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Top 10 reasons why David Blatt is the smartest coach in the NBA

May 20, 2015 -- 6:25pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

In tribute to David Letterman's final show...

Top 10 reasons David Blatt is the smartest coach in the NBA:

No. 10 -- You know, I graduated from Princeton.

No. 9 -- I took this job when no one else wanted it.

No. 8 -- I can speak Italian in post-game press conferences.

No. 7 -- Ha, ha, Hooley, the joke's on you... "aggressivity" really is a word.

No. 6 -- I believed in Delly when none of you other dopes did.

No. 5 -- In case you didn't know, I won 700 games in the Euroleague.

No. 4 -- Remember, you heard it here first, Kevin Love is NOT a max player.

No. 3 -- Don't worry, if I call too many timeouts, I'll make sure the last one is invisible to the officials.

No. 2 -- I motivate LeBron to call great, game-winning, out-of-bounds plays.

No. 1 -- I'm not a fighter pilot, but I play one in the NBA.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The unpredictability and raw emotion of sports

May 15, 2015 -- 10:38am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

I'm always a little baffled when I meet someone, they ask what I do and their response is, "I don't care anything about sports."

A part of me wants to respond like mom did when something unfamiliar showed up on my plate for the first time, "You should try it, because you'll like it."

In a world where many search for a diversion from the frustrations of everyday life, I'll always be mystified how politics, the entertainment industry, the financial world or reality television trump the unpredictability and raw emotion of sports.

Thursday night in the NBA playoffs proved that.

If you foresaw a 94-73 Cavaliers' blowout of the Bulls in Chicago, with LeBron James scoring only 15 points on 7-of-23 shooting, with Kyrie Irving going to the bench with a re-aggravated left knee minutes into the second quarter and with Pau Gasol returning from a two-game

absence and playing well, then I'll have what you're having.

And if you knew the Houston Rockets, down 3-2 and playing before an energized crowd in Los Angeles, would rally from 13 down in the fourth quarter to win by 12 and force Game 7 with MVP runner-up James Harden scoring just two points in the second half and not getting off the bench in the fourth quarter, then buy a lottery ticket today.

This is why we watch, because as much as we think we know, we really never, ever know until we watch.

What odds could you have gotten on Mathew Dellavedova leading the Cavaliers with 19 points?

Would you have bet on the Cavs not just winning, but pulling away, in the third quarter after it took them 5:47 to score their first points?

Did you expect Tristan Thompson to get up and grab another basket of rebounds after getting undercut and taking a fall that could have given him a concussion, a broken arm, a separated shoulder or several herniated discs?

No one did, but these sorts of things happen often enough (we see you, Cardale Jones) to keep us coming back.

Think about it...the Cavs were down 11, staring at a 3-1 deficit in the series with one minute left in the third quarter of Game 4 and came back to win the next three games.

They won Games 4 and 6 in Chicago with James shooting a combined 17-of-53, Irving shooting a combined 4-of-12 and Kevin Love's left arm in a sling.

Dellavedova, Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and James Jones all came up big either offensively, defensively or both at the exact moment the Cavaliers couldn't have survived throughout this series, which is why head coach David Blatt said this last night:

"The power of team trumps all."

Not always, but it can and did in this Eastern Conference semifinal, which means the Cavs have as many playoff wins in their pocket as they're going to need the rest of the way to end Cleveland's 51 year championship drought.

They are halfway home, and while the journey will get tougher from here, who would bet against this team doing the same?

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Depleted Cavs can lock up an unexpectedly-sweet victory over the Bulls during chase for a championship

May 14, 2015 -- 1:56pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Advancing to the Eastern Conference finals was never the end of the rainbow for the Cavaliers, but merely a necessary stop en route to a grander destination.

Vanquishing Chicago, which the Cavs can do tonight at the United Center (8 p.m., ESPN-TV), has since taken on a brighter glow in the wake of so much that has changed since the Big Three came together to attack Cleveland's half-century championship drought.

Dispatching the Bulls and all their irritating pieces -- none more annoying the talentless flop artist that is Joakim Noah -- would now be an achievement worth celebrating and savoring.

Yet winning the NBA title remains the goal, and not just because it's the only appropriate thing for teams to say when they're among the last eight standing at this point in the season.

Hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy still looms as Job One because the longer the Cavaliers play and the more obstacles they smash through, the more do-able reaching that destination seems.

There's something undeniably special about this team.

