Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mayfield’s big test

Hue Jackson has made it abundantly clear that Tyrod Taylor is his starting quarterback.

He all but said Taylor was the quarterback the Browns thought they traded for shortly before the college draft and proved it with his performance in the recently concluded minicamp.

But the Browns’ head coach has a history, at least in his brief tenure in Cleveland, of saying one thing and winding up doing something entirely different.

All you have to do is look back at how he waffled a year ago when he welcomed four quarterbacks to training camp – returnees Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, veteran Brock Osweiler and rookie draftee DeShone Kizer.

Let’s forget for the moment that none of those quarterbacks are on this season’s roster. At one time or another during the 2017 exhibition season, all but Hogan were given consideration to be No. 1. It started with Kessler, switched to Osweiler and eventually morphed into Kizer, all in a month’s time.

Jackson, the so-called quarterbacks whisperer, unfortunately and unwisely tapped Kizer to lead the team to its embarrassing 0-16 season after Osweiler was cut and Kessler and Hogan didn’t come even close to winning the job.

That is why Taylor is now in Cleveland. His steady, heady and ultra conservative approach to quarterbacking is what the Browns need after winning only once in the last 32 games. At least that is what fans are being led to believe.

The way Jackson states it, it is Taylor’s job to lose. But since No 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield is the only legitimate challenger, the likelihood of that happening falls somewhere between “no way” and “of course there’s a chance.”

As much as it’s Taylor’s job to lose, it is also Mayfield’s job to win. And that will be the prevailing main story, especially with the Hard Knocks crew lurking, when training camp begins in earnest late next month in Berea.

Right now, Mayfield is just out of the National Football League womb. After OTA and minicamp, he is that much smarter, but far, far from being even close to being ready. At this point, that notion is pie in the sky.

Fans have been led to believe that one of the main reasons Mayfield wad the top choice was how tough he was, how competitive he was, how dogged he was, traits the front office believes would eventually translate into winning.

How he comports himself in the next six weeks will go a long way in determining how serious he is about challenging Taylor. If he is the fighter, the competitor, fans can expect a different Mayfield in training camp.

He appears to have gotten the physical part down – operating under center for the first time – and now it’s the mental aspect of the game that needs to be addressed: Calling plays in the huddle, memorizing the playbook, identifying defenses, recognizing weaknesses in the opposition’s defense.

Mayfield’s learning curve in college was quick enough that he twice went from walk-on to starter. The question now is can he make that same leap in transitioning to the much tougher and challenging professional game?

It would be a mistake if Taylor enters the training camp phase of the season confidently assuming he will have the huddle when the Browns open the 2018 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A lot will depend on how quickly Mayfield grasps Todd Haley’s offense to the point where he will make Jackson take notice. It would be reminiscent of what Russell Wilson did in Seattle six years ago when he beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job.

The big difference now is whether Jackson and Haley give Mayfield a genuine opportunity to duplicate Wilson’s feat and supplant Taylor. That is what remains to be seen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

LeBron can’t lose no matter what he does

Now that LeBron James and the Cavaliers have been dispatched rather handily by the Golden State Warriors, let the crazy offseason begin.

Let the nonsensical, bizarre, crazy rumors of whose uniform LeBron will wear next season take over interest in the National Basketball Association {along with the college draft) for the next month or so.

It’s not exactly a Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego scenario swirling around Planet LeBron. The fascination, however, has elicited numerous scenarios, replete with semi-reasoned thoughts, as to his next destination.

It conjured up the situation following the 2013-14 season when the world’s greatest basketball player took his talents to Miami. The speculation was crazy then. It’s even crazier now.

(Full disclosure: Back then, I did not take his departure well. I believed he turned his back on his home area. Yes, he was from Akron, but he was a Clevelander through and through. I railed and had no regrets doing so.)

Now it is different. Completely different.

LeBron has become an iconic figure, one of the few celebrities in the world recognized by just his first name. When he returned to Cleveland four years ago, he made a promise.

