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Merril Hoge holds up his end of the bargain

Sep 21, 2015 -- 9:51am

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/Hannah Storm

CLEVELAND – ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge hasn’t wavered on his criticisms of former first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel.

Hoge told ESPN Cleveland on the Friday before the Cleveland Browns’ game against the Tennessee Titans that he knew – after watching film of just two college games – Manziel didn’t have the skill set to live up to first-round expectations.

He also said that he would color coordinate his neck wear in “honor of the Cleveland Browns” if Manziel had a solid performance and led the Browns to victory.

The wardrobe agreement was in response to Manziel saying Hoge needed to “worry about his big neckties,” and less about his quarterbacking.

A man of his word.

Still analytical after watching game film of Cleveland’s 28-14 win on Sunday afternoon, Hoge held up his end of the bargain.

In an effort for the Browns to figure out what they really have at quarterback with Manziel, Hoge stands by his belief that he needs to continue to start games, not Josh McCown.

“Without a doubt Johnny Manziel should start (against Oakland),” he said on SportsCenter.




Browns defense responds after disappointing opener

Sep 20, 2015 -- 6:43pm

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND — A rebound performance for the Cleveland Browns defense proved to be more of a confidence boost than a slump buster.

Staring down the barrel of a dry 0-2 start to the season and squaring-off against a rookie quarterback who made national headlines for his record tying four-touchdown debut in week one, the Browns’ defensive unit — this time around — stuck together and maintained their composure throughout.

Complete opposite of their underwhelming performance last week in New York.

“We didn't want the same thing to happen two weeks in a row,” cornerback Tramon Williams told ESPN Cleveland. “Guys were a lot more focused on making sure the game goes the right way.”

Williams was critical of his teammates during the past week, citing that their morale appeared to decline as the first game progressed.

“You never know how it’s going to go, but we’re glad we were able to show something better today,” he added.

Pitching a first half shutout of the Tennessee Titans and recording seven total sacks in the game is definitely a step towards proving, and showing everyone, that they are worthy of their ‘elite’ reputation.

“(The defensive line) did an excellent job for us,” Williams said. “I tell the guys all of the time that it always works as a unit. Coverage and pressure. It works the same. I am just glad everyone was in-sync today.”

Marcus Mariota was forced outside the pocket to throw on the run repeatedly, completing just 21-of-37 attempts. He also fumbled three times, losing two.

“We preach that a lot, stripping the ball and getting the ball out, we practice that a couple of times a week,” said lineman John Hughes. “It’s one of the things that we do individually in practice and we do it in team (drills) too.”

Hughes was credited with one-and-a-half sacks in the game, one of six players to earn tallies in that column.

Mariota had an additional fumble and threw an interception — both of which were called back for irrelevant defensive penalties on Cleveland occurring away from the play’s action.

“There was also a cumulative effect with that we hit (Mariota) a bunch too,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said of their suffocating pressure. “We did a good job and there were a lot of pass plays. When I looked back, he’s picking himself up off the ground.

“Anytime you can do that to a quarterback, not just get the production with the sacks but also affect him, you like to think that it has a cumulative effect over the course of the game.”

There was an instance in the first quarter where Mariota scrambled for a first down but was unable to slide before being hit so hard his helmet popped off and he waited on the ground for an extra second or two before walking gingerly to the sidelines. He also lost his shoe on the play.

“For the most part we knew where the pressures were coming from,” Mariota said of the discomfort he faced in the pocket. “I’ve got to do a better job with the football. Throwing the ball away, getting the ball out of my hand quicker so that we’re not taking unnecessary sacks and losing the football.”

Despite giving up a fourth quarter touchdown to Dorial Green-Beckham, defensive back and team leader Joe Haden bounced back from a dreadful opening performance as well — totaling six tackles and a pass deflection.

“Everybody had such a sour taste in their mouth from the first game and we knew that’s not how we want to play defense,” Haden said. “That’s not our identity and that’s not how we want to play.

“We came out with a passion and an energy that we were ready to go today.”

Karlos Dansby led the way with nine tackles while Armonty Bryant set the volume with two-and-a-half sacks. Rookie Danny Shelton had four tackles playing in front of the regular season home crowd for the first time.

“It was the home opener. Everyone wanted to go out there and do their best,” Shelton said while sporting an orange lava-lava at his locker post-game. “Not only for ourselves but for the fans, the ‘Dawg Pound.’

“I just felt like our defense executed. We did a great job of staying focused and doing our own job. Not worrying about our teammates and making sure the offense is doing anything right. Or if, each other are doing stuff right. We did a great job of staying in the game.”

