Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Managing the preseason: One of the toughest tasks for a first-year NFL head coach – it seems in Cleveland – is managing the preseason.
Too many Browns coaches have been preoccupied with evaluating the bottom of their roster, selecting the final five or 10 spots on the roster, instead of preparing the starters for the season opener. Remember how little Brandon Weeden played last preseason?
The Browns are 1-13 in season openers.
“Our No. 1 goal is to be prepared and ready for Sept. 8,” coach Rob Chudzinski told me. “And finding the roster and building the team go hand in hand.”
It’s not too early for the Browns to think of the Sept. 8 opener against the Miami Dolphins.
“No, not at all,” said receiver Greg Little. “But right now, it’s all about the Browns, competing against the Browns. As we get closer to that date, we’ll tend to turn the focus to the Dolphins. Not by any means have we looked at film on them. But I’ve studied film a lot in the offseason on their DBs.”
This is a fact: Not a single player on the Browns’ roster has started a season 1-0 in a Browns uniform.
“We were talking today about how badly we want to win the first game,” said owner Jimmy Haslam. “We all understand the importance of that. But I think what really counts is how we perform in the last three games vs. how we performed in the first three games. Are we a better team at the end of the year? I think that’s important for all teams, but in particular for young teams.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
In 2009, the Browns started 1-11. They won their last four games. Did that momentum carry over? No. They started the 2010 season 0-3 and were embedded in a losing season by October.
There is a statistic in the NFL that 1-0 teams have twice as much chance of making the playoffs as 0-1 teams.
Starting a season with a loss affects the first month of the season. Before you know it, you’re 0-4 or 1-3 and it’s another double-digit loss season.
Chudzinski has seen both sides of this issue.
He was a Browns assistant in 2004 when coach Butch Davis devoted the entire offseason to stopping then-Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. The Browns won that game, 20-3, their only opening-game win in the expansion era. It didn’t stop them from going 4-12.
On the other end of the spectrum, Chudzinski was offensive coordinator under Romeo Crennel in 2007 when the Browns were drilled by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, 34-7. The Browns proceeded to win 10 of their next 15 games.
So how will Chudzinski proceed as head coach this summer? I know this: Chudzinski installed things in May and June with the Miami Dolphins in mind. But the real tip-off will be how Chud manages the preseason games and how many reps he gives to starters.
T-Rich all smiles: The June minicamp ended with running back Trent Richardson on the sidelines nursing a shin injury and not participating in the last seven practices as a precaution. There was a question about whether Richardson would be ready for the start of training camp. The answer: He was.
Richardson reported to camp, he said, in the best shape of his career, five pounds lighter than a year ago at 225 pounds, and didn’t miss a beat on the first practice of camp.
“It was a great day to be back with my teammates,” Richardson said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been whole with them. To be back in that huddle, to be that guy, to have everybody on my back telling me, ‘Let’s go, let’s get it,’ it’s a great feeling.”
Richardson said he feels “way quicker” after reporting to camp at 225 pounds.
Because of arthroscopic knee surgery following his final game at Alabama last year, Richardson said he came into his rookie camp weighing 230. Then he missed all the preseason games after needing a clean-up ‘scope procedure and weighed about 233 going into the regular season.
He said he didn’t run until the Thursday practice prior to the season opener. Richardson carried 19 times for 39 yards in his first game.
It was an uphill climb all year. Richardson had 109 yards in his second game, and then hit a wall.
“I think as soon as I did catch up, I broke my ribs,” he said.
Richardson missed the 16th game with an ankle injury.
This week, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he hopes to have Richardson carry the ball 300 times, which is about the average for a back in Turner’s offense.
“It’s very important (I play in the preseason games),” Richardson said. “I didn’t get to do that last year. I want to be out there with my team. I feel way better. No surgeries before the season. I ain’t planning on having none this year. It’s on the up-rise right now. I’m gonna be in the best shape I can be when it comes to September.”
DQ pumped up: With the departures in free agency of kicker Phil Dawson and special teams ace Josh Cribbs, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson enters his seventh season as the longest-tenured member of the Browns.
The Browns are 33-63 in Jackson’s career.
“I’m as optimistic as I ever have been,” Jackson said. “The excitement in the building, it’s hard to put it in words. I think everyone is excited about who they’re playing for, on both sides of the ball. I think this year’s really going to be special.”
|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. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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