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#HeyTony: One loss and questions pour in about Mike Pettine and Brian Hoyer

Oct 25, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Nothing like a Browns’ loss to raise the temperature of the #HeyTony inbox. Their loss to previously winless Jacksonville brought questions about Mike Pettine’s in-game decisions, his defensive scheme, and Brian Hoyer’s future.

Hey Tony: Mike Pettine was a rather unlikely coaching choice that was hired after the Browns considered other, more mainstream candidates. His path to the NFL began from high school roots, which seems like the equivalent of a bell boy eventually owning the hotel. Because of this, do you think Pettine has both a soft spot as well as the ability to relate to and motivate undrafted players? Also, is Pettine so candid because the Browns have had a slightly successful start? Did other coaches emit a similar warmth to the media only to turn ice cold after the losses mounted? I really enjoy your work.

-- Ben, Fairbanks, AK

Hey Ben: Well, it’s not as if Pettine went directly from coaching in high school to the head coach position with the Browns. He paid his dues as an entry-level video assistant, to coaching assistant, to position coach, to coordinator. However, Pettine has alluded many times to the fact that he carries a chip on his shoulder as a result of the coaching fraternity initially looking down on him as “a high school coach.” So, yes, I do believe he not only has a soft spot for undrafted players but also appreciates how they can overachieve when they are counted out. As far as Pettine’s candor, he is the most honest Browns coach I’ve seen since Bud Carson, and I don’t think it’s going to change depending on his record. He is who he is.

Hey Tony: You clearly hit the nail on the head when you lamented how critical the error was when Pettine elected to not kick a FG late last week in Jacksonville, well put. Curious if you agree that Buster Skrine may be an adequate coverage corner in the slot -- but simply should not be a starter on a contending team due to his lack of ability to tackle. No one can deny his effort and he usually exhibits the necessary speed to run step for step with most wide outs. But the guy is just not big enough to bring down a ball-carrier in the open field. At 5 foot 9 and a mere 185 lbs., he simply reminds me of a small school college corner who could maybe help on the practice squad. Love the guy's attitude & will always root for him while in that jersey. But do you concede his lack of tackling ability is a glaring detriment to our defense? 

-- Dan, New York City, NY

Hey Dan: I don’t share your opinion about Skrine. While his size and strength always will make tackling a challenge for him, Skrine has the one essential quality for the position – he has the “want to” to tackle. If every player on defense had his attitude, the bigger guys would be better tacklers.

Hey Tony: I went to the Jacksonville game last Sunday and witnessed that mess in person. I got a couple of questions. 1. Have you been told or identified what the gameplan was on offense? I mean the coaches had tape on those guys right? 2. After seeing the defense in person I got to ask who signed off on the scheme of the run pursuit? I saw D-linemen and linebacker blocking each other out of the play, wrong pursuit angles, very poor tackling …Whitner, Dansby and Desmond Bryant looked terrible or the defense that is being called made them look that bad. 3. I had pretty good seats down by the field which was great when the play was right in front of me, but relied on the big screen to watch plays develop. I got to ask how could either coordinator see anything from the field to properly call a game?

 -- John, Tampa, FL

Hey John: 1. The gameplan was the same as every game for them – run the ball to set up the play-action passing game. The problem was Jacksonville stopped the running game, did not respect the play-action and forced Brian Hoyer to beat them from the pocket – and he couldn’t get it done. 2. I don’t know the technical reasons, but the run defense in particular does not seem to be a well-oiled, coordinated effort at present. 3. Some coordinators want to be on the field for the benefit of talking directly with players on the sideline in between possessions. They use assistant coaches upstairs in the booth as their “eye in the sky.”

Hey Tony: I think it may be a little far-fetched but do you think the coaches made the offensive playbook vanilla against JAX to see if Hoyer could win that game like a good, effective QB should? The offense showed no life and the coaches did nothing to inject any into the game. It was as if this was Hoyer's game to win or lose with his talent and leadership alone. We can make all the excuse we want but a good QB wins that game and I think when Pettine said, "Our offense took a huge step backwards" he was referring to Hoyer particularly. I think that game exposed a lot of Hoyer's inherent flaws that his hot streaks and comeback wins over up. Thanks.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: No, I don’t believe in your conspiracy theory. Yes, I believe it was a game Hoyer could have won despite the bad day experienced by everyone, including himself. One pass could have won that game, and it never came.

Hey Tony: John Hughes played the nose tackle position coming out of the University of Cincinnati. It seems that the Browns have been getting very little out of that position this year, and the inability to collapse the pocket in a base 3-4, I assume, has contributed something to the number of big plays that have been unleashed on the Browns defense. From what I've seen in the games, Hughes has actually been one of more consistent players on the line when he is in. Hasn't made many mistakes. Is there any chance that Pettine makes Hughes the primary NT even when Rubin and Taylor are healthy? I know they prefer to use him as a DE, but it seems like it couldn't get any worse at NT, and maybe it's time to see what Hughes has got as a full-time starter at that spot.

-- Josh, Silver Spring, MD

Hey Josh: The No. 1 task of the nose tackle is not to collapse the pocket; the nose isn’t even on the field in pass situations. The Browns want their nose to occupy two blockers in the run game and free up a direct shot at the ball-carrier by a linebacker. Both Rubin and Phil Taylor were natural nose tackles in college and know this role. I agree that Hughes has been a consistent player when in, but it’s not because of his pass-rush ability, in my opinion. Putting him at backup end was the coaches solution to getting him on the field. I’m sure when all the starters are healthy, that is the role Hughes will fill.

Hey Tony: You called it! I think I remember reading something you wrote a while back about the time Gordon’s suspension was reduced where you talked about the season and upcoming schedule. After my wife talked me down off the balcony following the game last Sunday, I took another look at the schedule and remembered what you wrote. We knew IF the Browns could get a win over Pittsburgh, they had an “easy” stretch coming up with Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tampa. We also knew, being the Browns, they would probably lose one of those “easy” games. But if they can rebound and win the next 2 at home they’ll be 5-3. Worst case scenario: they lose to Bengals & Texans and they’re 5-5 with Gordon coming back the following week. Maybe they get on a roll and win 3 or 4 more games to end the year? Do you still feel the same way or did last Sunday change your mind?

-- Jeff, Denver, CO

Hey Jeff: No, I agree if the Browns can get to 5-3, they will be in as good a position at the halfway point as anyone could have reasonably expected.

Hey Tony: Why didn't the Browns have adequate OL replacements? It's nice to carry extra DBs, but our OL needs depth. Heaven forbid Joe Thomas goes down. For that matter, any other injury would be devastating. McQuistan, Painter and the rehabbing McDonald is it? We have quality backs that can't get enough playing time, but don't have backups to block for them. One injury created two positions with new players. How about trading a back for a quality center? This offense will only go as far as the OL will take them and that will get ugly with another injury.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: The Browns knew the risk of their roster configuration, but their starting offensive line was loaded with ironmen who rarely missed practice time, much less games. Now, one injury to Alex Mack had a ripple effect. If the timing had come, say, two weeks later, Nick McDonald would have been in game shape and ready to step in. The timing was unfortunate. They have to recover quickly. Trading for a center isn’t the answer. No team is going to part with a starting center in the middle of a season.