The Titans did stack 385 total yards and 21 first downs, but areas of improvement are always plentiful after an early season game. Tennessee managed to cut a 21-point lead to just seven midway through the fourth quarter before Johnny Manziel delivered the deciding touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin — a 50-yard pass.

“There is definitely some things to get cleaned up,” Pettine said. “But, overall anytime you hold an offense down for that long you are going to be successful.

“That (defensive) group took the challenge. I think the whole team did.”  




Merril Hoge: Cut Johnny Manziel

Sep 18, 2015 -- 11:57pm

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/ESPN Cleveland 

CLEVELAND – If Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel thinks ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge should worry more about his own “big neckties” and show less concern for his quarterbacking skills – Hoge is willing to take the high road and pay homage to the former first-round draft pick.

During an appearance with ESPN 850 WKNR, Hoge declared that he was picking an “orange and brown” tie out of his extensive collection and would gladly wear it Sunday if Manziel “lights it up” as a starter in their game against the Tennessee Titans.

Manziel’s headline “neckties” remark came in response to Hoge saying that the Browns should “cut bait” and be done with the polarizing second-year quarterback following a three turnover performance in his season debut against the New York Jets.

He defended that opinion with ESPN Cleveland’s Aaron Goldhammer and Emmett Golden.

The lack of success for Manziel thus far was foreseen by Hoge who studied his film and recognized patterns that would prevent him from being a franchise quarterback.

Don’t blame Manziel.

Over-drafting players happens every year in every sport. It is up to the teams’ general managers and scouts to properly evaluate prospects, but sometimes they also have to do what they are told. 

Throw the misconception of Hoge being a “Johnny Hater” out the window. He’s not. He’s an analyst who refused to buy into the hype – instead making judgment for himself. 

His critiques include:

Manziel’s inability to understand elementary fundamentals.

He can’t play under center. 

When things go bad, Manziel panics. 

So what should the Browns do with Johnny? 

But he was a first round pick… 

So much for building the team around him. 

Manziel isn’t really holding the team back though, is he? 

That being said, there is only one way to find out who’s right and who’s wrong. 

How can the Browns avoid being embarrassed, again? 

Sunday will be the test for Manziel, head coach Mike Pettine, owner Jimmy Haslam and suspended general manager Ray Farmer. If he succeeds, and shows flashes of vast improvement, maybe Manziel can string together a solid season and offer glimpses of hope for the future.

If not? What happens next?

Listen to the full interview with Merril Hoge here




Donte Whitner apologizes to fans

Sep 16, 2015 -- 3:25pm

By Tony Cartagena |



CLEVELAND – He wasn’t even asked anything about the topic.  He wasn't prompted by an interviewer or public relations staff member.

Before ending a live interview with ESPN 850 WKNR Cleveland Browns safety Donte Whitner offered an apology to Browns fans worldwide for their embarrassing 31-10 loss to the depleted New York Jets in Sunday’s season opener.

The team was out-played in nearly every statistical category, including rushing yards 154-104.

Coming into the season the Browns perceived strongest position groups included the offensive line and overall defense.

They finished 32nd against the run last year.

Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns while the Browns only forced one takeaway and committed five.

Whitner - an Ohio native - led the team with 10 solo tackles.




Roeper. Ebert. Barnidge?

Sep 15, 2015 -- 9:39pm

By Tony Cartagena |



CLEVELAND – What actually happened to Jenny at the end of Forrest Gump?

Everyone who has seen the movie knows that she passed away on a fateful Saturday morning and Forrest had her buried under a tree. The unanswered question is what she died from.

Some say that the film had an underlying narrative on AIDS and that she died after battling the disease. Others say she was sick with cancer.

Although it is his all-time favorite movie, Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge still doesn’t know what caused the emotional finale to the film nominated for 13 Academy Awards in 1995 – winning six – including Best Picture.

“A lot of people think different things,” Barnidge told ESPN Cleveland. “Nobody knows and they’ve never come out to explain it. It’s an ongoing thing and people are trying to figure it out.

“Everyone has their own opinion.”

As part of the second annual Cleveland Browns Radiothon, fans and movie buffs alike had the opportunity to bid on a VIP movie experience with Barnidge and mystery teammate(s) to be named later. The winning bidder gets to go to the movies with Barnidge and then offer their opinions for his film review.

“I actually write reviews and post them on my own personal website,” Barnidge said of his passion for movie critiques. “I do bring a little notebook and jot down notes as reminders for after for my review. Also get everybody’s opinion, so if I go with someone, I want to know what they thought of the movie and I’ll use that in my review as well.”

Although he doesn’t have an Oscar vote – yet anyways – Barnidge raved about his favorite film of 2015 –The Gift – starring Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton.

“(The Gift) was amazing. I loved the tone of the movie. The darker tone. It is darker than most would like so more younger kids aren’t going to be able to see it. But, the whole movie, the layout of the film, I just loved it.”