In leading the Cavaliers to four straight championship series and by winning the whole thing in 2016, he kept that promise. And it was easy to see that title was the most meaningful of the three he has helped win. More so than the two he won with the Heat.

He did his damndest to make it three, but lack of a quality supporting cast and an outstanding Golden State Warriors team in those four seasons made it impossible.

The immediate future of the Cavaliers is such that even if LeBron surprises everyone and chooses to remain with Cleveland, a fifth straight trip to the finals is a long shot at best.

He is chasing a legacy named Michael Jordan. Despite setting records that will be difficult to break along the way in his 15-year career, he is only halfway to Jordan’s six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.

Unfortunately, that is the standard, fairly or unfairly, by which many people compare the two great players. Jordan is still considered the greatest of all time and LeBron is the chaser.

He is still young enough at 33 and healthy enough to achieve his goal of at least tying Jordan. For the first time in his career, he played all 82 games in the regular season, 104 overall.

In order to accomplish that goal, he needs the right team, the right atmosphere, the right culture. At this point in his career, he deserves that. He cannot get it in Cleveland.

And that is why my reaction when he leaves this time will be decidedly different. It will be with a greater understanding that while his heart will always be in northeast Ohio, his talent belongs elsewhere.

Swirling rumors have him landing in Los Angeles with the Lakers, Houston, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Boston and, yes, Cleveland.

The only way he would follow though on his avowed desire to retire with the Cavaliers is to place family above professional ambitions. His wife’s family lives in the Akron area.

Then again, he owns two homes in the Los Angeles area and one of the unsubstantiated rumors making the rounds says he has enrolled his two sons in a school in the tony Brentwood area of Los Angeles.

LeBron the entrepreneur has also dipped his talents in the motion picture industry and television production and what better place to further that career than Los Angeles.

Other speculation has LeBron winding up in Houston as the final piece of the puzzle as the Rockets inch closer to knocking off the Warriors. Hard to believe there are enough basketballs for LeBron, James Harden and Chris Paul.

Another rumor speculates LeBron recruiting Paul and Paul George to join him with the young Lakers club, much like he did with Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade in Miami.

One of the numerous Boston rumors has Kyrie Irving possibly returning to the Cavaliers with LeBron going to the Celtics in a sign-and-trade to join up with the terrific young studs on the that roster.

And 76ers center Joel Embiid has lobbied long and hard to join him and his highly improved young mates in Philadelphia.

As for San Antonio, playing for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would hold the greatest appeal. LeBron has been an outspoken admirer of Popovich for many seasons.

After the final game of the season Friday night, LeBron said he has “no idea at this point” what he will do. “I’ll consider my family,” he said. “Sitting down and considering everything, but my family is a huge part of what I’ll do. I don’t have an answer for you right now.”

That answer most likely will arrive within the next month, probably after the Cavaliers make the eighth pick of the draft, not knowing what he’ll do.

That’s okay. At this point, he is more than entitled to go wherever he wants and play for whomever he wants. He has earned that entitlement.

After 15 seasons, he deserves to be happy. If that means moving away a second time, so be it. He still will always be the greatest Cavalier. This time, there will be no quarreling from this corner.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Haley’s challenge

One of the most interesting storylines that will be closely watched during training camp involves the offense as the Browns prepare for the 2018 National Football League season.

Todd Haley, the club’s new offensive coordinator, has been charged with the responsibility of awakening a running attack that has been semi comatose at best for the last few years.

And while he won’t have the luxury of calling on Le’Veon Bell to bail him out as he has with the Pittsburgh Steelers the last five seasons, he will benefit from the best corps of running backs the Browns have fielded in a long time.

Now that Duke Johnson Jr. is in the fold ($15.6 million over three years for those who need to know the figures), it will be interesting to see how Haley parcels out touches for Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Johnson.

The challenge will be to keep all three happy and, at the same time, productive enough to make life easier for whoever has the huddle.

Even though the NFL has become a quarterback-driven league, old school purists (like me) still believe a successful ground game sets up the passing game. And with someone like Johnson now securely in his holster, Haley has all sorts of options he can use.