Hey Tony: Why hasn't there been any talk by the Browns about finding a new return man? The ones on this roster are not getting it done.

-- Dale, Barberton, OH

Hey Dale: Before they seek a new return man I would like to see Travis Benjamin get a second chance. His confidence was shaken early, but he’s had a few weeks now out of the line of fire to regroup.

Hey Tony: I believe the Browns would be a better team “right now” if they had simply drafted Julio Jones (instead of what amounted to Phil Taylor, Greg Little & Brandon Weeden) and Sammy Watkins (instead of Gilbert and a future #1.) So, my question: isn't a bird in the hand worth two in the bush when it comes to potential long term elite talent?

-- Daniel, Toronto, Canada

Hey Daniel: I was instantly against the trade down in 2010. The trade this year still hinges on what the Browns do with the extra No. 1 in 2015.

Hey Tony: I just read where Aldon Smith may get an early release from his suspension for good behavior. What about John Gordon? Same scenario?

-- Vic, Allen, TX

Hey Vic: The NFL’s discipline policies remain a labyrinth of moral repugnancy, lacking consistency or logic. Gordon’s team of high-priced lawyers did not see any reason to fight his suspension. I can only conclude there is much more there than has been reported or commented on. If they’re fine with sitting out for 10 games, why should anyone else be upset with it?

Hey Tony: I have to say, I am worried about Brian Hoyer being a selfish "me first" guy and not a team guy. Just look at what you and others have reported about him this season. That he gave Manziel the cold shoulder during training camp and wanted no part of him. I have even read reports that he refused to speak to Manziel at first and that Hoyer divided the locker room. But the media, and even Coach Pettine played it off as just "competition". Look, I understand competition, but he is also your teammate and fellow QB and it benefits the team that the starter and back up QB at least communicate. Then you reported how Hoyer was "furious" when he was told that Manziel may come into the game for a special package against New Orleans. Again, wouldn’t a "team first" guy be OK with the coaches trying to confuse the defense with a wildcat type series? Then last week, all the reports about Hoyer "refusing to sign with the Browns unless he gets $10 - $12 million per year and only if Manziel is traded.” I know Hoyer denied the reports but you know where there is smoke there is fire. Everything I read and see from Hoyer is that it is all about HIM and not the Browns. Maybe he should have been more worried about Jacksonville last week instead of his contract demands.  Thoughts?

-- Chris, Columbus, OH

Hey Chris: I don’t know where your “reports” of Hoyer dividing the locker room came from. Also, I never reported Hoyer was “furious” about Manziel coming in to the New Orleans game. Further, your reference to Hoyer refusing to sign for anything less than “$10-12 million a year and only if Manziel is traded” is also a fabrication. So, your conclusion is one drawn by the assembly of rumors and fabrications.

Hey Tony: Who is more likely to return punts, Gilbert, Cribbs, or Tebow?

-- Kevin, Salem, MA

Hey Kevin: Always good to end on a funny note.

 

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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Questions about Brian Hoyer's future flooded the inbox

Oct 18, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USAToday

Not surprisingly, questions about Brian Hoyer’s future – his contract, and the ramifications on Johnny Manziel’s future – flooded the #HeyTony inbox this week.

Hey Tony: With the recent reports that came out regarding Hoyer resigning next year I thought I'd give my two cents. I would offer Hoyer a contract in the range of 3y/30m, with team option on the 2nd year and player option on the 3rd. I think a deal structured like this would give Hoyer time prove he is the QB of the future, and he could opt out of the 3rd year and sign for elite QB contract. If not, the Browns could release him after 1 season giving him an opportunity elsewhere. Manziel still under his rookie contract will have time to prove he could be the QB of the future. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

-- Cory, Garfield Heights, OH

Hey Cory: My guess is that type of contract structure would be summarily rejected by the Hoyer camp. The whole point of his agent waiting for the season to play out is to position Hoyer as the quarterback of the present and the future. I don’t think a “prove it” contract would be acceptable if Hoyer already has done that.

Hey Tony: The debate in the national media regarding Hoyer and Manziel will only heat up as the season progresses. Hoyer reminds me a little of Kurt Warner. He came out of nowhere and just performed when given the opportunity. Warner was 27 when he first started in St. Louis and finished his career in Arizona at 38. Another reminder to Browns fans is that the Rams have been trying to find that QB since releasing Warner in 2003. If the Browns sign Hoyer to a long-term deal, do you think that they'll keep Manziel? Will Manziel be the type of player to sit on the bench next year as a backup with no QB competition? I doubt it!

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: I suspect that since Manziel is signed for four years that the Browns would hope that he continues to prepare for the day tht he would ultimately be needed.

Hey Tony: As nice as some early season wins are, Brian Hoyer hasn't earned a new contract yet. The Baltimore game still looms large to me. Division games at home are crucial. How will Brian perform down the stretch? More to the point, how will he hold up physically? How will he perform in November and December? How can the answer come before December 29, 2014?

-- Michael, Blue Ash, OH

Hey Michael: All true. Which is why there is no need on either side to do anything just yet.

Hey Tony: Couple of questions. First, don't you think that it would serve the Browns better to wait until the end of the season to start contract talks with Hoyer, rather than the halfway point of the season? The second half schedule is tougher than the first half, and we get to see how Hoyer handles the Cleveland winter weather. Second, is it really that big of a deal to sign Hoyer to a long-term contract if he proves himself over a full season? I know that the Browns invested a first-round pick in Manziel but if Hoyer continues to win wouldn't it just make more sense to eat that pick and move forward with Hoyer? I know that I could overlook the Manziel pick with the Browns were winning ballgames.

-- Brandon, Winter Haven, FL

Hey Brandon: Yes, they should wait. I reported last week that Hoyer’s agent will use the halfway point of the season to evaluate in his mind the value of a contract he may seek. He doesn’t necessarily expect negotiations to take place at that point. As to your other questions, the Browns obviously invested some draft assets in Manziel (first- and third-round draft picks) for a reason. They felt he was the quarterback of the future. If their evaluation of him hasn’t changed, they could be thinking Manziel could do even better than Hoyer – when ready. And they may feel he will be ready sooner than the rest of us think.

Hey Tony: Quarterback Brian Hoyer, running back Isaiah Crowell and wide receivers Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Miles Austin have all played an important role in the Browns’ offensive success this season. Each of these players entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. Do you think this is an indictment of the NFL's über-hyped draft process?

