By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Be gone: Jadeveon Clowney’s pro day Wednesday in Columbia, SC, marked the last major public scouting exhibition for the Browns to disdainfully ignore.
During the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the made-for-NFL Network event, analyst Mike Mayock noted the many NFL team executives and coaches in attendance and remarked, “Cleveland is conspicuous by not being here.”
It was a common refrain during the month-long circuit of pro days.
The Browns did have a scout and assistant coach at the top-rated South Carolina pass rusher’s public workout, but no major decision-maker. This time the Browns had a plausible explanation: They were working out Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles in private in Orlando, FL, with all hands on deck.
In the past month, GM Ray Farmer did attend a few pro days – Louisville’s, for one – but his attendance seemed almost incidental. Farmer was noted to spend more time examining a mid-round linebacker prospect than the marquee attraction, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The only pro day at which coach Mike Pettine’s attendance was confirmed – caught on camera by the football paparazzi -- was that of University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Pettine later joked that he was checking on his house; he lived in Buffalo last year while working as defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
The unorthodox scouting strategy of Farmer and Pettine has cast the first-time GM and head coach as NFL mavericks and divided their followers into two factions – those who think the Browns are smart vs. those who think the Browns simply think they are smarter than everybody else.
“Can you get something out of the pro day? Yes,” said Charlie Casserly, a former NFL general manager with Washington and Houston and now an analyst with NFL Network. “The more looks you get at a player, the more you see.
“I don’t think it’s a huge thing that they went or didn’t go. I would have gone, but I don’t think they’re missing a whole lot.”
Farmer has explained that he scoured the country last fall attending college practices and games, can easily review the video of all pro days, and intends to conduct private workouts to finalize opinions on the top prospects. Plus, he sees value in keeping other teams in the dark about the Browns’ intentions.
Still, other teams say the same things and they seem to find reason to attend the pro days.
Casserly, who has been less critical of the Browns than most analysts, said, “What they’re doing this year is a little bit different. But skipping the pro days won’t be the reason they pass or fail their draft.”
Two final thoughts on this subject now that the marquee pro days are over:
1. If Joe Banner were still in charge, Browns fans would have universally excoriated the strategy as another example of Banner’s arrogance.
2. By snubbing the pro days, Farmer has subjected himself to some serious second-guessing if his first draft is less than scintillating.
What’s Bill doing?: Reports that the Patriots are visiting with all the top quarterback prospects are raising eyebrows.
Johnny Manziel is supposed to be in Foxboro, MA, on Thursday. Coach Bill Belichick also reportedly spent time visiting with Bortles in Orlando last week and Bridgewater is scheduled to visit the Patriots soon.
Because everyone assumes Belichick is always a step ahead of the pack, theories are all over the board on the coach’s intentions. Among them:
1. Tom Brady is 37 and backup Ryan Mallett is entering the last year of his contract, so Belichick is scouting a future heir to Brady.
2. Belichick is doing his due diligence to gauge trade value in case the top passers fall to the Patriots’ spot at No. 29 and another team comes calling.
If Belichick does make a play for a falling quarterback in the first round, the Mike Lombardi factor comes into play.
When the Browns fired their former GM, they allowed him to immediately join the Patriots. (Remember the image of Lombardi carrying a Browns notebook while working for Belichick at the NFL Combine?) Standard practice would be to block a fired executive from joining another team until after the draft so as to protect the team’s draft intelligence from being shared.
The Browns own the fourth and 26th picks in the first round; the Patriots the 29th. Suppose that Lombardi knows of Farmer’s fondness for a particular quarterback. Suppose Belichick takes a liking to the same quarterback. Lombardi’s knowledge of Farmer’s thinking could prompt Belichick to trade in front of the Browns’ pick at No. 26 to take a player the Browns wanted.
It could happen in any round, really. But news of the Patriots’ sudden interest in the top quarterbacks makes it something to watch for on May 8.
QB hunt: The Browns’ private workouts of quarterbacks are piling up.
Bortles’ on Wednesday followed Derek Carr’s on Monday in Fresno, CA. Next up is Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo in the Chicago area on Friday, followed by Ball State’s Keith Wenning, of Coldwater, OH, on Saturday.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Manziel are also known to be on the Browns’ private workout schedule.
The vibe is increasing that the Browns will concentrate on the quarterback position after their first pick at No. 4. That strategy makes Garoppolo, a prolific passer from the same school that produced Tony Romo (and also Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan), an intriguing prospect.
Garoppolo gained momentum with strong showings at the Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, impressing scouts with a quick release, fundamentally sound throwing mechanics and good decison-making. Garoppolo now is considered a possibility in the vicinity of the Browns’ picks at No. 26 and No. 35.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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