In Pittsburgh, Bell was the Swiss army knife. He did it all – he is a greet runner, catches the football out of the backfield and blocks. The Todd Haley playbook with the Steelers was simple. It won’t be that easy with Cleveland, but at least he has the horses.

Each of his three players has a particular talent that should engender enough touches to satisfy each man. Hyde and Chubb are grinders who can churn out the tough yards, although Hyde showed last season he can also be counted on in the passing game.

Chubb is the X-factor in that aspect of the offense, having played in an attack at the University of Georgia that featured the run game. Haley most likely will try to find out quickly whether the rookie draft pick has soft hands when the football is airborne.

Johnson, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league since arriving in 2015. He came out of Miami of Florida three years ago with the reputation of being a workhorse – he rushed for 1,652 yards in his final season with the Hurricanes – and displayed good hands almost immediately.

When you have a running back who averages 6.7 yards a touch, as Johnson produced last season, you find a way to get him the ball as many times as possible in a game. His 74 receptions last season led the team, more than the total of the next two receivers.

The solution to Haley’s possible conundrum with some much talent at the position probably will be situational. Down and distance will be a factor in a lot of the coordinator’s plans, as will how much he sees Johnson’s continued worth in the passing game.

It can’t be stated strongly enough that Johnson’s skill set poses a large problem to opposing defenses, especially when he flanks either out wide or in the slot. And his ability to run well after the catch makes him that much more dangerous.

Hyde probably will open up as the starter unless Chubb has a sensational training camp and exhibition season. Whoever gets the call initially, though, can expect solid support off the bench and be well rested when called on.

With so much talent at his disposal, it’s pretty safe to say the Cleveland ground game this season under Haley all but insures the club will not scrape the bottom of the 32-team league in points scored as it has the last two seasons under Hue Jackson.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

More news & views

News: The Browns sign free-agent linebacker Mychal Kendricks to a one-year contract and release veteran linebacker Tank Carder.

Views: The improved Cleveland defense just got that much better.

The one area on that side of the football that had talent to begin with but lacked quality depth was linebacker and the Kendricks signing more than took care of that.

He joins rookie draft pick Genard Avery and James Burgess Jr., who filled in nicely when Jamie Collins went down with a season-ending injury early in the 2017 campaign, to give the Browns strength at that position.

The versatility of the six-year veteran is what prompts that notion. He can play anywhere no matter what defensive coordinator Gregg Williams schemes. The possibilities abound

Need a run stop in a 4-3 alignment, Kendricks is your man at the Mike backer. Need someone to cover a tight end or running back on a pass pattern, ditto, whether it’s on the strong side or weak side. Rush the passer, no problem.

Coach Hue Jackson said Kendricks will start off in the middle, but most likely won’t stay there for long in Williams’ scheme-heavy defense. He probably will be hard to locate from down to down due to his versatility.

“I’m here to do whatever is asked of me,” Kendricks said, “and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.  As long as I’m on the field, I’m going to make stuff happen. I promise.” Music to a defensive coordinator’s ears

So where does that leave Joe Schobert, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season at middle linebacker, playing every snap? With Kendricks’ arrival, the chances of duplicating that feat are slim.

He has better football instincts and is a stronger tackler than Schobert, who made many of his 144 tackles last season beyond the line of scrimmage. It wouldn’t surprise if Williams on occasion ines Schobert up as a pass rusher, where he excelled in college.

He came out of Wisconsin after a 9½-sack season with the Badgers and the Browns played him outside as a rookie before moving him inside, where he surprised everyone with his production last season.

Christian Kirksey, a young veteran, joins the versatility brigade, having played inside for a couple of seasons before switching outside last season.

Kendricks, who chose the Browns over the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, brings along a winning mentality to the Browns, whose relationship with winning football has nosedived the last two seasons under Jackson.

“This is my first day here,” he said after Tuesday’s OTA session in Berea. “One thing I know is I will bring intensity, passion, a love for the game, a skill set I hope will showcase itself and leadership.”

Carder’s value was on special teams and his departure is no big loss. General Manager John Dorsey has recruited and/or drafted enough younger players to make the veteran expendable.

