By Tony Grossi
Leading into the NFL scouting combine, the tone of questions suggested an air of skepticism about the direction of the Browns. But there hasn’t been a major transaction made yet this new season, so attitudes can change when free agency opens next month.
Hey Tony: I’d like your opinion on where to start fixing the Browns. With as many holes as they have, added to the fact that our old friend (3-4 defense) is back and, the owner says they will not be splashy in free agency (what does that mean), where would you begin? I have a feeling our record in 2013 will have some resemblance to that of 2012. However, don’t you think this is the year to finally finish laying the foundation?
-- Jim, Bay Village, OH
Hey Jim: With the foundation laid by the previous regime, the team doesn’t have far to go. Moving to the 3-4 added a few priorities, however, such as a pass rush linebacker and also a bigger run-stuffer on the inside. There are also needs at cornerback, free safety, defensive end, tight end and fullback. I didn’t list quarterback, but it seems the front office considers that a prime need. Somehow you have to figure in the new coaching staff accelerating the development of this team.
Hey Tony: Why doesn’t the NFL adapt the same ruling to total control possession for ball-carriers crossing the goal line as they do to receivers having to have complete control of the football in the end zone? For ball-carriers just breaking the plain of the goal line and then losing the ball, it's still a touchdown. One set of rules for ball-carriers and another for receivers doesn't make sense. If ball-carriers had to keep control of the football while entering the end zone, it would eliminate any second guessing if a touchdown occurred just like they do for receivers having to have complete control of the football.
--Scott, Elyria, OH
Hey Scott: I agree the inconsistency is mind-boggling. I can’t explain it. I would look to correct the situation from the reverse, however. I would loosen up on the restrictions given receivers to maintain control after they hit the ground. I can’t tell anymore what’s a catch and what’s not. I believe once the receiver hits the ground, the play should be over and losing the ball shouldn’t matter. It’s a lot harder to catch a ball than to plow over the goal line. Receivers should get the benefit of doubt.
Hey Tony: When I read about bringing in competition for Brandon Weeden I have yet to read the name Thad Lewis. I thought he did a really good job against the Steeler defense. He was decisive, found a lot of different targets, had close to a 70% completion rating, passed for over 200 yards, as he was getting hit on one play he still almost threw the ball 50 yards in the air. His passes seemed to have good velocity on his sideline throws. I've read he's very smart. All of this and it was just his first start, so he should just get better. What am I missing?
-- Greg, Middletown, OH
Hey Greg: I don’t think Lewis completed a pass longer than 10 yards in his one start against Pittsburgh. He was a better fit in the Pat Shurmur offense than the one now being installed by Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner.
Hey Tony: People seem to take for granted that Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner want to run the same vertical offense they did in San Diego. But I wonder if Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi are actually set on running a zone read offense with a dual threat quarterback. This would explain their pursuit of Chip Kelly, the subsequent hiring of Chud (who ran such an offense with Cam Newton), the Josh Johnson acquisition, and their faint praise of Brandon Weeden. Is this a realistic scenario? Should we start preparing ourselves for an E.J. Manuel-Weeden QB competition?
-- JT, San Diego, CA
Hey JT: I don’t doubt that Banner and Lombardi are infatuated with the zone read offense. They are convinced it is the future of the NFL. If the Browns shift to that philosophy, though, Weeden doesn’t have a prayer of staying. Teams that commit to the zone read offense have to have more than one quarterback capable of executing it. Weeden would be terribly miscast in that style of offense.
Hey Tony: Concerning aging free agent TE Ben Watson, most reports on him speak about his receiving good skills, but not his blocking ability. Recently, I have seen some columns saying the Browns should declare him as this year’s Franchise Player, but again not mentioning his blocking ability. What are your thoughts on declaring him as this year’s Franchise Player … and evaluate his blocking and receiving ability versus younger available free agents ?
-- Alan, Manassas, VA
Hey Alan: I don’t foresee Watson, at age 32 with a history of concussions, returning under this new regime.