Sure, its invincibility took a double shot of depression when Kelly Olynk decided to play tug-of-war with Kevin Love's shoulder socket and J.R. Smith tired of get punked by Jae Crowder and decided to punch back.

If that were the only adversity the Cavaliers had to overcome against Chicago, the Bulls would long since be in their rearview mirror and the Cavs would be feet-up, awaiting the Washington-Atlanta winner.

But then Iman Shumpert's groin flared, Kyrie Irving's ankle and knee rebelled, LeBron James turned his ankle, Derek Rose's Hail Mary landed on the money and David Blatt tried to, well... he tried to do something.

But despite all that, here are the Cavs, up 3-2 with the ace in the hole of Game Seven at home, hoping not to need it.

As daunting as winning a second straight game in Chicago seems, think of things from the Bulls perspective.

They need to win two in a row against James, something they have never done in four series against him.

How realistic must that seem after James pulled Benny the Bull's heart of his chest with that Sunday buzzer-beater and then stomped on it Tuesday night with 38 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 0 turnovers?

Irving not only looked, but played like his wiggle and sizzle had returned in Game 4, making half his six three-point attempts and scoring 25 points.

The vacation Chicago enjoyed, putting together a defensive strategy to stop the Cavs without having to worry about Irving's penetration or long-distance shooting -- that's over.

So, it appears, is the mammoth break Pau Gasol's absence has been for the Cavs these past two games.

Gasol promises to be, "out there," for Game 6 on a gimpy hamstring.

What he can give, we don't know, nor is Rose's condition clear.

He missed his final 11 field goal attempts in Game 4 after seemingly injuring either his hand or shoulder.

But you never know with the Bulls whether such scoring struggles are physical or mental, because long before Rose started flexing and grimacing, Chicago missed 27 of its last 34 shots in the first half.

Such lulls have obliterated seemingly-comfortable Bulls leads in Game 1, 3, 4 and 5, two of which Chicago won, but all of which the Cavs were within a whisper of taking.

Limited as they've been, by Love's absence, Smith's suspension and the assorted injuries and adversity that have piled on, the Cavs have been the better team.

And yet the door remains ajar, needing one last final push to lock this series down and move on to the the next.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Pettine and the Browns are being careful to slow play any expectations they have for Johnny Manziel

May 08, 2015 -- 11:49am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

BEREA -- Josh McCown will go into training camp as the Browns' starting quarterback, because someone has to do it, and there's no established No. 2 behind him from the field of candidates that includes Johnny Manziel, Thad Lewis and Connor Shaw.

That news from head coach Mike Pettine will make only minimal headlines even among Browns Nation, tilting toward the tell-me-somthing-I-don't-already-know end of the spectrum from Day One of the team's rookie mini-camp.

As for breaking news, Pettine can count on finding himself in the crosshairs of hatred from the sycophantic supporters of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

It's doubtful Pettine has read all 243 pages of the Wells Report on Deflategate, but he felt comfortable enough with his knowledge to skate close to the fringe of calling Brady and the Patriots cheats for circumventing the rules of the NFL.

Of course, as a former New York Jets assistant coach and one-time confidant of noted Patriots nemisis Rex Ryan, Pettine words will be viewed as agenda-driven in Bahhhstan and everywhere Tommy is beloved.

"He's one of the best ever and it would be a shame to tarnish that," Pettine said of Brady. "I guess we'll see how it plays out. I always had a lot of respect for him, but I also lose a lot of respect for people that cheat."

Asked if 11 under-inflated footballs, a finding of the Wells Report, constitutes cheating, Pettine said: "To me, if you found a way to manipulate the footballs so they're below where they should be, that's skirting the rules."

Pettine avoided whether Brady's actions merit a suspension.

"That's why the commissioner gets paid a lot of money," Pettine said. "He'll get that one figured out."

BIG MAN NOT ON CAMPUS: Pettine said one of the things he likes about the Browns going forward is "our depth on the offensive and defensive lines."

The team bolstered that with first-round draft choices of nose-tackle Danny Shelton and center/tackle Cameron Erving.

But the Browns could have taken a risk by choosing LSU offensive tackle La'ell Collins with one of their many later-round picks.

Collins, a consensus first-round talent, plummeted in the draft when linked to a murder investigation that he appears close to extracting himself from.

"We had that discussion," Pettine said. "We gathered al the information we could and it was a comfort thing. No one felt comfortable making that pick. The word was out there that he would not sign if he was a late pick."