-- Scott, London, Ontario

Hey Scott: Yes, it is. This week I pointed out in an analysis that the Browns are in position to chase a playoff berth this season without substantial impact from any of their most recent first-round draft choices – Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Barkevious Mingo, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Phil Taylor, Joe Haden and Alex Mack (now out for the year). I think the point is that you can build a credible team with undrafted players, but in order to get to the top, your No. 1 picks must be your impact players. While it’s reasonable to expect to find “diamonds in the rough” because of the sheer volume of players who do go undrafted, winning franchises are not usually the ones that miss on players taken in the first round. Of course, there is time in this season for some of their former No. 1s to make the kind of impact I am talking about.

Hey Tony: When was the last time the browns got a Sunday or Monday night game? NBC and ESPN were probably upset when the Browns drafted Manziel because they were not featured. Now that the team is doing well, what are the chances, should that continue, that they get a game flexed to prime time?

-- Wade, Fort Myers, FL

Hey Wade: The Browns’ last game on a Sunday night was Sept. 14, 2008 at home against Pittsburgh. That was before the current Sunday Night Football package on NBC. The last game on a Monday night was Nov. 16, 2009 at home against Baltimore. New rules allow a maximum of two games to be flexed to Sunday night over Weeks 5-10. There is no limit on games that can be flexed over Weeks 11-17. If the Browns keep winning, future attractive games would be: home v. Indianapolis on Dec. 7, home v. Cincinnati on Dec. 14 and at Baltimore on Dec. 28. I’m guessing the regularly scheduled game on NBC on Dec. 7 would hold up (New England at San Diego), and also on Dec. 14 (Dallas at Philadelphia). But that last date is kept open by NBC … so if the Browns at Baltimore game is for the AFC North title, it has a chance to be flexed. Other potential attractive matchups for NBC in Week 17 would be: Detroit at Green Bay, San Diego at Kansas City, Cincinnati at Pittsburgh and Arizona and San Francisco.

Hey Tony: Love your work. Look forward to Hey Tony weekly from the West Coast.  Two questions: 1. Should there be any concern about Brian Hoyer's low completion percentage (27th in the NFL). He's certainly been playing fantastic overall but this is an area you have harped on when reviewing college QB prospects as an indicator of success. Anything deeper here? 2. Watching the game rewinds, Isaiah Crowell looks more elusive and explosive than Ben Tate.  Are you seeing the same? If so, do you see more touches for the Crow?

-- Steve, San Diego, CA

Hey Steve: 1. No doubt that Hoyer’s completion percentage has to improve, and I suspect it will. I attribute the lower figure to the fact that Hoyer is still relatively inexperienced, based on actual NFL games played (eight career starts). However, in 39 games at Michigan State, Hoyer had a career completion percentage of 55.8. With the Browns, it’s about 60 – so he has shown the ability to improve. 2. I think right now that Ben Tate is the more complete back and is a perfect fit for this offensive scheme.

Hey Tony: Is the Bob Babich that is the Jaguars Defensive Coordinator the same Bob Babich that played for the Browns in the 70's?

-- Tom, Strongsville, OH

Hey Tom: Same name, different person. Babich the former Browns player, 67, was born in Youngstown. Babich the Jacksonville coach, 53, was born in Aliquippa, PA. Now, what confuses the situation even more is that the Browns’ assistant secondary coach, Bobby Babich, is the son of the Jacksonville coach – not the Browns’ player.

Hey Tony: In your article about Browns' nicknames you referenced something that I had forgotten about: the annual Thanksgiving turkey chase for the rookies.  I don't recall ever seeing coverage about it since the rebirth of the Browns. Do the players still do it?

-- Greg, Canton, GA

Hey Greg: I know that when the team restarted in 1999, the turkey chase was revived, but I think it has slowly passed on. I don’t recall the last time I wrote about a rookie falling for the practical joke.

 

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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

#HeyTony: When in doubt, there’s always a story angle on Johnny Manziel

Oct 11, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

When in doubt, there’s always a story angle on Johnny Manziel. Last week, the rookie backup quarterback made news by having a laugh during the Browns’ nightmarish first half in Tennessee.

Hey Tony: Seeing as you are a long-standing staple in the Cleveland sports writers world, I’m hoping you can shed some light. Why is it that certain local writers there seem to have such a vendetta against Johnny Manziel? Case in point: the guy was caught inadvertently smiling on the sidelines Sunday and that little blip resulted in two (TWO) newspaper articles dedicated to the “topic”.  What’s more, these are the same writers who constantly cite the “media obsession” surrounding Manziel, which is both ironic and, I believe, pathetic. Do the sports writers in Cleveland hate the kid, or what? Sure it’s not great to be caught smiling during a loss – I get that – but it doesn’t deserve one, let alone two, newspaper articles either. If you need another example, the Las Vegas bathroom pic made local front page news as well, on the basis of nothing but pure innuendo. Sportswriters should be above that, and we real fans only appreciate real football writing, to say nothing of what it must do to a rookie player. Counter-productive and base all around, I think. Thanks for your work.

 -- Mike, Paris, France

Hey Mike: I don’t believe it has anything to do with not liking Manziel. Personally, I considered the Manziel laughing-on-the-sideline story a non-story. However, I’m slow in accepting the fact that everything Manziel says or does is a story. Why? Because highly-paid editors and network TV producers say so. Because in this world of digital media, anything containing the name Manziel attracts more user clicks. Which is the same reason we chose this question to lead off this week’s column.

Hey Tony: On several occasions I have heard you mention the need to take the football when you win the toss. I for one have always been taking the second half kick-off any chance you get and was wondering if the results in New Orleans and Titans games changed that. In the New Orleans game, NO scored right before halftime and had momentum. Had the Browns not deferred, NO would have had the ball first with the momentum. Instead the Browns got the ball and scored. In the Titans game, the Browns scored right at the end of the half and they got the ball to start the 2nd half and marched down to get a FG. That was a 10 point swing without TENN getting the ball. You could also make the case that having the ball to start the 2nd half against PITT helped in their comeback. I just feel that any chance you have to keep an offense off the field for 2 straight possessions and maintain/stop momentum with halftime is more than having the ball to start. That shows a coach has faith in their defense to make a stop to start the game (which the Browns did in TENN).

-- Dan, Minneapolis, MN

Hey Dan: I’m sure you can run a computer program and calculate all the analytics supporting your position. All I will say is give me a 7-0 lead and I will take that any day over owning the second-half kickoff. If your offense stinks and your defense is dominant, yes, I would defer every time. But I would generally rather have the ball first, march down the field with it and take a 7-0 lead.

Hey Tony: Please remind me of his limitations. Can Josh Gordon run routes in practice to allow our beleaguered secondary a chance to work out with a top-notch receiver?

-- Dave, Washington, DC

Hey Dave: Nice thought, but no. Gordon can attend meetings, lift on his own in the weight room, eat in the dining room with teammates. But he can’t even watch practice, let alone participate.

Hey Tony: Couple questions. 1. Seems like the Colts offense is much more creative this year. How much of this is due to Rob Chudzinski? 2. What is Bernie doing these days? Is he helping the Browns QBs? Talk of the verbose play calls has certainly died down as of late.