News: The Philadelphia Eagles were disinvited to the White House Tuesday for a celebration of their Super Bowl victory.

Views: Nothing here. Moving on . . .

News: Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is promoted to second team quarterback as the OTA winds down.

Views: Jackson called it nothing more than “mixing it up” and “tinkering” after the workout. “There’s nothing behind it. . . . There’s nothing to it," he said.  Nobody should read into it.”

He was quick to assert Tyrod Taylor is still his starting quarterback. “He goes with the ones all the time,” he said. “We’re bringing Baker along. We’re teaching him the National Football League.”

And that, at least right now, is the way it should be. As much as fans would like to believe Mayfield is firmly ensconced behind Taylor with hopes of overtaking him, that’s not going to happen. Yet.

It’s way too early for such speculation. In fact, it’s way too early to take anything that has transpired in the OTA thus far too seriously. That will happen soon enough with minicamp, training camp and the exhibition season.

That’s when the many questions that face this team will be answered. Until then, speculate at your own peril.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Climb too steep for LeBron, Cavaliers

Let’s get this out of the way right out of the chute.

LeBron James is not only the best basketball player on the Cavaliers’ roster, he is the best basketball player in the National Basketball Association’s Central Division, the Eastern Conference, the entire NBA, the United States of America, the northern hemisphere and the entire planet.

That he has literally, figuratively, spiritually and just about any other appropriate word that ends with ly dragged and willed the Cavaliers to the NBA finals again for the fourth season in a row – or as long as he has been back in Cleveland – is a remarkable achievement in and of itself.

If there is any question as to whether James is not the best athlete ever to play for a Cleveland professional sports team, and the city has had its share of terrific athletes,
I’d like to hear it.

Bob Feller and Jim Brown come immediately to mind with regard to the Indians and Browns. But that’s about it. 

What LeBron has done since returning to the team that drafted him after a four-season hiatus in Miami, especially this season with a roster that is mediocre at best, is nothing sort of singularly outstanding, not to mention his eighth straight appearance in the league finals.

No one gave the Cavs a chance to get past the Boston Celtics in the conference finals and yet, here they are.

That said, let me be perfectly honest about this imperfect version of the Cavaliers. There is no way this one-man team will knock off arguably the most complete team in the NBA finals that begin Thursday night in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.

They overcame a terrible losing stretch with a veteran roster early in the season, a massive roster overhaul midway through the season and still emerged standing in early June. All because of you know who.

And when the well-balanced Warriors in the next couple of weeks repeat what they did to the Cavs in the finals last season, count on James’ critics bubbling to the surface. No matter what he does, no matter how he plays, there will be knuckleheads who will find reasons to criticize.

He hogs the ball too much. He turns over the ball too much. He needs to be better at the free-throw line. He needs to be better in clutch time. He’s plays too selfishly.

All that is nonsense, of course. Ignorant blather from those who will complain about anything.

But when you are carrying the weight of your teammates on your back for as many as 40-48 minutes a game for 100 games now, that can have a deleterious effect on the outcome of games.

To get to this point. one has to understand the reason the Cavaliers got here was because James willed his teammates to play at a level beyond their normal talents.

Unfortunately, his virtuoso performances in the playoffs won’t help in these finals. If the Cavs win one game at home (as they did last season), it should be considered a significant achievement. That they are overwhelming underdogs is not surprising.

That still will not – and should not – diminish the achievements James has contributed to the cause this season, which many veteran observers label the best of his remarkable 15-year career.

LeBron most likely will play elsewhere in the league next season, undoubtedly where he will be appreciated more than his home area. I say most likely because there is the remotest chance he chooses to end his career where it began.

Whatever he goes, his legacy as one of the greatest players ever in the NBA – arguably the greatest (the great Michael Jordan never went to eight straight finals) – will remain untarnished even though he will be just 3-6 in the finals after the Warriors win.

The young kid from Akron, born with a gift for playing the game of basketball on a plane reserved for the greats of the game, has never misused that gift and ultimately taken it to heights that may not be duplicated for a long, long time.