Collins signed a three-year, $1.67-million guaranteed contract with the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.

That signing contradicted statements Collins' agent made to reporters after the first night of the draft. The agent contended if Collins didn't go in Rounds 2 or 3, he would sit out a year and re-enter the draft next year.

The Browns, or any team, could have taken Collins with a late-round pick and owned his rights until the 2016 draft.

Any team using a pick on Collins could have signed him to the same contract as Dallas.

"It was discussed that first day," Pettine said of the Browns' conversations about Collins "For most teams, (serious thought to taking Collins) took place on Day 2. Day 1, nobody had very good information. Day 2, people started gathering as much information as they could."

Pettine said the Browns re-addressed Collins availability after the draft, but stopped short of characterizing the team's interest as intense.

"I know (singing him as a free agent) was discussed, but I don't know if I could say accurately that there was a push for it to happen," Pettine said. "We liked him as a player. Virtually everybody had a first-round grade on him."Does Pettine regret not drafting or signing Collins?

"I don't know if I can answer that until a couple of years down the road," he said.

WHOA, JOHNNY, WHOA: Pettine and the Browns are being careful to slow play any expectations they have for Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

The Browns coach stuck to the organizational view that Manziel need only concern himself post-rehab with putting one foot in front of the other every day.

"We want him essentially with horse blinders on," Pettine said. "Focus on his job, getting up every day, perfecting his craft, whatever it is, the homework the quarterbacks have, come out and work on his footwork, his releases. (We want him) much more concenred about himself than anything else."

Pettine said Manziel, Lewis and Shaw will share snaps behind McCown in a rotation determined by the offensive coaching staff.

"We're not going to start talking competition," he said. "Josh, like I said, will more than likely be the starter coming into camp and in the forseeable future. I don't see that changing."

Pettine, who is attending offensive meetings,  said Manziel has the right answers when called upon and is showing a renewed commitment that several teammates have spoken about.

Pettine said he could not compare Manziel's ability to answer offense-related questions this year to last season, "because I wasn't in those meetings (last season)....I think we're asking more of him in those meetings this year than we did a year ago."

Pettine said McCown's hold on the job is a beginning, not an end.

"I'm not going to commit to a starter for Game 1," he said. "But you have to put someone out there first and it's going to be Josh."

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

LeBron digs in for vintage performance, leads Cavs to rout over the Bulls

May 06, 2015 -- 10:10pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

When LeBron James does what he did Wednesday night, it makes you wonder why he'd ever do what he did Monday night.

It doesn't matter now, of course, unless James decides to retreat from his aggressive-at-the-outset approach in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals back to the wait-and-see-what-develops strategy he employed in Game 1.

The Cavaliers will take -- and need -- the James who scored 22 of his 33 points in the first half of their 106-91 rout of Chicago on Wednesday in the rest of this series and the rest of this post-season.

The LeBron who came within an assist of a triple-double, but scored only 19 points and shot just 9-of-22 in the series opener -- that guy we've hopefully seen for the last time.

James not only played like Vintage LeBron in Game 2, he looked the part, right down to the return of The Headband.

If all it takes is wearing that to wear out the Bulls, then every Cavalier better sport one Friday night for Game 3 at the United Center.

Unfortunately, it will take more, and the hope is the return of J.R. Smith from a two-game suspension will give the Cavaliers a shot of adrenaline and another three-point threat to free James for his diesel-powered drives down the lane.

Now that the series has been evened, the biggest concern shifts to the groin strain Iman Shumpert suffered early in the third quarter.

Magnificent again, Shumpert followed his career-playoff high 22 points in Game 1 by hitting his first three three-point field goals to help the Cavs jump to a 20-6 lead in the first quarter.

That margin grew to 38-18 by quarter's end, hung around the same neighborhood at halftime, 64-45, and lingered in the comfort zone at 72-49 when Shumpert went to the sidelines two minutes into the second half.

Almost immediately, Chicago scored on six straight possessions, 14 consecutive points, and the lead shrank perilously to 72-61.

Instantly, James responded, powering to the rim to stunt the Bulls' rally.

Seemingly calmed by LeBron's steadying influence, the teammates whose arms shortened during the Chicago comeback instantly regrew their chest hair.

James Jones landed a triple off a James assist, then dropped another when Tristan Thompson manufactured an offensive rebound to give the Cavs another possession.

That inflated the lead back to 80-65 with 3:28 left in the third and drained Chicago's realistic hopes of coming all the way back to claim a 2-0 lead in the series.