-- Mike, Vacaville, CA

Hey Mike: 1. Chudzinski might be contributing some, but the coordinator in Indianapolis is Pep Hamilton, Luck’s former coordinator at Stanford. 2. To my knowledge, Kosar has no role with the Browns – official or unofficial. When Kosar was replaced on the club’s pre-season game telecasts by Solomon Wilcots, there was talk of Kosar transitioning to roles on the team’s Website, daily radio show on 850 WKNR and its pre-season pre-game TV show. But none of that happened. Now, Kosar is a regular contributor on the WOIO Channel 19 “Tailgate 19” pre-game show on Sundays.

Hey Tony: Fans seem to be a bit excited because it looks like we actually have an offense this year. I say fool’s gold. Big reason why is I think our drafts have STUNK lately. Look at this year; Gilbert can't play, same for Manziel and the 4th round CB.  Ok the guard looks decent, big deal. Oh yea, "Kiko" may have a great attitude and hustles but c'mon, he can't play. Tell me I'm wrong, Tony.

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: Despite the slow starts from some rookies that you point out, the Browns have gotten fairly decent contributions from others, such as: running back Terrance West (third round), running back Isaiah Crowell (undrafted), receiver Taylor Gabriel (undrafted) and cornerback K’Waun Williams. By the way, “Kiko,” a.k.a. KeKe, a.k.a. Barkevious Mingo, was drafted by the previous regime.

Hey Tony: We have heard nothing about Pierre Desir. Is he hurt? Does he suck? I know you have mentioned he’s a project but come on, we have guys down. He can’t be worse than what we are seeing out there.

-- Wade, Fort Myers, FL

Hey Wade: I checked in with coach Mike Pettine about Desir this week. He said he always considered Desir a “redshirt” his rookie season because of his lack of experience playing a difficult position against higher caliber competition. Desir played at Lindenwood (MO) University. Undrafted free agents K’Waun Williams (Pittsburgh) and Robert Nelson (Arizona State) were schooled against much better competition and were better prepared to make the jump to the NFL more quickly.

Hey Tony: I understand the frustration with Benjamin after the punt fumble but what about the coaching staff? How do we expect him or the entire unit to excel with the constant changing of punt returner. He has always been one of the most dangerous players on the team in my mind. I don't blame his confidence to be shaken when he is only placed out there periodically. Why do they not just let one person return punts/kicks like with Cribbs? Also, how come you have not been on Sunday Strategy this year? Can we expect to see you soon? One of my favorite Browns shows.

-- Patrick, Charlotte, NC

Hey Patrick: Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said before the season that he did not want to rely on one returner at either kick or punt return, so he intended all along to train a few players for each position. I guess it was for the very reason that has unfolded – if Benjamin did not pick up where he left off before his knee surgery, Tabor did not want the whole return game to collapse. As far as Sunday Strategy, I was informed the week before the season opener that I would not be on the show this season. As for the reason, you would have to contact SportsTime Ohio or the Browns, who have a say-so in the makeup of the panel.

Hey Tony: To what do you attribute the overall improvement of Mitchell Schwartz this season? Is it simply having another year’s experience in the league or does the wide-zone blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan suit him better? 

-- Emery, Bay Village, OH

Hey Emery: You hit on the two major reasons. An overlooked third reason is this: Schwartz first experienced his problems last year when the Browns had a merry-go-round at right guard, due to injuries to Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston. This year, John Greco moved from left guard and has been a stalwart at right guard.

Hey Tony: After this Sunday's huge comeback victory against the Titans, I'm cautiously optimistic about the rest of the Browns' season. Sure, they played most of the game against a career backup QB on a lousy team. But honestly, I think they would have found a way to lose in years past. Now, they seem to be finding a way to win, and that kind of progress cannot be understated. Do you feel, as I do, that if the Browns beat the Steelers this week, and show up for the first half of games, the sky might be the limit? I'm not expecting them to go undefeated the rest of the way, but would a wild card berth be out of the question? Funny what a little solid QB play can do for a team. Who has been saying that for years now?

-- Ted, Longmeadow, MA

Hey Ted: I feel defeating the Steelers is essential for the Browns to maintain hopes of competing for the playoffs. They already are 0-2 in division games; 0-3 would be post-season suicide because of division tie-breakers. I have always said that quality play at the quarterback position covers a lot of warts elsewhere. Brian Hoyer proved that a year ago and is doing it again.

Hey Tony: Can you give us a feel for what full-contact practices for the Browns means? Is there an emphasis placed on tackling? I'm just wondering if the new CBA restricts the type or the amount of full contact which can impact tackling? I sense that maybe there are fewer practice injuries (knock on wood) than anytime in the near past. The Browns overall tackling is atrocious by almost everyone on the field. Yet, watching the Seahawks, they seem to look aggressive and effective at tackling, so it's not a totally lost art. It also appears worse for the Browns in the first couple of quarters of play, like they aren't ready for the contact. What gives with the Browns?

-- Don, Westerville, OH

Hey Don: There are restrictions on how many practices a team can be in full shoulder pads. It’s up to the coach as to how to use those practices. Like most, Mike Pettine does not have full tackling to the ground, as a precaution against injuries in practice. I believe the biggest reason for poor Browns tackling has been defenders being in poor position and taking bad angles to the ball-carrier. The Seahawks don’t practice tackling, but they do spend a lot of time on being in the right position. The great Ravens defenses of past years did the same.

Hey Tony: Love your work. Keeps me abreast of the Browns even from afar. My Questions: With the way the league penalties are currently structured, do you prefer having a highly ranked offense rather than a highly ranked defense if you can only have one or the other (which we seemingly have in Cleveland)? Second question: Have we seen Brian Hoyer's ceiling-- Is his play making the average receivers look better or is their play making him look better and once he has an improved complement around him will he turn into a true franchise QB? Brian the Lion or Brian the lyin'? Finally: I thought Pettine's scheme was supposed to free up a bunch of people for a ton of exotic blitzes and pressures. Seems like we rush four A LOT. Am I missing something?

-- Jason, Tucson, AZ

Hey Jason: 1. I believe to build a championship team, you need one side of the ball to be good and one side to be dominant. You can do it with a great defense/good offense or a great offense/good defense. I prefer to go the great offense route. 2. I have said since the start of the season we don’t know how good Hoyer can be. After 7 starters overall for the Browns over two years, I believe he is still getting better and we don’t know his “ceiling.” 3. I don’t understand what’s going on defense. While I thought all along the front seven was over-rated, I did not expect what we have seen in four games.

Hey Tony: I'm in a friendly debate with some friends here in southwestern Ohio concerning the state of the Browns. They feel elated that the Browns are 2 and 2, they have a win now mentality. I'm not so sure of this success. Obviously I'm happy with the two wins but I'm not so sure Brian Hoyer is the guy to lead us to the playoffs. I'm not convinced he sees all of the field. I'm also not impressed with the play of the defense, and I'm not understanding why the Browns only seem to be able to play in the second half. What's your opinion Tony? Do I have some valid concerns?