If ever.

Friday, May 25, 2018

News and views

News: National Football League owners unanimously approve a new national anthem policy that gives players the option to remain in the locker room, but requires them to stand if they choose to go onto the field. If players who come out choose to take a knee, they and/or their teams will be fined.

Views: For gentlemen – and I used the term loosely – who are successful and presumably smart enough in life to be in a position to own an NFL team, the gang of 32 who comprise that fraternity is awfully dimwitted.

They had a terrific chance to once and for all get it right when it came to solving the annoyance of not standing for the anthem by adopting the only policy that would end the mini crisis.

They came close with what they believe is the best solution, but fell well short and have drawn widespread and well-deserved criticism for their latest action.

I’m old enough to remember when the national anthem was played at NFL games before the players came onto the field, before the starting lineups were announced. And then the league screwed it up.

I don’t remember when the current order was instituted, but it seemed to be OK until Colin Kaepernick a couple of seasons ago decided to kneel to protest police brutality across the nation.

Now I’m not going to venture into the political morass that seems to be strangling this country, but the poor NFL owners, who never figured this would be something they would have to deal with, seem to be stuck in the mud with regard to the solution.

There surely have to be some current owners who have been around long enough to remember the days when the anthem was played when the players were still in the locker room.

Why not return to it? I’m not certain the players would object. Maybe it’s because I can’t think of a good reason why they would.

And while we’re at it, why not revive the tradition of holding the opening coin toss before the teams head to their respective locker rooms after warming up. Eliminate the necessary worthless and time-consuming toss (for television cameras) after the anthem and starter introductions.

That way, coaches know well ahead of time who kicks off and who receives so they can strategize before heading back out onto the field.

It’s so simple, so easy and makes so much sense. Maybe way too much sense. In other words, these so-called smart men have outsmarted themselves and complicated the situation.

They should seriously think about reviving the old method. Sort of what’s old is new again. That way, they could get rid of this nagging headache and move on with making their billions.

News: Mike Silver of the NFL network reported the other day that the Browns tried to trade the second of their three second-round picks (No. 35 overall) in last month’s college draft to the Philadelphia Eagles for backup quarterback Nick Foles and were rebuffed.

Views: Browns General Manager John Dorsey was asked if this was true. Here was his answer.

“We are very excited to have Tyrod Taylor as our starting quarterback. He’s our starting quarterback. I’m not going to talk about another team’s player. You know my policy on that. He’s with the Philadelphia Eagles and I don’t talk about him.”

In other words, yes.

Dorsey obviously believed talking about Foles at this time would be considered tampering, but it wouldn’t be because he was talking about a situation that reportedly took place almost a month ago and was well within the rules of what is considered tampering.

In order to answer the question directly, the GM did so in a manner that actually had nothing to do with the original question. Almost like a skilled politician.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Great timing for Hard Knocks

The timing of the Browns accepting HBO’s invitation to appear on this year’s Hard Knocks is exquisite.

Imagine the embarrassment and what would have eventuated had the Browns acceded to the cable network’s wishes a year ago.

Yep. The first winless season for what used to be one of the proudest National Football League franchises before the league bafflingly allowed it to move to Baltimore.

The embarrassment lingers like a bad dream. It should never be forgotten. And  welcoming HBO is the right thing to do at this point. It is time.

And why is that?

These are not your Cleveland Browns of the last 19 seasons. Far from it. The losing stench that has permeated this dysfunctional franchise for nearly a generation is about to disappear due mainly to massive roster surgery by General Manager John Dorsey.

Who are these guys? This doesn’t look much like the football team that made the wrong kind of history last season. Crawling into Dorsey’s mind will unlock some of the mystery of all the off-season moves.

It all comes along at a time when the Browns need a bright, shiny new coat of Seal Brown and Orange to erase the notion the words Cleveland Browns mean loser, bad football, embarrassing football.

It is a chance for them to show the nation what a comeback really looks like. The spotlight will shine brightly on many position battles.

The culture is changing in Cleveland with regard to its pro football team and after considerable thought, Dorsey felt comfortable with allowing the nation to see it through the HBO lenses as the curtains in Berea are peeled back for the reality series.

