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Browns draft needs: Defensive back

Apr 22, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Fifth in a series analyzing the Browns’ draft needs.

Position: Cornerback.

Roster: Royce Adams, Joe Haden, T.J. Heath, Brandon Hughes, Leon McFadden, Julian Posey, Buster Skrine, Isaiah Trufant.

First, a quiz: Pick the one cornerback on the roster listed as tall as six feet. (Answer at the end.) As negotiations continue for a long-term contract for Haden, the two players of most note are Skrine and McFadden. Skrine’s development was notable last year as he finally started trusting his speed and natural ability to recover when initially beat. Skrine’s charge last year was to play on the outside for one or two plays as the No. 2 cornerback, and then drop inside to cover the slot receiver in 3- and 4-receiver formations. It was a formidable challenge that few NFL cornerbacks master. Coach Mike Pettine was sympathetic and has said he prefers his cornerbacks concentrate on outside or inside – not both. Trufant could be a contender to play inside if Skrine stays outside. As for McFadden, the 2013 third-round pick struggled to get on the field for half a season, and then struggled once he was pressed into service. In an ideal world, McFadden would challenge for a starting spot in his second season and that would ease the burden of this draft. But it may be unrealistic. (Quiz answer: Heath, an undrafted free agent last with Buffalo, is listed at an even six feet tall.)

Needs: Pettine reportedly prefers his corners to play primarily press, man-to-man coverage. A cornerback with decent size to challenge Skrine and ultimately allow Skrine to specialize as the nickel (third) back and complement Haden as the No. 2 starter on the outside.

Top 5 prospects

1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Athletically gifted, he stole the top spot with supreme testing in the draft season. Not a bad career either: Seven INTs in 2013, including two for TDs, plus six career kickoff return TDs.

2. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

Earned the Jim Thorpe Award as the best college defensive back. Not as fast or as big as Gilbert, but he bettered him in the vertical and broad jumps.

3. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

Plays taller and stronger than his 5-11 ¾, 190-pound measurements. Not shy about tackling.

4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State

Final season was a disappointment, marred from the start by a one-game suspension, but may be the first Buckeye drafted this year.

5. Jason Verrett, Texas Christian

The smallest of the first-round cornerbacks (5-9 ½, 189), he can cover the fastest receivers.

Under radar

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

His size (6-2 5/8, 218) is hard to keep under radar, but his production drops him lower in the rankings.

Last word

With Baltimore, the Jets and Buffalo, Pettine has been around good cornerback pairs. Finding a rookie good enough to move Skrine to full-time nickel (third) back would make the secondary stronger.

Position: Safety.

Roster: Josh Aubrey, Johnson Bademosi, Tashaun Gipson, Jordan Poyer, Jamoris Slaughter, Donte Whitner.

The addition of Whitner gives the defense more range, versatility and experience at the strong safety position manned the past four seasons by T.J. Ward. Gipson showed big improvement in his second NFL season and first as a starting free safety, leading the team with five interceptions (one for a TD). Gipson, who is a physical player, isn’t the prototype ball-hawk center fielder, however. Poyer, an October claim formerly with the Eagles, showed some ability and averaged 14.3 yards on punt returns after Travis Benjamin was injured. Slaughter’s rookie season was spent on the practice squad.

Needs: Pettine eyeballed ex-Bill free safety Jairus Byrd in free agency, but the price was too steep. You get the impression he wants a more aggressive ballhawk in the deep secondary.

Top 5 prospects

1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

Blends good hands and ball awareness with an aggressive tackling ability. Real name is Ha’sean.

2. Calvin Pryor, Louisville

A hard-hitting safety with very good coverage skills.

3. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Turned in seven interceptions his last season and then impressed at the Senior Bowl.

4. Terrence Brooks, Florida State

A two-year starter at free safety after switching from backup cornerback.

5. Deone Bucannon, Washington State

An imposing physical specimen who specializes in loud collisions.

Under radar

Tre Boston, North Carolina

Passes the eye test and had 13 career interceptions.

Last word

Whitner is entering his ninth NFL year and will be 29 when the 2014 season starts. Although Aubrey, an undrafted free agent in 2013, was liked by the former regime, it’s not too early to look for a young hitter to groom.

 

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 hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

A former Browns quarterback -- and SEC analyst -- hops on the Johnny train

Apr 21, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The Morning Kickoff …

Ante up: In the 1980s, Gary Danielson was the quarterback mentor to Bernie Kosar. He played a huge role in the Browns’ resurgence, then watched in awe as the football team ignited the city.

