to not lose games first and then to win them second, I think there’s a lot of different ways to win in the NFL. While the quarterback is a priority, we need to make sure we’re solid around him and make his job easier.”

Teaching your team “how to not lose games” reeks of playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. I’m hoping that Pettine means that he doesn’t want to throw the ball 60 times a game when his quarterback can’t pitch the ball into Lake Erie off the top deck of the Goodtime III. If your best chance of winning is running the ball 30 times, I’m fine with that.

I didn’t like hearing Blake Bortles’ answer to a question about sitting and learning for a year, or two.

The Central Florida quarterback said, “I have no problem with that. There’s no doubt I need coaching. I need help. I think everybody in the game does. There’s reasons why all these greats out there are continuing to play and continuing to work in the offseason and get coached. 100 percent, I need coaching. I need help and I’m going to work my butt off to do everything I can to be the best that I can be to help a team be the best that they can be.”

The truth is, I think Bortles is the best fit for the Browns. And in my scenario, Bortles would sit behind Brian Hoyer. How long? That would depend on Hoyer.

But I would have rather heard Bortles project more confidence in his ability and say something like, “If I go to a team with a quarterback better than me, I will work hard to beat him out. I don’t intend to sit for long.”

I didn’t like hearing Michael Sam question the media’s line of questioning.

In his first mass press conference since announcing that he was gay, Sam, a defensive end from Missouri, said, “I wish you guys would just say, 'Michael Sam, how's football going? How's training going?' I would love for you to ask me that question. But it is what it is. And I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”

Really? Two weeks earlier, Sam and his support group executed a crafted plan to “control the narrative” of Sam’s decision to come out as gay and present his story to ESPN and the New York Times.

The Combine was the first opportunity for the rest of the media to interview Sam. What questions did he and his PR staff expect? “What do you think you’ll post in the 40, Michael?” “Have you talked to the Browns?” Give us all a break.

Sam can’t have it both ways. If he is going to announce himself as gay, he is going to have to answer questions about that.

I liked hearing the Browns not deny the Pro Football Talk bombshell that they tried to trade for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Browns’ official statement conspicuously failed to deny the report. And then on Sunday, USA Today reported Browns owner Jimmy Haslam saying, “There was an opportunity there, and it didn’t materialize.”

The story creates the impression that Haslam would do anything at any cost to secure one of the top coaches in the NFL and reverse the fortunes of the Browns.

I see the story from another angle, however. I see it as a desperate attempt by former GM Mike Lombardi to seize power and execute a palace coup of former CEO Joe Banner.

Lombardi saw that Banner was under fire. He may have told Haslam that he could deliver friend Harbaugh as coach – but only if Banner were ousted as CEO. If Harbaugh would have come to the Browns, Lombardi’s place at his right hand would have been secured.

When Lombardi couldn’t deliver Harbaugh, Haslam fired Lombardi – perhaps realizing the true motive behind his actions – and Banner.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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