Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi
General Manager Tom Heckert was the big winner in this week’s column. Several emailers rose to his support. At the same time, several wrote to question the validity of the rumor linking Mike Lombardi as a successor to Heckert and voice concern that Joe Banner would consider him.
Hey Tony: Isn't this the time of the year when the General Manager and his staff are scouting college prospects for next year's draft? I ask this because I wonder how the regime change may be affecting Tom Heckert's efforts in building his draft prospects for next year. I can understand waiting until the end of the season to evaluate the coaches, but if Heckert is a goner, shouldn't Haslam and Banner be choosing their new GM now? That, or giving Heckert a vote of confidence so he can concentrate on next year's draft and free agency without the distraction of wondering whether his work will be for naught?
-- Chris, Winhall, VT
Hey Chris: Some GMs do their own scouting and some do not. Heckert is one who leaves the in-season scouting to his scouts. Making a call on Heckert at this time wouldn’t serve any purpose. You don’t do that without a replacement in hand. Besides, Haslam and Banner said everybody would be evaluated after the season.
Hey Tony: In your time following the NFL, who was the finest player you ever saw?
-- Alex, Boston, MA
Hey Alex: Wow, never got this one before. I would name the following players (no particular order) in the group of the best I ever saw, reported on, and interviewed: John Elway, Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Rod Woodson, Earl Campbell, Ed Reed, Tom Brady. I know I’ve left out a few dozen, too.
Hey Tony: I have an old fashioned point of view. Clearly lots of things go into making a winning team – talent, game planning, the right play calls, etc., but in my view the one consistent missing ingredient in the expansion era for the Browns is a ‘winning mentality’. And for me, this cascades down from the top. If the owner has it, then he recognises it in the people he hires – such as CEO, GMs, etc., and then they go onto hire coaches who have it. Put simply, I reckon if a coach has this ‘winning mentatility’ x-factor so to speak, the players believe more in the message being given to them, buy into their practices more, and are convinced each play call is the right one. Thus they execute better, and in tight games, this turns L’s into W’s. I don’t believe Randy Lerner had this and this was reflected in his hires. Recently neither Crennel nor Mangini had it and Holmgren might have had it if he was coaching, but his own pre-Browns history showed that he didn’t have it as anything other than a coach. Thus these were all the wrong hires. Madden, Parcells, Coughlin are easy to identify as having it – and it sure looks like the Harbaughs have it as well. I get the impression that players will consistently stand agog listening to their message and just run through brick walls for them. So having said all that, and based on your own experiences and the time you spend around the organisation, do you see this x-factor in Haslam, Heckert and Shurmur? And if not Shurmur, who do you see it in who could become our next HC?
-- Andy, Glasgow, UK
Hey Andy: I think the owner has it. He wears it on his sleeve. The others? I think GM’s need a great eye for talent and also terrific instincts. Much of their work – but not all – is based on luck and gut feel. Heckert has had his hits and misses, but I think he scores OK on this count. As for coaches, I believe the “it” factor for them is, for lack of a better phrase, an “SOB” gene. They make so many tough calls and are in charge of so many men, answering also to others, they need to be tough SOB’s at heart. I think this gene separates merely good football coaches from good head football coaches. Does Shurmur have it? I’m still not sure, but he has eight games for it to reveal itself.
Hey Tony: Haven't the Browns really been moving away from the West Coast offense the past few games by the types of plays they've been calling?
-- Steve, Geneva, IL
Hey Steve: Do you mean the plays that work don’t look like West Coast plays, and the ones that don’t must be from the old offense? No, seriously, the West Coast offense is more than a play sheet. I do think the Browns are starting to adjust the offense to the talent now available. The deeper passing game, for instance, is a reflection of Brandon Weeden’s arm and Josh Gordon’s size and speed. Also, since the guards have not been able to pull to the outside, the coaches have incorporated the tackles and center to help the perimeter running game.
Hey Tony: I would first like to say how much I have enjoyed your work since you arrived on ESPN Cleveland.com. You have and always will be my favorite Browns beat writer and I look forward to your articles and analysis each day. I would like to know your thoughts on the following data that I discovered the last few days. The Browns have NEVER defeated the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals ALL in the same season! I was shocked when I came across this fact as I was reviewing the few times the Browns have defeated the Steelers in the expansion era. I find it remarkable this info was never brought up from anyone in the organization or media and is yet another reason the Browns seem to always finish in last place. Division wins are the life blood for most NFL teams hoping to clinch a playoff berth. If the Browns defeat the Ravens this Sunday, they will have their best shot in years of completing this division trifecta and a chance at making history later this season, with one win against the Steelers. While I have not been a big fan of Shurmur, it would help his cause to be the first head coach to ever accomplish this feat and he would deserve credit for it. Do you know if the organization realizes this has never been accomplished and what are your thoughts concerning the matter?
