By Bruce Hooley
The cameras cut away from Jimmy Haslam just when things were getting good on the NFL Road Tested episode recounting the Browns’ trip to Dallas.
Haslam, if you recall, had engaged legendary Cowboys’ player-personnel guru Gil Brandt in conversation after Brandt said he liked several of Cleveland’s young players.
“Really?” Haslam said. “Who do you like?”
Friday, we got the answer on The Hooligans. Along with a lot more interesting comments from Brandt on Brandon Weeden, Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi.
Asked to fill in the cracks on which Browns players he likes, Brandt said:
“I think you have two very good offensive tackles. (Mitchell) Schwartz is a very good football player and everyone likes Joe Thomas…I think your center (Alex Mack) is a good player. (Phil) Taylor is a good player. You have good receivers. I like (Joe) Haden I like your running back (Trent Richardson). I think you have the nucleus of a pretty good football team.”
Brandt served as the Cowboys player personnel director from 1960-88, pioneering many of the scouting methods still in vogue in the league today.
How good does Brandt think the Browns can be in 2013? He said he counts them among his five teams who didn’t make the playoffs this past season who should next year.
“I think Cleveland and St. Louis are the best of the five,” Brandt said.
Brandon Weeden is not among those players.
What is your opinion on Weeden and his future in Cleveland?
“I’m not sure how good he is,” Brandt said. “He was good enough to win five games this year. With a little help, he probably would have won seven or eight. I still like (Colt) McCoy. He’s one of my favorite players. I do think the talent level there (on the Browns’) roster is much, much better than it was a couple of years ago.”
How much better can Weeden get under Norv Turner’s tutelage?
“I think Norv Turner could coach you or I and probably win a game with us,” Brandt said. “He is very, very good. Not only is he a good coach, he’s a good person. …The other thing is, he’s a great play-caller. That is an art. If you can be a good play-caller, you have a chance to help your team win one more game every year. That can be the difference between being in the playoffs and almost being in the playoffs.”
Why does Weeden get so many passes batted down and a shorter quarterback, like Russell Wilson, does not?
“Certain people have the ability to hit those windows or lanes or whatever it may be,” Brandt said. “That’s one thing (Wilson) does. He is very good at that. I think the jury is out on Weeden. I think Norv will help him a great deal.
“It’s kind of like a guy playing golf. He might not be a real good putter, but if he gets some lessons from somebody, most of the time they get a lot better. I think that’s what’s going to happen with Norv coaching him.”
Are the Browns in good hands with Joe Banner as Chief Executive Officer?
“I think Joe Banner is really, really good,” Brandt said. “He’s very smart. He knows where he’s going. He’s not bashful about asking people questions about how to get there. So far, they’ve done the right thing.
“...Joe did a great job (in Philadelphia). Joe’s history in the NFL (is that) he was a fantasy football player when he first came into the league. Don’t let that surprise or fool you, because he is very, very knowledgeable in what he’s doing right now.”
What do you mean; Banner was a, “fantasy football player?”
“That was his history,” Brandt said. “When he came to work for the Philadelphia Eagles, he had never been associated with pro football. The closest thing to pro football was, Joe was a fantasy football player, like 80 million of us are now. That’s what I meant by that. I’m not downgrading Joe or anything. Joe is, in my estimation, as good as they come. They are very, very fortunate in Cleveland to have him.
“I’ll tell you one thing, not a lot of things slip by Joe. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get there, and he was pretty successful in all the things he did in Philadelphia.”
What do you think of Cleveland hiring Michael Lombardi as Vice President for Player Personnel?
“Mike Lombardi is a little bit of a controversial man,” Brandt said. “I’ve known Mike Lombardi for many years. I think the only thing you can always talk about is your relationship with a person. My relationship with Mike is that he’s pretty darn good at what he does. He is pretty smart. He knows the rules. He knows the draft. I think he will do a very, very good job. The biggest thing about Mike, he needs to find a way not to say things on the spur of the moment like he has in the past.
“I know this; Mike is very, very smart. He knows the league and I think it a very, very good hire.”
A better hire than if the Browns had gone with a younger, up-and-coming talent evaluator?
“Don’t think Mike isn’t young,” Brandt said. “I know he’s 56, but the guy has a great work ethic and he thinks like a 25-year-old. Don’t worry about him as far as age is concerned. They hired the right guy and time will prove it out.”
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