Since 2006, Danielson has teamed with Verne Lundquist as the No. 1 college football broadcast team for CBS Sports. So he is an expert on Southeastern Conference football … and quarterbacks … and the Browns … and, well … Johnny Manziel, but we’ll get to him.

“There’s only so many great quarterbacks,” Danielson said. “When you have one, you have to cherish him. The Browns have had a few. It’s been a while.

“The tough part of it for the Browns is that the league is evolving even more so that it’s even more important to have a franchise quarterback than it was even 20 years ago. So, sorry, the price of admission is a franchise quarterback if you’re going to compete to be great.”

You can talk about defense and linebackers and running the ball all you want. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, you talk about those things. And you hope those things that you do have will be enough to win games.

But can you win a championship that way? Seattle did it with Russell Wilson transitioning from “game manager” to “franchise quarterback.”

“You can put together one of those special years, but if you want to have a 10-year run of a franchise, I think you have to have that (quarterback) in place,” Danielson said. “And even if you do, that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win. That just means that’s the ante into the game.”

Johnny Football: There are five quarterbacks from the SEC eligible for the NFL draft this year – Manziel of Texas A&M, A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Aaron Murray of Georgia, and Connor Shaw of South Carolina. Danielson has seen them all.

“Manziel is the only quarterback in the SEC that merits consideration going in the top 8-10 picks,” he said.

“I really believe he’s something special. And here’s the funny part – I think he’s worth the risk.

“Back in the day, when you drafted a quarterback – and the Browns have been through this – if you make a mistake, it devastates your franchise. Now it doesn't devastate your franchise as much. It’s a tough mistake and you’re always saying you could have had ‘that guy.’ But there’s not a lot of sure things in the draft.”

The Browns had a private workout of Manziel in College Station, TX, on Saturday and will host him in a visit to Berea this week. He is the most polarizing player in this year’s draft.

Manziel’s short stature (5-11 ¾ and 206 pounds), his schoolyard style of playing the position, and his penchant for off-field extra-curriculars present great risks in anointing him your franchise quarterback. But Danielson believes the rewards are great, too.

“He has a lot of the traits you could build a franchise around and he would put life into your franchise, but he hasn’t really played in an NFL pocket-dominated offense,” he said. “I still believe that the pocket is where the NFL passer has to thrive.

“You can be Colin Kaepernick after you prove you can operate in the pocket. You can be Russell Wilson after you prove you can win from the pocket. But everything after the pocket is gravy. You still have to win in the pocket.

“If he tries to change NFL football to fit his style I think he’ll have trouble. Kaepernick, he’s 6-4 and rangy, when he started off last year and they were trying to dominate the league, or RG3 was trying to dominate the league, doing something outside of what the rules allow the quarterback to do … the guys are too fast, too big, there’s too much money in that position, there’s too many practice snaps devoted to the quarterback and an injury there is just too devastating, so you have to play within the system and you have to play healthy.

“I think Manziel can figure out the game and I think the smart quarterback coaches will say, ‘Johnny, we don’t want you to run. We want you to get out of trouble and not get hit. You’ve got 18 games (counting postseason) here. Save yourself for the important runs of the game and quit calling those quarterback keeps where you start kind of feeding in to that desire for the guy to run the ball.’”

The ‘it’ factor: Danielson always considered Kosar’s competitiveness his winning edge. He sees the same in Manziel.

“He’s got a lot of moxie. He’s got that intangible, that competitive intangible that Bernie had. He’s gonna find a way to beat you – if it’s possible,” Danielson said. “Bernie had his limitations, and he made them work within his game. Johnny’s gonna have to figure out if he’ll relax his style to the NFL game. I think he can do it.

“Bernie would spend 20 hours a day because it was very important for him to be a great NFL quarterback. Johnny Manziel has not proven long term that he’s willing to dedicate himself and kind of anonymously do the work necessary to be a quarterback.

“But he’s the one that could take kind of a dull franchise (and turn it around).”

“It’s kind of hard for me to say that,” Danielson added, “because it was very important for me playing my years in Cleveland and (knowing) how important that team was to that community … to say now they’ve become dull.

“The fans deserve better than that.”

 

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 hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns Mock Draft 9.0: Opportunity knocks and Ray Farmer answers

Apr 18, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Browns started the draft season by talking to no quarterbacks. They are ending it by talking to virtually every quarterback.

The end result is the same: Nobody knows for sure what they’re going to do.

According to reports, they have worked out and/or will visit with: Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Ball State’s Keith Wenning, Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Miami’s Stephen Morris and North Dakota State’s Brock Jensen.