-- Todd, Galion, OH
Hey Todd: I assumed, wrongly perhaps, that everyone was aware of that fact. I have done so many stories and analyses on the Browns’ woes in division games that it probably has slipped my mind to flatly state they have never defeated all three rivals in the same year. Be assured that if Shurmur is able to accomplish this feat it will be duly noted – by me and on his bronzed bust in Canton.
Hey Tony: Browns fan since 1960. When is Pat going to allow Weeden to audible?
-- Dario Vodopa, Richmond Hill, Ontario
Hey Dario: Saving it for his 30th birthday present? Truthfully, very few QBs call their own audibles, anymore. That whole helmet speaker system, in which coaches vocalize the plays straight to the QB’s ears, has helped to futher robotize the NFL QB. There are fewer “field generals” than ever before.
Hey Tony: I recently heard Chris Carter say on ESPN that he would catch 25 passes with each hand using the JUGS machine prior to every practice. I wonder if our receivers put that much effort into getting better. What are your thoughts?
-- Jim, Las Vegas, NV
Hey Jim: I’ve seen Browns receivers spend time after practice catching balls spit out by the JUGS machine. Can’t remember them doing it with one hand, however.
Hey Tone: Do you like it when people call you Tone? Actually Tone, I think it makes the questioner sound kinda dumb, don't you Tone!? Keep up the god work Tony!
-- Joseph, Lathrop, CA
Hey Joseph: This question belongs in the Hey Tone column.
Hey Tony: It seems to me that that weekly what-did-this-game-do-for-the-coach's-chances conversation is wholly irrelevant in Cleveland for the first time in a decade. Haslam and Banner don't strike me as the types who will be impressed by 8 games or even one season. Their question will simply be "is Shurmur the best coach we can get for the next 5-10 years for this franchise?" I see a few positives, 1) he has been willing to hire veteran coaches and let them coach, 2) his team of youngsters plays hard for him in spite of a lot of losing. Negatives: 1) the play calling is baffling at times, 2) while I understand living in a stressful situation, his pressers were beyond the pale. (If Holmgren hired him as a friend and WCO accolyte, who needs friends? He sure didn't give him much help in some critical areas.) What do you see as Shurmur's positives and negatives?
-- David, Joelton, TN
Hey David: I think Shurmur was presented with some obstacles that staunched his early growth. I do believe he is just now starting to hurdle them. I like a lot of things about him and do believe he has a chance to earn a reprieve, and that depends almost entirely on the final record. As for specific positives and negatives, I will reserve that answer for a future column, perhaps. I’ve written numerous times of one negative I see – his impatience with the running game. I find this to be a trait of many offensive coordinators in the game today, however.
Hey Tony: I am goin' for the double dip in Saturday's "Hey Tony". You were ON FIRE!! I had to read your Mike Lombardi article three times to verify and validate readings one and two! Never, ever have I read (or heard!!) you beat those war drums. WOW, who are you and what have you done with Tony? Inquiring minds NEED to know!
-- Wes, Dunnellon, FL
Hey Wes: If need be, I have plenty more to say about Lombardi if his rumored link to the Browns becomes stronger.
Hey Tony: Thank you for the article on Mike Lombardi and I also heard the interview with the Hooligans on WKNR. I also remember Mike Lombardi had an infatuation with a rookie lineman with the Browns when he was here. I remember him begging Belichick not to cut the guy and play him because he knew the guy would become a Pro Bowl tackle. And when this guy played, the QB took a beating. Didn't Lombardi also threaten to get a few of the better players on the Browns thrown off or cut. The guy was not a NFL GM.
-- Tom, Parma, OH
Hey Tom: Lombardi is in a role perfectly suited to his communicative skills. He really is good on NFL Network and on radio.
Hey Tony: Say it ain't so. I don't have the background knowledge or experience that you have, but I've read Mike Lombardi's columns and just looking at his résumé he has been here there and everywhere. Tom Heckert has excelled in Philly and in Cleveland at drafting young talent. I really hope the rumors are incorrect. Haslam and Banner seem too sharp for such a misstep.
-- Alex, Orlando, FL
Hey Alex: Let’s hope so.
Hey Tony: I wanted to write you regarding Josh Gordon. It appears at this point that Josh Gordon has top-notch talents, and measurables. Is it me or does the team not utilize him enough? Coach Shurmur and Coach Childress appear to be "featuring" Trent Richardson as a 25 touches a game type of back. It appears though that Josh needs to be more of a "highlight" in the offense with at least 7-8 touches of the ball. Can you elaborate or offer any insight?