James just wouldn't have it...not on this night.

Through three quarters, nine of his 13 field goals came at the rim, a place he seemed hesitant to go in Game One.

He also earned nine free throw attempts, after getting just a pair in Game One.

"We're very short-handed right now," James said. "I have to be aggressive. I was a little more aggressive than my usual self. I'm happy I was able to make some plays to help us out."

This is the LeBron the Cavaliers must have.

He can't play Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler even; he must emphatically dwarf the league's most-improved player and the Bulls' No. 2 threat behind Derek Rose.

Mission accomplished, given James' 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes next to Butler's 18-2-1 line on 5-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-7 from 3-point range.

Butler's struggles typified the turnaround from distance Chicago experienced from Game One.

From 10-of-18 in victory on Monday, the Bulls returned to reality with a 7-of-22 showing from beyond the arc.

The Cavaliers closed the defensive loopholes that allowed Chicago so much freedom on the perimeter in the series opener, and no one felt that more than Pau Gasol.

The 7-footer and five-time all-star probably couldn't believe his good fortune, being left open on the pick-and-roll, on Monday night.

But in Game 2, Gasol couldn't even match his 12-point third-quarter in Game 1, finishing with just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting.

Credit Thompson for that and for being an absolute beast on the glass, with 12 rebounds.

Jones gave the Cavaliers the bonus points they'll need from one of their gray-beards on the bench, hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers to score 17 points.

Shumpert finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds, but that essentially came in just one half before he spent the rest of the night riding an exercise bike and going through the motions in what minutes he did play, clearly limited by his groin injury.

Now the series shifts to Chicago, with Smith's return gaining greater significance in light of Shumpert's shaky status.

"It's going to be tough in that building," James said. "I've played in that building multiple times. It's going to be tough to win there."

But much easier, if James stays in attack mode.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Ray Farmer is the latest Browns' GM who's going to prove that his way is the best way

May 04, 2015 -- 7:40am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

I hope Ray Farmer's mother likes the blender he bought her for Mother's Day.

Hopefully, she'll enjoy it as much as his children did the socks and underwear he gave them for Christmas.

That's how Farmer played the 2015 NFL draft: safe, secure, sensible and defensible.

If you were looking for sizzle, flash or an appreciable, across-the-board upgrade to the Browns' plodding and pedestrian skill positions, you came away grateful for Farmer's sincere intentions, but disappointed in his creativity.

Other than the addition of University of Miami running back Duke Johnson, you received no captivating toys. Johnson has shimmy and shake and speed and the promise of turning any snap into an 80-yard touchdown.

He's the sparkling toy race car under your tree.

Farmer just didn't buy any batteries to go with him.

Oh, sure, the Browns drafted versatile offensive lineman Cameron Erving with the 19th overall pick in the first round, and everyone knows a great offensive line makes for a great offense, right?

Of course, it's an adage as old as the leather helmet...run the ball and stop the run and you will be an elite team in the NFL.

So the Browns took Erving, a center/tackle from Florida State, to shore up the offensive line and took 330-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton of Washington 12th to bolster the league's worst run defense.

It was a safe, sensible and defensible strategy to raise the Browns from 7-9 to something better.

Like, 8-8.

That's what the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers were last year with offenses that ranked third and fourth, respectively, in rushing offense and defenses that ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, against the run.

Tell me, if running the ball and stopping the run are crucial to being an elite team in the NFL, why didn't we have a scintilllating Super Bowl between the Jets and 49ers?

Instead, both their coaches got fired.

Houston joined the Jets and San Francisco in having a rushing offense and rushing defense that ranked among the Top Ten in the league. The Texas finished fifth in rushing and 10th in stopping the run on their way to finishing 9-7.

Whoopee!

The Browns have sold their fans on the faulty notion that devoting high draft choices to the offensive line will result in a dominant unit that will bring automatic success.

It remains breaking news in Berea that the modern NFL is a throwing league, with rules stacked to protect quarterbacks and perpetuate the passing game.

Farmer should be commended for not forcing a quarterback selection this year when none loomed on the horizon at a sensible price.

But to bypass wide receivers until the drop-prone Vince Mayle of Washington State in the fourth round (the 19th receiver taken) and skip tight end until taking two prospects in round six smacks of Farmer's continued belief that he is smarter than everyone in the room, no matter how big the room.