-- Greg, Middletown, OH

Hey Greg: Hoyer is the only reason I have any optimism that the Browns can be a very competitive team over the course of the season. The defense scares me, but Hoyer’s ability to lift the play of his offensive teammates is quite a feat.

Hey Tony: I've read that Kyle Shanahan's offense has success because most teams don't run a similar scheme. Thus defenses aren't going up against it in practice and are not adequately experienced. Would this explain why the Browns’ well-paid defense looks inept? They are going up against a scheme in practice they do not see on game day?

-- Bill, Alexandria, VA

Hey Bill: No, can’t buy that one. In training camp, the defense dominated the offense. I suspect the defense has had trouble adapting to the Pettine scheme and will get better over time.

 

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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Questions about the running game lead the way

Oct 04, 2014 -- 7:40pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

As the Browns’ season resumes after their bye, questions about the running game lead the way.

Hey Tony: Kyle Shanahan, like his dad, seems to be able to manufacture a running game wherever he goes. The Browns, for the 1st time I can remember since maybe Mack & Byner, have a legitimate running attack with depth at the position. So is it the Shanahan offense that makes good RBs or are they just better at drafting & signing RBs than anyone else? I don’t care what the experts say about the decline of the RB position and the running game in general if we can run the ball effectively, especially late in games, we can double our win total from last year, right?

-- Jeff, Denver, CO

Hey Jeff: I equate the success of the Shanahans’ running game to the record of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ developing pass rush linebackers. The Shanahan wide-zone running game is a proven scheme which takes a certain style of running back. Plug in the back with the right characteristics – vision to follow the blocks, make one cut and run downhill – and he can play and succeed in the system. The good thing about the pass-craziness in the NFL is this – if you go against the grain and commit to running the ball, those pass-happy teams will struggle to stop you because their defenses don’t get much exposure to the run. Every team strives for balance on offense, but unless you commit to a running game, you’re not going to be good at it. Of course, the quarterback always will have to make pressure throws for the team to go anywhere.

Hey Tony: I keep hearing that Ben Tate is a good receiver and will help Hoyer and the passing game on 3rd downs. Ben Tate's receiving career is not a head turner. Too much is being made of him being a 3rd down back. His stats don’t sell that point. He’s not Greg Pruitt - few are. He has experience over the rookies right now, but we all see Isaiah Crowell’s home run ability is there. Crowell is one RB on the field who can run past DB’s. I wonder how he becomes a good receiver if he doesn’t get integrated into the passing game? He would be dynamic on screens.

-- Bob, New York, NY

Hey Bob: Crowell and Terrance West have been good runners of the ball, but the fact is the Browns had to streamline the offensive playbook with the rookies in there. It’s not so much a question of their catching ability, but of their inexperience in knowing when to release from the backfield and get to the spot on the field where the quarterback is expecting them to be. Mike Pettine said rookie backs generally are so “paranoid” about making their blocks in blitz pickup that they are late in performing the other task of the play, which is to position themselves as an outlet receiver. Through experience, Tate is much better at that. His modest reception totals are the result of his part-time duty in Houston more than anything.

Hey Tony: Enjoy reading your columns and listening on 850. Here is my question. The Browns seem to lack a playmaker on defense.  With all the talk about Mingo, would you consider the following trades a possibility? Barkevious Mingo and one of our 2015 first round picks for Robert Quinn? Mingo, one of our DLs and one 2015 first round pick for Quinn? Both of our 2015 first round picks for Quinn? I'm not in love with Quinn, but he would definitely bring a pass rush element that we are lacking. He is a former first round pick who seems to have developed nicely. I would consider the deal for any defensive playmaker, not just Quinn. I know that trading both first round picks is a lot, but we would be getting a known quantity who seems to have the skill that we need.

-- Mark, Gahanna, OH

Hey Mark: Defensive playmakers are not easily obtainable. No smart team would trade Quinn, one of the best young pass rushers in the sport, for what you’re proposing. The best way to acquire defensive playmakers is to draft them.

Hey Tony: At least Mike Pettine said Barkevious Mingo was the best OLB in pass coverage. From a fan perspective, I look at sacks and tackles. I watched Mingo at LSU and was glad the Browns picked him. However, he's been a little disappointing for such a high pick. Does he remind you a little of Kamerion Wimbley? Not a bad player, but not worthy of the first round. Do the NFL scouts put too much emphasis on speed at the OLB position? The great pass rushers seem to play with a high motor and a nasty attitude. Mingo is a great athlete, but seems to lack that "nasty" mentality. I'm pulling for Mingo because he seems to be such a nice guy.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: Mingo and Wimbley do share some characteristics – the “nice guy” attitude, impeccable character, the fact they were converted college defensive ends, and the lack of counter-moves after their speed move is taken away. I would submit that Wimbley was a much better player than Mingo at the same stages of their careers, however.

Hey Tony: A number of Browns fans still lament the loss of Bill Belichick as the Browns' coach, particularly since he has had so much success in New England. With the rumor that the Browns might be considering a trade to get Tom Brady, I remembered (but could not find) a statistic about Belichick. As I recall, his win-loss record as a head coach is barely over .500 without Brady. Is that true? And what would such data say about this so-called genius coach? What role, if any, did he play in Modell's decision to abscond with the Browns team to Baltimore? Thanks.

-- John, Louisville, KY

Hey John: Sorry, you lost me with the sentence about a rumor of the Browns considering a trade for Tom Brady.

Hey Tony: Now that the FCC has struck down the “blackout” rule, what creative ideas will the NFL generate to induce fans to fork over more money so that the NFL can make up for lost “blackout” revenues and ticket sales?  Thank you.

-- Jim, Norman, OK

Hey Jim: The way I understand it, the NFL can and will continue to enforce the league blackout rule. I don’t think the FCC ruling is going to have much impact. In the meantime, the NFL is relentless in finding other revenue streams and now is consumed with maximizing revenues from wireless devices such as smartphones and mini-notebooks.

Hey Tony: Have you heard or seen anything that makes sense on why the defense is giving up 150 yards a game since the season started? I thought this was a strong point, at least personnel-wise? Is it the scheme or personnel? Any ideas here or have you seen anything that may give us hope this is temporary and should get better?

-- John, Tampa, FL

Hey John: 1. I think the Browns’ defense, particularly the front seven, was over-rated. 2. I think it was taken for granted that it would have no problem adapting to a new scheme and new coaches, and the learning curve has hurt production. 3. I think the early schedule against three Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks and outstanding offensive coordinators contributed to the defense’s foibles.

Hey Tony: I just heard Troy Aikman on Fox touch on loose helmets.  With all the concern with head trauma, it seems a matter of time before a helmet-less player gets badly hurt. My take is that many players do not properly strap on their helmet. I see loose straps all the time. And the trend appears to be more and more helmets flying off. Do you agree and why doesn't the NFL address this? 