-- Rob, Columbus, OH
Hey Rob: It’s only the ninth game overall in the careers of Gordon and Richardson and Weeden. I think the coaches are finding their way in how to complement the talents of each. To me, Gordon looks like one of those big-play types who touches the ball less than a possession receiver, but can impact a game more with one or two big plays. I think he’s coming along fine.
Hey Tony: We have some really nice pieces on this team, and even though it’s taken awhile, I think talent wise, we are better than at any point since we've been back. Our only problem is our coaching staff, especially Pat Shurmur. What do you think our record would be right now if we had a real coach like Eric Mangini coaching this team?
-- Josh, Galena, OH
Hey Josh: It’s a tough question to answer. Does the presence of Mangini mean Rob Ryan would be calling the defense instead of Dick Jauron? And would that mean Brad Seeley coaching special teams instead of Chris Tabor? Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator? Those are a lot of variables. I will say this, Mangini had more experience in the head coach role and had a better knack for doing whatever it took to produce a win. He certainly didn’t have the overall player talent that Shurmur has right now.
Hey Tony: I think it’s safe to say that the Owen Marecic draft pick was a waste. No hands and hasn’t shown the ability to help open holes. Are you hearing anything about the play of Brad Smelley that might be warranting them not bringing him up from the practice squad? His senior year at Alabama he caught 34 passes for 356 yards and 4 TD’s. While still possible, although highly unlikely, the Browns aren’t heading to the playoffs. Why not give him a shot the second half of the season and see what he can do? Thanks.
-- Ryan, Ft. Bragg, NC
Hey Ryan: Yes, Smelley is a more versatile player than Marecic, able to catch a swing pass here and there. But he is not an NFL lead-blocker, and that is why the Browns gave that role to third tight end Alex Smith.
Hey Tony: Is there anything you, or we as fans, can set up to make it clear to Haslam that Cleveland is 100 percent in support of Heckert? The fact that the Browns current roster is comprised of 27 players that do not have 2 full years of experience, battling tons of injuries, going through a gauntlet of a schedule, and STILL looking like the most talent we have had since '99 speaks volumes of Heckert's ability to evaluate. When a 4th round fullback is the only real hole you can point out in a draft record, you are doing something right. Please help us convince Haslam that we want Heckert, for the first time since '99 we are doing things right.
-- Aaron, Columbus OH
Hey Aaron: I can use your question in my column and hope Haslam and Banner see it. With due respect to you and Heckert, I would suggest that Marecic wasn’t the only swing and miss, but even the very best GMs miss a few.
Hey Tony: I hope your information about hiring Lombardi is incorrect. My second game ball last week would go to Heckert. The Browns started seven players from last year's draft and won the game. Furthermore, many of the picks were considered reaches by the national media, including Lombardi. I believe Heckert can be as effective or better than Ozzie if allowed to continue. Maybe the outcry of Brown's fans can influence Haslam/Banner before they make a switch. Would Haslam override Banner on this decision?
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: I don’t even know if Banner truly is considering Lombardi a candidate. Somebody sent me an email saying that Cris Collinsworth and Lombardi were talking up the prospect of him joining the Browns on the latest edition of “Inside the NFL” on Showtime. I didn’t see it.
Hey Tony: I was fortunate last week because the game was broadcast here on the left coast and at one point CBS put up a graphic that stated the Browns led the league in "catchable'' passes dropped at 21. I know this is a young team, I know they're trying to grow together, but do you think it would be a good idea if Brandon Weeden occasionally got into the face of a receiver after an obvious drop? Weeden couldn't do this with veteran receivers, but with this group I think he has the latitude to set some expectations on the field, nothing overboard but firm and on the spot. What do you think? Keep up the great stuff, this has become one of the first websites I check each day.
-- Doug, Orange, CA
Hey Doug: I would be in favor of Weeden doing that on the practice field, but not during the game. Quarterbacks who show up their teammates during a game inevitably lose their ability to lead.
Hey Tony: Are you as impressed as I am with Weeden’s development in regards to not making the same mistakes repeatedly? So far, the fumbling issue of the pre-season has not been a factor. He is not forcing balls into coverage as he did Weeks 1 and 2, and he is also avoiding sacks due to his decision-making. When I watch him play, I feel like we have a real quarterback behind center, and the best is yet to come. I think Shurmur should get some credit for his development as well.
-- Joshua, Fullerton, CA
Hey Joshua: I agree on all counts. I would also suggest that Weeden’s natural ability to spin the ball through the treacherous weather days ahead will instill even more confidence in him among teammates and fans.
Hey Tony: Up your candlelight vigil for Shurmur’s job. I still can't believe you actually admitted that you treat Shurmur easier than Mangini. Once again, I'm right.
-- Mike, Dover, OH
Hey Mike: Have you considered JoeBees?
|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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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