There is actually real, honest-to-goodness hope the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in a long time is not the locomotive of the proverbial oncoming train.

There are too may good stories to ignore for the weekly five-week series, not the least of which is the feel-good yarn of a franchise picking itself up off the scrap heap and charting a new and improved direction with a multitude of new faces.

At the same time, the great fans of the Browns will finally, through the unfettered access HBO has gleaned, get a chance to see the inner workings of their beloved franchise, off the field as well as on.

The network will, of course, dwell heavily on the players from a personal and professional viewpoint for the six weeks that stretch from the opening of training camp to the final exhibition game.

The Emmy Award winning series, now in its 13th season, will film tens – maybe hundreds – of thousands of feet for the five-episode run-up to the 2018 NFL season. And there is no end to the terrific story lines the Browns can provide for HBO, starting with the aforementioned cultural turnaround.

Position battles, always a compelling part of training camp, will be among the inside looks viewers will see on an episodic basis. Count on the producers injecting some soap-opera like drama into those battles.

The cameras will love following Baker Mayfield, the club’s controversial No. 1 draft choice, constructing numerous story lines for the Heisman Trophy winner’s transition to the professional game. Homing in on his brash personality could be a daily staple for the cameras.

Another lingering story line could be Mayfield’s hopefully-muted attempt to unseat Tyrod Taylor as the club’s starting quarterback before he takes a regular-season snap. Coach Hue Jackson maintains that won’t happen, assuring the veteran he will start.

It certainly doesn’t hurt when Taylor says, “I came here to win football games.” If nothing else, he ingratiates himself to fans of the club who love hearing boastful talk like that.

Look for talkative wide receivers Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry to put their talents and loquacious personalities on display. On defense, there is the garrulous Myles Garrett, who is as fascinating off the field as he is on. The fact he is the key to an improved pass rush will not go unnoticed.

Then there’s Jackson, who never runs away from a camera and microphone. The story line for the head coach is obvious. It will be interesting to see him attempt to slither out of the notion he is arguably not only the worst head coach in Browns history, but maybe the worst in the history of the NFL.

Cameras will also zoom in on Jackson’s coordinators, neither of whom can be classified as shy. Gregg Williams on defense and Todd Haley on offense are vocal and impressively direct with the men they coach. If it’s on their minds, it’s on their lips.

To round out the presentation, producers will also delve into the personal lives of several Browns, veterans and rookies alike.

Cameras will eavesdrop on the brain trust of the team in their ivory tower. Dorsey’s reconstruction of the roster is certain to catch the attention of those in charge at HBO. And it will be interesting to see how and his aides handle the delicate chore of paring the roster.

And then there’s the boss. Or should I say bosses. Count on Jimmy Haslam III and his wife, Dee, to play a somewhat prominent role in this real-time drama. If the producers don’t address why Haslam retained a coach who is 1-31 in his two seasons in Cleveland, that’s a dereliction of journalistic duty.

As for the positional competition, there is no end of good series HBO can explore. For example . . .

Can Taylor stave off what most observers expect will be a strong challenge from Mayfield? Who will partner with rookie Denzel Ward at cornerback? Can rookie running back Nick Chubb step right in and reduce Carlos Hyde’s role? Will Shon Coleman fend off rookie Austin Barnett’s challenge at left offensive tackle? Or will Barnett move right in and take over? Is strong safety Jabrill Peppers’ final landing spot? And who will return punts and kickoffs

The scenarios are endless for the cable network, which should boast terrific ratings because the fiercely-loyal Browns fans are renown for spurring strong television sports ratings. The series very well could wind up as the most watched Hard Knocks ever.

In the end, what do the Browns have to lose by finally acquiescing to HBO’s wishes?


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Not yet

Talk about being premature.

After Baker Mayfield’s first practice with the Browns Friday, coach Hue Jackson declared Tyrod Taylor is his starting quarterback. Period.

Well of course he is. It’s early May. Nothing is set in stone in early May when it comes to rookies. These kids are barely getting their football feet wet.