The reviews aren’t up yet, but Barnidge’s site ‘’ will have full in-depth analysis of the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it’s released this winter, and Deadpool next February.

Star Wars is going to be amazing,” he said. “The movie I am looking forward to the most, because I have a little comic book nerd in me, is the Deadpool movie with Ryan Reynolds.

“I think he is the perfect character for it and I cant want for that movie to come out.”

Assuredly there will be additional reviews posted between those blockbuster releases and his busy schedule of analyzing game-film and playing throughout the 2015-16 NFL season.

His favorite football movie is Remember the Titans and at the theater he indulges himself with a box of Sno-Caps and a tray of Nachos, in case you thought NFL players only ate healthy all of the time.

From the classics to the supernatural and upcoming releases, Barnidge poses real competition to Rotten Tomatoes once his football career is concluded.

“It has a little bit of everything you could want in a movie,” Barnidge added. “It has a little bit of sports. It has a little bit of comedy. It has a little big of drama. A little adventure and a little action. Everything you could want in a movie, it has.”

He was talking about Forrest Gump, not the current state of the Cleveland Browns.

If a Hollywood studio decided to portray the 2015 Browns on the Silver Screen, Barnidge would title the film, “Silencing the Critics.”

The NFL season is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get?




McCown: Okay with shortening NFL preseason

Aug 26, 2015 -- 11:15am

By Tony Cartagena |



CLEVELAND – At the beginning of his career, current Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown joked that he would have lobbied the league to extend the number of preseason games – maximizing opportunities to showcase talent and secure a roster spot.

With age comes wisdom and now the 13-year veteran journeyman from Sam Houston State relates to both sides of the spectrum.

“It just depends on what side of the room you’re sitting in,” McCown said a day following severe preseason injuries to NFL stars Maurkice Pouncey and Jordy Nelson. “At this point in my career, ‘yes’ let’s shorten it. But, there might have been a point where I was saying, ‘let’s play six games.’ Because there are guys in that locker room that want every game they can to have a shot to make it. So you understand both sides of it.”

The Browns are the ninth NFL team that McCown has played for since being selected in the third round of the 2002 draft – in addition to a stint with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League in 2010.

He also coached high school football in North Carolina after the San Francisco 49ers cut him before the start of the 2011 season.

Pouncey, a pro-bowl center for the AFC North rival Pittsburg Steelers, will reportedly require ankle surgery after being rolled up under in the first quarter of their preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Nelson, finished fourth in the league in receiving yards last season and tied for second with 13 touchdowns, tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on a non-contact play on the Packers’ sixth offensive play.

Recently, Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback Orlando Scandrick both suffered season ending ACL tears on the practice field.

“I always think if those injuries would have happened week one, would it really be that big of a difference?” McCown asked. “Just because it happened in a meaningful game, would it be that big of a difference? Maybe it would be easier to stomach, but you still lost the guy. So I think there are arguments on both sides of it.

“If (preseason) was shortened I don’t think I would have a problem with it.”

Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers was visibly upset during his post-game press conference Sunday, calling the game “meaningless” in reaction to losing his most targeted receiver.

”If you’re going to lose them week one versus losing them in the preseason, at least when you lost them in the preseason you have the time to kind of adjust and make the adjustments that you need,” McCown added. “But, those guys are those guys, especially guys like (Pouncey) and (Nelson). Those guys are those guys for a reason. They’re big contributors. If they were easier to replace, teams would have them all over the place. They’re not. They’re good players.

“It’s just unfortunate. You have to pick it up and rally. We see it all the time with every team; the ‘next man up’ philosophy and all those things.”

Cleveland has been plagued with the injury bug throughout training camp as well. Fortunately – knock on wood, Browns’ fans – their only season ending injury came to fringe quarterback Connor Shaw. Not a knock against Shaw, however, pro-bowl tackle Joe Thomas was rolled up under during practice and was forced to miss a precautionary day with a knee injury. Joe Haden has spent more time over the last week riding the stationary bike in practice rather than participating because of a hamstring issue.

Running backs Duke Johnson, Terrance West and Shaun Draughn have all missed days with minor injuries, but nothing believed to be major enough to jeopardize their seasons.

Linebacker Barkevious Mingo went down early in camp with a meniscus tear that required surgery, but head coach Mike Pettine alluded that he could possibly be back for the season opener on Sept. 13.

Even McCown had to get an X-Ray after jamming his right ring finger in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Scans were negative and although the finger is still wrapped during practices, it doesn't appear to affect his ability to throw. 

“It is what it is, that’s just the way it goes sometimes,” McCown concluded his position on preseason injuries. “You have to pick up the pieces and move on.”




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