If Erving (19) joins Joe Thomas (3), Joel Bitonio (35), Alex Mack (21),  and Mitchell Schwartz (37) on the line this fall, the Browns will have a home-grown unit in which no player was taken above the fifth pick in the second round.

Yet they will surround their quarterback with an undistinguished group of average-by-NFL-standards receivers and running backs, Johnson hopefully exempted.

If Farmer's and the Browns' all-in strategy on the offensive line had merit, wouldn't at least one team with an elite quarterback choose to protect that asset with blockers taken as highly as those in Cleveland?

But in New England, they protect Tom Brady with one first-round draft choice, a second-rounder, a fourth-rounder and two undrafted free agents.

Aaron Rodgers toils behind a line in Green Bay with one No. 1 pick, three fourth-rounders and one fifth-rounder.

The Steelers have two No. 1s in front of Ben Roethlisberger, a No. 2, an undrafted free agent and a left tackle taken 248th overall in the seventh round three years ago.

That is where the constant turnover in Berea has hurt the Browns. Any low-round lineman taken, with the idea of developing him, has probably been caught in the undertow of the coach or GM who liked him being jettisoned in a regime change before that player could progress.

If there's any team in the NFL that would see first- or high-second-round linemen as crucial to its success, it would have to be Denver, to protect creaky old Peyton Manning. But instead, Manning toils behind one No. 1, two No. 3s, a fourth-rounder and a UFA.

The Saints invested the 13th overall pick on Thursday in Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat. Even without him, Drew Brees has been getting along fine behind a line that included no first- or second-rounders.

This isn't to say Erving will be a bust as a Browns offensive lineman, or that Shelton will fade into the nothingness that grips the career of Phil Taylor, another first-round Browns defensive lineman whose impact has been weighty only when he steps on a scale.

But Farmer, like the GMs who preceeded him, just spent too much too early on a commodity that's attainable later in the draft and didn't devote enough effort to upgrading the Browns' skill positions at a time they desperately need it.

He drafted like a GM running scared, because the selection of offensive and defensive linemen can always be defended as long as fans subscribe to out-dated theories that great lines must be built with high draft picks or big free-agent signings.

Instead, great teams find difference-makers at receiver, running back, quarterback, linebacker, defensive back or pass-rusher with high draft choices or big free agent money and strategically build at least some of their lines with lower-round choices or undrafted free agents they develop.

Farmer is the latest Browns' GM who's going to prove that his way is the best way.

Of that, he is certain. So certain, Farmer is trumpeting the theory that he will build an offensive and defensive line capable of physically dictating to the Steelers and Ravens -- teams that have imposed their will on the Browns for years -- and to Cincinnati, which over the last four years has made the playoffs every season and won the most games of any team in the AFC North.

Here's hoping he's right.

Because if he isn't, the socks and underwear can't be returned.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hometown Spotlight: Doran Grant

Apr 27, 2015 -- 8:07am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

NAME: Doran Grant

SIZE: 5-10, 200 pounds

COLLEGE: Ohio State

POSITION: Cornerback

PROFILE: An Akron native who played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Grant started all 15 games for OSU last season and made first-team All-Big Ten. He helped hold Alabama's Amari Cooper to 71 receiving yards in the Buckeyes' College Football Playoff semifinal victory over the Crimson Tide. Started all 14 games in 2013.

STRENGTHS: Grant is fast and physical. He ran a reported 4.32 40 at OSU prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, but could not duplicate that in Indianapolis. Still, his 4.4 time tied three other players for the third-fastest time among cornerbacks. Only Michigan State's Trae Waynes and Florida State's Ronald Darby ran faster. Grant's 21 repititions of 225 pounds on the bench press placed second among corners behind Josh Shaw of USC. Grant has shown a willingness to break through blockers and make tackles near the line of scrimmage on screens and short throws. He is a willing tackler and does a nice job ripping at a receiver's hands during the catch. He is aggressive, but with good instincts not to be fooled. Toughness and durability showed up in Grant's starting his last 29 games at OSU. He is a cousin of OSU wide receiver Devin Smith.

QUESTIONS:  Grant's size is a concern that makes scouts wonder whether he ca play outside against big receivers. OSU's scheme sometimes allowed for large cushions at the line of scrimmage. Pro defenses won't give that ground, so the question becomes whether Grant can play tight off the line and not lose ground. There is some concern that Grant's timed speed doesn't show up on the field and that he often wastes a step or two in coverage.