Hey Tony: It is draft time. That time of year when every armchair GM like me thinks he has a better ability to find the studs and duds than men who work full time year round and are paid millions of dollars. That said in my amateur review of likely first round picks of the Browns no one scares me more than Jarvis Jones. He has the stats you look for but when I watch his games he is not impressive to me at all. He has little aggression, no explosion, is a poor tackler, is small and weak and often is pushed around by Tight Ends. He has some speed and a good ability to position himself in the right place at the right time but so often ball carriers run right by him to pick up the first down or more. His best statistical game last season was against Florida and it was an illusion. Two of his three sacks came when the QB held on the ball for 5 seconds or more and the blocker covering him just let him go expecting the play to be over. The only sack that demonstrated any ability was his second and that was again only possible due to the QB holding the ball way too long. Even if he medically checks out I would hate the Browns picking him because he is a horrible fit for the AFCN and is totally overvalued. Have you reviewed his performance in games? Am I nuts or do you see the same things? I just can’t see what others see in him. I freely admit it might be because I simply am a fan and not a professional talent evaluator so please feel free to school me here.
-- Este, San Francisco, CA
Hey Este: People I’ve talked to at the NFL scouting combine share your views of Jones. He is by no means a unanimous choice as the best outside linebacker in the draft. He is, however, the top player who played the position in a 3-4 system in college, and that makes him a safer selection to some.
Hey Tony: I know you're against trading back to get extra draft picks, but this is the year to do it if you can find a trade partner. There are three really good left tackles in the draft or even Matt Barkley that a team may want to move up and offer a second round pick. The Browns would still have a pick of these fast 3-4 linebackers with many available. All seem to have plenty of question marks but a lot of potential. That second round pick could then be used to grab a backup QB, like Nassib, Glennon, Bray, Manuel etc. Then the Browns would hopefully start Weeden and utilize his strengths. Maybe in a couple of years the backup QB would be ready to start and wouldn't be a rookie thrown into the fire! What are your thoughts?
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: Trading down requires somebody wanting to trade up. I don’t agree with your assessment that there is a player that would attract a trade up to No. 6 at the pricetag of a second-round pick. The argument for trading down is sound and though I have written against it, I agree the scenario is logical for the Browns. But I just don’t see a dance partner at this time.
Hey Tony: My dad, who was born and raised in Cleveland, passed on to me his love for the Browns, and I have stuck with them ever since, passing on that passion to my own children. For the first time, however, I am tempted to give up hope, since the new regime seems bent on doing unreasonable things: hiring Lombardi, putting Banner in charge of personnel evaluation, throwing Weeden (yet another QB/first round pick) away without proper evaluation and development. After so much losing and franchise ineptitude, is this the time to give up on the Browns? Or should I hang in there, given the new owner, who does seem as if he is really committed to building a first-rate organization, a chance?
-- Mark, Front Royal, VA
Hey Mark: By all means, hang in there. Maybe this group will get it done. If not, I don’t think the new owner will hesitate to try another group. Look how quickly he replaced the new CEO at Pilot Flying J.
Hey Tony: With the background history of Mike Lombardi putting together a tape with Bernie's worst moments to discredit him, why would we expect his "going back to look at the tape" of Brandon Weeden to yield something that would discount his NFL Network assessment.
-- Bob, Philadelphia, PA
Hey Bob: Be nice. It’s Lent.
Hey Tony: Is Brandon Weeden's biggest obstacle to remaining the Browns starting QB Mike Lombardi's ego? How bad would Lombardi, and the rest of the front office, look if Weeden lit it up next year after the comments Lombardi made about Weeden and the Browns during last year’s draft? It seems as though this front office doesn't want to give him a serious chance so that he cannot show them up by improving and having a good year. What are the chances Weeden is on the roster next year?
-Degen, Macon, GA
Hey Degen: Well, how bad would they look if they let Weeden go and he lights it up someplace else? I don’t know if ego is involved. Let’s wait for their final evaluation of him and whether or not they find someone better to replace him.
Hey Tony: If the Browns get another QB and bench Weeden or just get rid of him entirely I really hope I hear their reasons why from Norv Turner. If Banner/Lombardi become the spokes people for the Browns I will forever be concerned that there will be tension and a looming disconnection between coaches and management. In your years of covering the Browns has there ever been a tandem that sparks such anxiety and apprehension going into to the upcoming season? Do you see a possible mutiny on the horizon? Thanks.
-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL
Hey Eliot: Mutiny? Good lord, it’s a little early for that word, isn’t it?
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