“He (Mayfield) has a lot of characteristics we love,” Jackson said. “That’s why he’s here. (But) let’s pump the brakes a little bit because he’s got a ways to go and has a lot to learn.”

Why even suggest at this time that this is the case? Unless, of course, someone in the media broached the subject because the rookie looked good. Thinking like that now is either naïve or ignorant.

“I’m not going to back off of this,” Jackson stressed. And he shouldn’t. “We can keep writing this narrative. Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback of this team and that won’t change.”

So there.

But the coach had better get used to it as summer approaches and the seriousness of the situation heats up. He might eventually regret declaring now that there won’t be competition at the position once training camp begins and sticking with that notion.

A lot will depend on how quickly Mayfield, purported to be a quick study, absorbs offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s playbook.

It will be interesting to see whether Jackson gives Mayfield a chance in camp and exhibition games to unseat Taylor or rigidly rejects that possibility no matter how well he plays.

As suggested in this space a few columns ago, it would not be surprising if word comes down from on high (General Manager John Dorsey) to level the playing field if the rookie plays like a veteran early on.

It’s a situation that definitely bears watching, Jackson’s declaration notwithstanding..

Thursday, May 3, 2018

College draft leftovers . . .

It is becoming increasingly clear that Baker Mayfield talked his way into making himself the top pick in last week’s National Football League college draft.

There is no question the brash young man from Oklahoma University is not only a record-setting, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, he is also one terrific salesman.

When the Browns’ brass began narrowing a pretty good field of quarterbacks before the draft, two of those signal-callers separated themselves from the field because of their impressive statistics.

It eventually came down to Mayfield and Sam Darnold, polar opposites in many ways. And when the truth spilled out, one can understand why Mayfield was the clear choice. Not necessarily the correct choice, mind you, but the most logical one considering all the reasoning behind it.

Mayfield is 23 years old and a five-year veteran of college football. He played four seasons unlike many quarterbacks who turn pro, often times unwisely, as soon as they become eligible.

He is smart, savvy and knows how to say the right things. Combined with his outgoing personality, he is a very impressive young man, one who gets your attention right away. It’s difficult not to like him.

Combine that with his equally impressive statistical performance the last three years with the Sooners and it is understandable why it would be difficult to eliminate him from consideration because he is smallish at a half inch over six feet.

And that is what ultimately propelled him to the top of the Browns’ list, unanimously from what has been reported, as the days counted down toward the lottery.

Darnold, as it turned out, never had a chance. At 21 (he’ll be 22 next month), he is a nowhere near as smart and savvy and NFL ready as Mayfield. Yet.

He had an impressive two seasons at USC. His stats were every bit as good as Mayfield’s, plus he was a half inch shy of 6-4. Many signs pointed toward him being the slam-dunk choice to be the No. 1 choice of the Browns.

Two problems, both of which most likely cost Darnold his slippage to the New York Jets at three. The California kid is much more laid back than the effusive Mayfield. To the Browns, that apparently was a negative.

Darnold also reportedly did not do well with the white board when it came to testing his football IQ. Mayfield nailed it.

“He’s as good from a football IQ standpoint as I’ve ever been around,” said Browns front-office executive Alonzo Highsmith, who admitted he was in Darnold’s corner until evaluating Mayfield.

The great separator for Highsmith, who spoke recently at a Canton luncheon, was his initial impression of the new Browns quarterback. “You watch the workouts; you watch everything,” he said, “and Baker blew me away. Highly, highly intelligent. Highly competitive.”

But it was Mayfield’s “power to affect other people” that swayed Highsmith into the John Dorsey camp. “I thought of all the quarterbacks I watched, he stood out far and above the other guys,” Highsmith said. “When he walked into a room, you knew he was there.”

Impressive stuff. Gives greater understanding to the thinking behind a most controversial choice.

I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. The reasoning for taking Mayfield over Darnold makes logical sense. My only argument is that Darnold’s ceiling is much, much higher than Mayfield’s. I believe he will be the better player in the end.