-- Tim, Ladera Ranch, CA

Hey Tim: The NFL is trying to crack down on “hands to the face” infractions, and part of the motive is for safety reasons, such as helmets coming off, etc. I see loose straps in between plays but haven’t noticed players lining up with straps unfastened. I know that Doug Dieken has lamented a long time that the NFL does not make mouth guards mandatory. Dieken believes the mouth guard helps prevent concussions.

Hey Tony: Quoting from your response last week in Hey Tony! about Gary Collins chances for getting into the NFL Hall of Fame you wrote: "Because the Hall of Fame has a lopsided number of offensive players already in, the senior committee has adopted an agenda of correcting that imbalance by forwarding more deserving defensive players." Well, what do you think the chances are for the Browns outstanding LB, Clay Matthews, Jr., finally getting elected into the HoF?    He was a great player at a demanding position for many years. Wikipedia writes about him that "He played 19 seasons and 278 games in the NFL (17th most in NFL history). [1] According to one source, he has the third most career tackles in NFL history, with no active player within 500 tackles of his mark." It has always bothered me that lesser players get swept into the Hall of Fame because their team won the Super Bowl. The great players sometimes never win championships (Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski in baseball for example). Is there anything fans of a former player can do to at least get a player discussed seriously? Speaking of Clay Matthews, it still disturbs me that Eric Mangini and company failed to draft Clay Mattthews's namesake son to play for the Browns. Maybe Mangini failed to realize the immense popularity of his father among Browns fans. I think drafting him would have sold many season tickets and brought the similar fan base excitement that drafting Manziel did (for the record, I am not a Manziel fan). Yes, Alex Mack has proven to be a good selection, but I speculate that Mack might have still been available in the second round and even if not, drafting Matthews instead would have been an exciting pick.

-- Erol, Stony Brook, NY

Hey Erol: I’ve been an advocate of Clay Jr., of course. The arguments against him involved not only his lack of Super Bowl appearances – not necessarily wins – but also the fact he had relatively few Pro Bowl berths (four in 19 seasons). The argument often heard in the selection meeting room is: if a player wasn’t considered one of the greatest of his era, how could he be considered among the greatest in the history of the sport? I don’t necessarily agree and will continue to support Matthews, who is on the ballot once again this year. But these are the arguments working against him.

 

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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Should the fans be encouraged or disappointed with the 1-2 start?

Sep 27, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

At the bye week, Browns fans don’t seem to know whether to be encouraged or disappointed with the 1-2 start.

Hey Tony: If Brian Hoyer keeps up the level of play, what happens next season? He will get a lot of lucrative interest. Would the Browns have to make a choice between him and Johnny Manziel?

-- Tom, Chapel Hill, NC

Hey Tom: Manziel is signed for four years. Hoyer is in the final year of his contract. Thus, it’s more urgent, in my opinion, to find out what they have in Hoyer than Manziel. If Hoyer is able to play all 16 games and the Browns finish with a winning record, it’s going to be interesting to see what the Browns do. Hoyer will have put together a decent resume to attract offers in free agency. The Browns would then have to decide if they want to commit to Hoyer or turn the team over to Manziel. This should be a fascinating scenario to unfold.

Hey Tony: In general, you have to be quite happy with the offense in the first three games. Kyle Shanahan has had a nice mix of run to pass ratio so far, but there are a few issues that I was wondering about. First, every one of our running backs (Agnew/fullback excluded ... we finally have a legit one on the roster finally) is essentially the same type … put your foot in the ground, one step cut and run downhill across the grain type of back, which is fine. I was just wondering why not have a "change of pace" type of back on the squad especially for passing downs (I know they have to be able to pick up the blitz, too.) Second, why are there never any running back screens? (There are plenty of wideout screens bubbles/middles/slots/slips) but never any to our backs (I would love to see Isaiah Crowell out in space). When you watch Chip Kelly and also the Patriots they seem to run a bevy of running back screens to their "change of pace" back which seem to always gain huge chunks of yards. Just wondering.

 -- Devin, Concord, OH 

Hey Devin: Dion Lewis had all the characteristics of a change-of-pace back, but the Browns cut him and replaced him with Glenn Wilson, who is another downhill runner. Why no running back screens? I’ll have to ask Shanahan.

Hey Tony: Is Jim O'Neil respected by the defensive players? He's probably bright, high energy, works well with Pettine, but does he have the charisma and presence to get the most out of the talent rich defense? His inexperience calling plays also seems to be evident. He's looking like a young rookie in a critical position. Replacing him is not realistic, but should he sit upstairs and let Pettine command the defense on game day? Should Pettine find an experienced defensive consultant to help O'Neill?

-- Bob, New York, NY

Hey Bob: O’Neil is Pettine’s protégé, just as Pettine was Rex Ryan’s protégé. Since Pettine was in O’Neil’s shows as a young coach, he will be understanding of the learning curve O’Neil must experience. Pettine said this week there is no discussion of moving O’Neil upstairs.

Hey Tony: If memory serves me correctly, the special teams has had rocky starts in a couple of the last years. Tabor's first year I thought he was an abject failure. But Tabor has seemed to right the ship as the year goes on. Is this because he is continually working with a whole new set of players? How many of the current special teamers were with the Browns special teams last year?

-- David, Joelton, TN

Hey David: Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Through three different head coaches, Tabor has to deal with continual roster turnover, and that usually means a slow beginning to the season for the special teams. Some of the core special teams players who were in those roles last year are: Johnson Bademosi, Tank Carder, Eric Martin and Jordan Poyer. Plus, the snap-hold-kick team of Christian Yount, Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff.

Hey Tony: Thank you for the upbeat column today. One thing I'm not so upbeat about is our rookie corner. We all know that Mr. Gilbert was flagged for a critical interference call vs the Ravens. What may not have been so evident is that on our terrific, 4th quarter interception, he was targeted and beaten badly. He was saved by a great pass rush. He was also targeted on the play before the interception. He bit on a short move and was saved by a slightly overthrown pass. Would have been an easy touchdown. Mr. Gilbert had been faked out of his socks. Tough position for a rookie? How are the other top rookie corners transitioning to the NFL so far?  

-- Mark, Branford, CT

Hey Mark: Cornerback in the NFL is tougher to play than ever before. Mike Pettine’s press-corner scheme makes the job even more challenging. Gilbert is going to struggle. Get used to it. He might not turn it around until his second season. It happens. It doesn’t mean he is a bust.

Hey Tony: The defense was supposed to be the Browns strength but instead it is a major disappointment. The passing defense is ranked 27th and the rushing defense is horrible. Why can't they stop the run? Is it a scheme issue or is it the personnel? What can be done this season to fix it? Gilbert seems a liability at this point in his career. Do you think he should play at all in the 4th quarter of a close game?