And now comes the marquee attraction – Texas A&M’s one-and-only Johnny Manziel.

A Browns’ contingent consisting of GM Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine, coordinator Kyle Shanahan and QB coach Dowell Loggains is expected to depart Friday for College Station, TX, to do the dinner meeting and private workout routine with Manziel.

This is the climax of the pre-draft process for the Browns.

Owner Jimmy Haslam, a professed SEC fan and distant admirer of Manziel, has said he will not attend any player workouts. He will get his personal interaction with Manziel when Manziel visits Browns headquarters next week.

Most of the other quarterbacks-of-interest will also pay visits next week as the Browns wrap up their quarterback evaluations.

In mock draft 9.0, we are predicting that Manziel makes a favorable impression on the Browns.

1. Houston: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

Some consider it an easy decision; others a gut-wrenching choice.

2. St. Louis: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

He’s the better pass protector right now.

3. Jacksonville: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida

After much debate, Jaguars choose the conservative route.

4. Cleveland: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

He is the irresistible fruit.

5. Oakland: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Lucky Matt Schaub had Andre Johnson in Houston, now gets Watkins in Oakland.

6. Atlanta: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

Mack’s quick get-off on artificial turf? Yikes.

7. Tampa Bay: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Elite size puts him on a different plane from Watkins.

8. Minnesota: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA

New coach Mike Zimmer takes best available defender.

9. Buffalo: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

Surprise fall for raw, talented lineman.

10. Detroit: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

The only player in the top 10 I have never wavered on.

11. Tennessee: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Ray Horton (remember him?) wins draft-day debate.

12. N.Y. Giants: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

A nod to QB Eli Manning.

13. St. Louis: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

You know there will be shockers. Here is one.

14. Chicago: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Fastest-rising defensive player in the draft.

15. Pittsburgh: WR Odell Beckham, Louisiana State

Steelers generally take cornerbacks much later.

16. Dallas: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

Cowboys need more help on defensive front.

17. Baltimore: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

Funny, Oz. Real funny.

18. NY Jets: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

This would help the offense a lot.

19. Miami: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

Dolphins makeover of offensive line would be complete.

20. Arizona: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

Big-armed pocket passer for the future.

21. Green Bay: FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville

Packers need a center fielder to ogle Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.

22. Philadelphia: WR Marqise Lee, Southern California

Replacement for DeSean Jackson.

23. Kansas City: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State.

Best available receiver here keeps changing.

24. Cincinnati: CB Bradley Robey, Ohio State

Bengals like to collect CBs in first round.

25. San Diego: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame

Zeroing in on defensive lineman here.

26. Cleveland: ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

Best ILB trumps sixth-best WR or fourth-best CB.

 

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 tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns name James Voos, formerly of Chiefs, head team physician

Apr 17, 2014 -- 3:32pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

One of the biggest vacancies in the Browns’ new operation has finally been filled.

The team announced the appointment of Dr. James Voos as head team physician.

The position has been open since the team ended a 40-year partnership with Cleveland Clinic in January and switched to University Hospitals as its medical provider.

Voos, an orthopedic surgeon, had been a team physician with the Kansas City Chiefs the past three years and was an assistant team physician two years with the New York Giants.

At the same time, Voos was named medical director for University Hospitals’ sports medicine program.

Browns GM Ray Farmer became familiar with Dr. Voos while he was director of pro personnel for the Chiefs.

In a statement issued by the club, Farmer said, “As a former NFL player, I have a special understanding of a medical staff’s significance and impact. Especially knowing Dr. Voos’ reputation with the Chiefs, I’m confident this staff, working in conjunction with (trainer) Joe Sheehan and his staff, will be a strong addition to our team’s overall health and well-being, on and off the field. Personally and professionally, I’m excited for the opportunity to work with Dr. Voos.”

Voos graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 2004. He performed his orthopedic residency and sports medicine fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. A magna cum laude graduate of Drake University, he also lettered one year as a defensive back at Drake.

“I am excited for the opportunity to serve the Cleveland Browns organization,” Voos said in a statement. “The safety and wellness of the players is the primary goal of our medical team. Our vision is to provide the players and the community with high-quality and innovative healthcare with University Hospitals.”

The Browns completed their new medical services team by adding University Hospitals’ Drs. Michael Salata, Reuben Gobezie and Robert Truax. Salata and Gobezie are associate orthopedists and Truax becomes the team’s lead medical physician.

Dr. Fred Rothstein, president of University Hospitals Case Medical Center, said in a statement, “We are extremely pleased to have completed an extensive national search to bring to both the Browns players and to Cleveland a highly skilled and accomplished orthopedic surgeon who has spent his career dedicated to professional athletes.