ANALYSIS:  Grant plays the ball well and is eager to find contact, which may make him a better slot corner or boundry corner. He seems best suited to zone schemes, rather than man coverage. There aren't many cornerbacks who seem to enjoy sticking their nose into the scrum like Grant.

CONCLUSION: Needs more consistency play-to-play to merit a second-round selection. Grant is more likely to go in round three or four.  May not be fluid enough to ever play the field side, but can be plugged in immediately as a third or fourth corner. His aggressiveness makes him a candidate as a factor on special teams until he earns a role on the defense.

CLEVELAND FIT: The Browns seem very set in the secondary, so it's hard to see them devoting as high a pick as would be necessary to grab Grant. That doesn't mean they won't see a lot of him, though. Both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati need help in the secondary because of aging players and a thinning depth chart. Don't be surprised if Grant winds up at either place in the AFC North.

LAST WORD: NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock: "He’s a really good football player, and from all I’ve heard, he’s a great kid and a hard-work ethic kid. He’s the kind of guy I would bet on. I think he’s going to go in the middle rounds. I think he’ll play special teams, and I think he can help a team win.”

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hometown Spotlight: Jake Ryan

Apr 20, 2015 -- 8:57am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

NAME: Jake Ryan

SIZE: 6-2, 240 pounds

COLLEGE: Michigan

POSITION: Linebacker

PROFILE: A Westlake native and St. Ignatius graduate, Ryan repaid Michigan for its confidence in him with an outstanding career that should lead to a mid-round selection in the NFL Draft. Ryan had only Mid-American Conference offers until he visited Ann Arbor and former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez offered a scholarship, which Ryan quickly accepted. He started 41 games for the Wolverines and made 267 career tackles, including 45.5 tackles for a loss. Ryan comes from a strong football background. His father (Wake Forest) and grandfather (Xavier) played college football and so did an older brother and younger brother at Ball State. Ryan was a two-year captain at Michigan and 2014 team MVP. He clearly earned his teammates' respect after returning from an ACL tear in the middle of the 2013 season. A medical redshirt would have been the best thing for his NFL prospects, but Ryan rushed his way back onto the field because his team needed him. He further showed his selfless nature by agreeing to move from outside linebacker to middle linebacker for his senior season again because the team needed him to do so. Ryan made a single-season career best 112 tackles, including 14 for negative yardage, and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his final season.

STRENGTHS: Ryan is a tough run defender and a productive tackler with good burst to the football. He is fundamentally sound with pursuit angles and plays his gaps well. He has adequate straight-line speed to go sideline-to-sideline and shows exceptional instincts and feel for the game. He is one of those players who is always around the ball and arrives with bad intentions. Those attributes make him a coach favorite who is likely to outperform his draft position, either as a two-down starter or as a special teams contributor. His skill set makes a return to outside linebacker likely in the NFL, so he can use his blitz instincts and his pursuit abilities.

QUESTIONS: Perhaps because he played in the middle only one season, Ryan could improve on shedding blocks and reacting more quickly. His aggressiveness can be a detriment at times. He has some limitations moving laterally, which causes him to wind up on the ground too often when he works inside. Sometimes over-pursues a play because of his eagerness to get involved.

ANALYSIS:  Many of the concerns about Ryan are related to him playing in the middle, which is somewhat unfair because of his inexperience at that spot. Teams can look at that as a detriment, or they can look at it as a bonus that Ryan has the versatiity to play both inside and outside, and that he projects as a productive player in both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. He has the size, physiciality and commitment to work and study his way into a very productive NFL player.

CONCLUSION: Ryan is not as fluid as scouts would like, but he's one of those guys who won't wow teams as much on film as he will on the field. Don't undervalue the fact he was coached in college by Greg Mattison, former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. Ryan is likely to improve his weaknesses the more work he gets. It's quite possible he'll become the type of player fan bases of teams that didn't take him will ask, "How did we pass on this guy in the draft?"

CLEVELAND FIT: The Browns could use a productive tackler to improve their run defense. Having found Chris Kirksey in the third round last year, maybe they get lucky again with Ryan in this draft. The Browns' fifth-round choice is No. 147 overall, which is probably too high for Ryan, given the team's other needs. But if he's still there in the sixth round, the Browns have two choices, Nos. 188 and 201, and would be wise to take a hard look at the home-town kid.

LAST WORD: NFL Network analyst Charles Davis: "Ryan isn't going to blow anyone away with his measurables, but he's always around the ball. He might be one of those high-energy guys that makes it very hard for a team to cut him."

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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