-- Glenn, Albuquerque, NM

Hey Glenn: All of your questions were addressed internally by Mike Pettine’s staff during their bye week. I would think that the upcoming schedule (Tennessee, Oakland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, in addition to Pittsburgh) would be an opportunity for the defense to work out the kinks in the new defensive system.

Hey Tony: Two questions: Are we missing T.J. Ward in run support? He made a lot of plays in the running game ... can't say the same for Donte Whitner. I know the new regime is high on DBs but in light of the new rules do they need to change their draft philosophy/focus? If DBs are handcuffed by the refs they can't make the same impact as they have in years past. See Joe Haden in the first 3 games.  A special linebacker would seem to make more sense now. They impact both the Pass and the Run.

-- David, Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Hey David: I don’t think Ward’s absence is the reason for the shoddy run support. Your point about the new rules is a valid one. Mike Pettine’s system puts a great responsibility on the cornerbacks to cover man to man. The rules emphasis makes it nearly impossible for cornerbacks to touch, if not breathe, on receivers. The job is more difficult than ever. Maybe Pettine will have to reconsider a change in his philosophy and give his corners more safety help.

Hey Tony: One of the big concerns is defense, specifically the play of Justin Gilbert, whom the Browns traded up to pick at #8 in the first round. He seems to have struggled mightily. By comparison, the next cornerback taken in the draft, Kyle Fuller by the Bears at #14, has been superb and already has three interceptions. Why is Gilbert struggling while Fuller has made such an easy transition to the pros?

-- Rich, Columbus, OH

Hey Rich: Let’s give it more than three games before making judgments on Gilbert.

Hey Tony: I think last week's game against Baltimore brought a lot of us down to earth and really showed we have a long way to go to before we can challenge for the AFC North title. Most telling was our coach's inexperience regarding his inability to manage in-game situations and his lack of will when it comes to taking over the decision making process of his coordinators. Too many stupid penalties, game tempo fluctuating out of control, no defensive discipline, Benjamin not being taken out from returns, and poor late play calling are all things Pettine could have corrected but didn't. Having said that I really like Pettine and Shanahan and believe they will learn from their mistakes and get much better. My question is: Does Jimmy Haslam give them the time? I can not stand these new coaches always coming in, changing systems, adjusting to new responsibilities, inevitably showing flaws and then getting the axe. Do you think Haslam learned a lesson from the way he fired Chud and his staff or do you think all coaches from here on out have a short leash? Thanks.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: I think Haslam is very sensitive about criticisms of being impatient and impetuous. He wants the Ray Farmer-Mike Pettine team to prove he made the right decision in blowing up the football operations department last year. He’s looking for the team to show improvement over the course of the season.

Hey Tony: I have one of those dreaded uniform questions. What is with the all-white this year? Both home games it's been all white jerseys and pants. One more question, is Joe Haden off his game because of a. he got his big contract or b. having a less experienced DB opposite himself makes his job harder? I am a little concerned as this unit is supposed to be a heavily relied on group for this defense. Maybe things will get better the more experience Gilbert has? Thank you and keep up the great work!

-- David, Myrtle Beach, SC

Hey David: I believe the Browns are wearing white on white over the first four home games and brown on white over the last four. And, no, I don’t believe Haden’s early struggles have anything to do with his new contract.

Hey Tony: Do you think Brian Hoyer's grossly weak arm will continue to be a problem especially in bad weather? I mean in the loss to the Ravens, Gabriel  was so wide open on that 70 yard play in the 4th quarter, all Hoyer had to do was hit him in stride and it is an AUTOMATIC 7 points (GAME OVER). There was no one within 25 yards of the Gabriel and he could have walked to the end zone if the ball did not float.  Instead, Hoyer throws one of his patented "floating ducks" and the receiver had to stop, come back … and wait for the ball. And that gave the defense time to catch up and keep him out of the end zone, ultimately it resulted in ZERO points. Hoyer had a receiver 25 yards past EVERY defender and come away with ZERO points thanks to the weak throw. And the same thing happened in the win against New Orleans.  That last play before the field goal, if Hoyer hits Hawkins in stride it is an automatic 7 points (no need for FG), but he throws a duck and Benjamin has to "stop and wait" for the ball and that gave the defense time to make the play. Look, Hoyer is great on short and medium throws but I don’t see him being able to throw the ball down field. Concerned? 

-- Chris, Columbus, OH

Hey Chris: I think you are off base. If Gabriel stays on his feet, the throw hits him right in stride and he goes all the way. I don’t know why he left his feet, but it wasn’t because the ball was underthrown. I think Hoyer’s arm strength is adequate. He is an anticipatory thrower, which helps to minimize the importance of arm strength.

Hey Tony: I had high hopes that our problems with defensing the run would improve. With our free agent signings, the defensive line playing together another year and with Pettine being a defensive coach certainly it would be improved. It appears to be the same old same old. Without a D that can stop the run we will not be a consistent winner. Why oh why has this been going on since 1999 without improvement on a consistent basis? What do we need to do to correct this? I am sick of same old problems year after year. Can you offer any hope?

-- Jim, Banning, CA

Hey Jim: Can we give it more than three games before drawing conclusions?

 

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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Who's the quarterback of the future?

Sep 20, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

One dynamic fourth-quarter win and the pendulum has swung to Brian Hoyer in the ongoing debate about the future of the Browns’ quarterback position.

Hey Tony: Like you, I am a huge Hoyer fan. If free agent Brian continues to display his 4th quarter clutch leadership, leads the team to a winning season, even the playoffs, he will win over ALL critics and the Brian Sipe comparisons will be warranted. Though, Manziel fans will still be complaining. Then what? Do you think he leaves the Browns or gets a new deal? How much would the Browns be willing to pay him knowing Manziel is waiting in the wings? Kaepernick money? I guess it is a good problem, but is it complicated for Farmer, given the first round investment they made in the popular Johnny Football? Please address.

-- Bob, New York, NY

Hey Bob: This is one of the compelling storylines that certainly could unfold. The truth is, nobody knows what Hoyer’s ceiling is. Not even him. If he is able to stay on the field and lead the Browns to a winning record it would only be his first full season as a starter. Will he get even better? The Browns would have to make a projection on Hoyer’s future and craft a contract offer to reflect their evaluation of his value to them. They may feel Hoyer would give them a hometown discount. But Hoyer and his agent, Joe Linta, may feel a real good year on tape would attract legitimate, better offers from other teams. What about the other option of investing in Hoyer and then trading Manziel for draft choice assets? It could become fairly complicated. In 2008, the Browns couldn’t bear the prospect of losing hot-handed Derek Anderson to free agency, so they gave him a big contract at the expense of developing young Brady Quinn. Anderson bombed thereafter and Quinn never got the commitment from the organization to be developed properly.