“James will also play a significant role in further developing what will become a nationally recognized sports medicine program for athletes and patients throughout Northeast Ohio.”

 

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 tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns draft needs: Offensive line

Apr 17, 2014 -- 8:55am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Fourth in a series analyzing the Browns’ draft needs.

Position: Offensive line.

Roster: Chris Faulk (t), Reid Fragel (t), Garrett Gilkey (g), John Greco (g), Alex Mack (c), Paul McQuistan (g-t), Jason Pinkston (g), Mitchell Schwartz (t), Joe Thomas (t), Martin Wallace (t), Jeremiah Warren (g).

There are some unknowns as the Browns change offensive systems again and change offensive line coaches for the first time in six years. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s famed zone-blocking scheme, handed down from his father, Mike, requires more agility at the interior positions. Can returning guards Gilkey and Pinkston fit in? The old regime didn’t value Schwartz as highly as former GM Tom Heckert and considered Faulk a potential replacement. How does that mesh with the new regime? Prospects Fragel, Wallace and Warren were acquired by the old regime. What are their futures now?

Needs: Athleticism seems to be the order of the new system, not necessarily bulk. An agile guard (or two) would be nice. Also, because Mack included an opt-out clause after two years in his new contract, a developmental center should be identified, either later or from the undrafted ranks.

Top 5 prospects

1. Greg Robinson, Auburn

A two-year starter at left tackle in a relatively simple offensive system, he has physical characteristics that scream “freak franchise tackle.” At NFL Combine, he measured 6-5 and 332 pounds and clocked a 4.92 40.

2. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

His father, Bruce, made the Pro Bowl as a tackle, guard and center and was a first ballot Hall of Famer after a 19-year career. His uncle, Clay, played linebacker with great distinction, also for 19 years. His cousin, Clay 3, has made the Pro Bowl and has a Super Bowl ring. Would you bet on him?

3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Relatively new to offensive tackle, he is still learning technique and fundamentals. But with a 6-7 frame, weight-room strength and a sub-5.00 40 time, he has the tools to develop into an elite tackle.

4. Zack Martin, Notre Dame

He never played guard in a game until the Senior Bowl, and that was enough to bolster his draft stock as a versatile lineman with sound fundamentals.

5. Morgan Moses, Virginia

NFL coaches and scouts love linemen with long arms. Moses has them. He is 6-6 and has played as high as 350 pounds, but weighed in at a svelte 314 at the Combine.

Under radar

Billy Turner, North Dakota State

A four-year starter at both tackle positions who proved at the Senior Bowl he could play with the big boy schools.

Last word

The signing of McQuistan, who can play guard or tackle, and re-signing of Mack lessened the urgency to use a high pick on the offensive line. But if they preserve all 10 of their picks, look for a couple reinforcements at the interior positions. A two-position player, such as Marcus Martin of Southern California, could be especially appealing.

 

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 tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

A few thoughts on Draft Day

Apr 16, 2014 -- 1:30pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Extra Points …

I have seen the film Draft Day twice, two months apart, and have a few thoughts on it …

* I get a kick out of hearing or reading people in the sports business say, “Now that would never happen.” Really? Do they think that shark in Jaws was real? Goodness, what about Dorothy’s house landing so safely after that blasted twister in Wizard of Oz? You mean that didn’t happen? It’s a movie, folks. Written to entertain. And it does that very well.

* The use of real-life sports media – ESPN’s numerous draft analysts, and ESPN Cleveland’s Really Big Show hosts Tony Rizzo and Aaron Goldhammer – absolutely adds authenticity to the film. The scenes of Kevin Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr. listening to Rizzo and Goldhammer while driving in his car, torturing himself, are priceless.

* I always felt that the great Burt Lancaster stole a portion of Field of Dreams with his portrayal of Moonlight Graham in a cameo role. I feel the same about Frank Langella’s portrayal of fictional Browns owner Anthony Molina. My favorite scene of the movie is Molina bursting into the draft room dead aim at Weaver and screaming, “You son of a …” I would bet that line has been delivered over the years on draft days in real life. Certainly in Cleveland.

* The real-life film clips of the Browns’ relocation in 1995 were thankfully brief but still gut-wrenching. Writers Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman were smart to include them.

* Costner did a great job portraying the incredible tension built in the final hours leading into the draft.

* My real test of a movie’s quality is whether I would watch it a second or third time, or more. Draft Day passes my test. It was interesting, fun, and, for any native Clevelander, emotional.

 

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 tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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