Hey Tony: After watching the first two games, I’ve have seen a lot of good things out of Brian Hoyer. Do I think he’s our starting QB for the next 4-5 years? I need to see more games, hopefully 16 starts. But what I have seen it the huge separation between Hoyer’s ability to WIN football games and Manziel’s run for your life schoolyard improvising. My worry is that if Hoyer goes down what is the plan? You got Manziel warming the bench that is a project at best and should be on the practice squad. Tony the last 6 quarters looked pretty good and only time will tell if it all keeps coming together and this team starts rolling, but if Hoyer gets nicked for a couple of games we need a real backup QB. What is your opinion here? Is Manziel a high ankle sprain away from being our starting QB? Or is Rex Grossman or other a phone call away?

 -- John, Tampa, FL

Hey John: First, let’s hope Hoyer is able to play 16 games. If not, I think it may depend on the stage of development of the team at the time of a Hoyer absence, the team’s record, and how long he might be out. If Hoyer went down in the first half of the season, I would expect Grossman to be called and take over as the starter because Manziel simply isn’t ready. Manziel would have a better chance of taking over later in the season – if he continues to develop.

Hey Tony: What are your thoughts on Johnny Football coming in for a few plays a game like he did last week? I think as long as Hoyer is moving the team and they’re not too far behind, they should keep the rookie on the bench. I can see bringing him in for a spark if the offense is not doing anything or really struggling in the red zone, then maybe bring Johnny in to try to finish off a drive with a TD instead of a field goal. But he should at least get a series and not just a play here & there. It’s not fair to Manziel to get only 1 play here & there and it sure disrupts any continuity Hoyer might have.

-- Jeff, Denver, CO

Hey Jeff: This is why I think the Browns will continue to flirt with a Johnny Package: 1. Occasionally putting Manziel in for a play or two will compel opponents to devote some practice time to defending read-option plays. The Browns consider that an advantage because it takes times away from preparing for the Browns’ base offense. 2. Playing Manziel intermittently exposes him to the speed of the NFL regular season, which will help Manziel if he is pressed into longer service because of an injury to Hoyer. 3. I suppose the Browns can lull opponents into a false sense of security by having Manziel run a few basic run and pass plays on a regular basis. Keep it close to the vest, week after week, and then – BANG! – if the opportunity presents, hit an unsuspecting opponent with a surprise play from the Johnny Package that might be a game-changer in a critical situation. It would take several weeks to cultivate that scenario, but … you never know.

Hey Tony: Josh Gordon's suspension was reduced to 10 games because under the new agreement a fourth violation carries this term. But ALSO under the new agreement he would NOT have tested positive, so he is serving 10 games for what reason? In my view he never failed a test to deserve a fourth violation, so why not immediate full reinstatement? 

-- Chad, Phoenix, AZ

Hey Chad: The new schedule of discipline contained in the new drug policy says a 10-game suspension comes after a fifth violation. So who knows? The players and the league hide behind the guise of “confidentiality” and refuse to divulge exactly the violations to explain the suspensions. The fact the Gordon camp has taken their medicine without protest strongly suggest there is a lot more there than has been reported.

Hey Tony: I understand that a lot of people want to just stop talking about Josh Gordon and move on but when are we going to get an explanation for the 10 games that he apparently will still be suspended for? If the new rules are applied, then he didn't fail a fourth test. If he didn't fail another test why is he receiving the suspension for it? Does it have to do with 'when' the test was taken? For those who say this suspension isn't about one nanogram it's about the three failed tests before that and the three in college before that, I disagree. This is about one nanogram and 70+ passed tests in a row leading up to it with a pass/fail level waaaaay too low for the rest of the sporting world. NFLPA gets a new drug policy and still fails to protect the players.

-- Greg, Toronto, ON

Hey Greg: I think if Gordon doesn’t want to fight the 10-game suspension, then nobody else should care to.

Hey Tony: What do you think about our 2 minute offense? It looked like it could use much attention and improvement. For instance, we started the final drive against the Saints with just under 2 minutes and all 3 timeouts, and barely, BARELY got down the field for a field goal, whereas Roethlisberger drove down against us in week 1 with :50 seconds and 1 timeout and kicked a field goal. Now I realize the field positions were different, but it just didn’t look like the Browns were in much of hurry and I was flabbergasted watching them burn 10-15 seconds in between plays. Do you think that was the plan to eat up almost the entire clock? I think you would want to score as quickly as possible, or at least get down the field as quickly as possible. Your thoughts?

-- Tom, Akron, OH

Hey Tom: Really? Did you want the Browns to kick a field goal in a minute and leave Drew Brees with a minute to respond? I think Hoyer managed that last drive to near perfection.

Hey Tony: I am a Browns fan but have a non-Browns question based on the latest allegations against Adrian Peterson. As an HOF voter, do you think the child abuse charges will affect Adrian Peterson's election to the HOF in the future?

-- Doug, Carrollton, VA

Hey Doug: By the time of Peterson’s eligibility, all the facts of his case will be well known. If he is convicted of child abuse, I can’t imagine that crime not having a negative effect on voters. I mean, we’re only human.

Hey Tony: With the announcement of HOF candidates, I am once again left wondering why Gary Collins doesn't get consideration from the senior committee.  His career numbers match up very well against some other WRs from years gone by. His numbers are nearly identical to Lynn Swann, for example. Plus, he had a career average of 41.0 yds. on punts. Look at the comparison:

Collins: 127 games, 331 R, 5,299 yds, 70 TDs, 16.0  yds/catch

Swann: 116 games, 336 R, 5,462 yds, 51 TDs, 16.3 yds/catch

 -- Chris, Huntingdon, PA

Hey Chris: I’m a big fan and supporter of Collins. Here’s the problem: It took Swann 15 years to gain induction, ostensibly because his numbers didn’t do justice to his overall impact on the Steelers’ dynasty teams – four Super Bowls in six years. Collins’ numbers certainly compare to Swann’s, but the Browns’ record of one championship pales. Further, the game has changed so much and receivers’ numbers have inflated to a point where it’s extremely difficult to argue Collins’ case. One other point: Because the Hall of Fame has a lopsided number of offensive players already in, the senior committee has adopted an agenda of correcting that imbalance by forwarding more deserving defensive players.

Hey Tony: Since it seems the only criteria for owning an NFL team is having deep pockets and the criteria for being in a high-level administrative leadership position in the NFL is to have brown-nosed your way to the top, what is the likelihood that successful American companies, such as Coca-Cola, would survive in the business world if they were run like NFL teams and the NFL league office?

-- Jim, Norman, OK

Hey Jim: I think you know that answer.

Hey Tony: I am not sure of what's going on but I found myself talking to people Monday morning. Someone said they saw me smiling and laughing and believe it or not I caught myself whistling! This is very scary and very strange. Can you help me?

 -- Joe, Palm Desert, CA

Hey Joe: C’mon now. The Browns were 3-2 after five games last year. Deep breaths.

 

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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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    • VIP Tailgate Ticket Drop at Bonnie's Lounge

    • High School Hysteria at Hudson High School 9/19/14

    • ESPN Tailgate Alfred Learner Way 9/21/14

CALENDAR

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

There are no games scheduled for today.