Dorsey inherited a mess and wants to turn that around pronto. Not bit by bit, Now. And Mayfield gives him the best chance to do it now.

All the kid has to do is win the starting job in training camp, then go out and back up his bravado and prove all his detractors wrong.

Now let’s see how long it will take Browns fans, especially those who root for Ohio State, to forgive Mayfield for planting the Oklahoma flag in the ground at midfield following the Sooners’ victory over the Buckeyes last year in Columbus.
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Never let it be said Dorsey is not a man of action. It hasn’t taken the Browns’ general manager long to retool this sad franchise’s roster in the image he envisions.

In the four months since the end of the 2017 regular season, there have been 27 departures from the list of 73 names that comprised the final roster and 20 new additions. That does not include the new nine-man draft class.

Leaving were six defensive backs, two defensive linemen, three linebackers, four offensive linemen, three quarterbacks, three running backs, two tight ends and four wide receivers.

Arriving are five defensive backs, three defensive linemen, one linebacker, three offensive linemen, three quarterbacks, one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. The current roster totals 75 with the new draftees.

And with the season still more than four months away, count on the roster dynamic changing even more as the restless Dorsey plows his way toward crafting the competitive team he believes Cleveland pro football fans deserve.
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A not-so-sudden thought: Remembering what Dorsey said in his last news conference before the draft and the impact of the answer to one of the questions.

The GM was asked what he looks for in a quarterback. His reply went something like this: Accuracy, strong arm, red zone performance and does he win at the end of the game.

For some reason, maybe because I wanted to believe it, I thought he was talking about Darnold. Wrong. He was talking about Mayfield, but many of us were too dumb to realize it at the time. Darnold checks all those boxes, too, but falls short in the leadership category.
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Here’s another thought to chew on: Mayfield is the second coming of Drew Brees, not Johnny Manziel. He’s a much more talented Manziel and has some of the positive characteristics of the New Orleans Saints quarterback.

First of all, both are from Austin, Texas, and played their high school football there. Both check in at a shade over six feet tall. Both are right-handed and have a strong arm. And both have that charisma and leadership coaches love. The only difference between the two is Brees was drafted in the second round in 2001.

Now 39, the former Purdue quarterback beat the too-small-to-play-in-the-NFL odds and has carved out a Hall of Fame career that has seen him throw for 488 touchdowns, more than 70,000 yards and win a Super Bowl.

Anyone who has watched how he gets his team emotionally and physically ready to play with a fiery speech in the huddle before each game sees how important leadership is to a team. He epitomizes New Orleans Saints football. If that’s what Dorsey sees in Mayfield, Browns Cleveland fans are in for a wild ride.
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When defensive coordinator Gregg Williams urged Dorsey to draft Denzel Ward over Bradley Chubb with the fourth choice in the lottery, he sent two signals. One, he desperately wanted a shutdown corner. Two, he believed the pass rush will be better than last season.

For some reason, Williams loves defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who played the first 10 games last season before suffering a broken foot. The pro sophomore, drafted to be an edge rusher, has only 9½ sacks (four last season) in two years.

His problem is inconsistency. He’ll play well for two or three games in a row, then disappear for a few games. Maybe it’s the result of scheming, but he just doesn’t seem to stick out on a weekly basis.

There are no dangerous threats to opposing quarterbacks on the roster except Myles Garrett, far and away the club leader in sacks as a rookie last season with seven despite playing only 11 games. It appears as though Williams is counting on Ogbah to step up, which falls under the category of wishful thinking.
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Finally . . . With the drafting of defensive end Chad Thomas in round three, it appears as though Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard are on notice to take their games to a higher level. Both were terrific pass rushers in college, but have been neutralized by NFL offensive linemen. . . . Speaking of offensive linemen, Spencer Drango, Rod Johnson and Shon Coleman fall into the same category with the drafting of Austin Corbett and arrival of free agents Donald Stephenson and Chris Hubbard. . . . Might as well place wide receivers Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins in the same boat now that Antonio Callaway was drafted and Jeff Janis was signed as a free agent. . . . Question of the week: What are the odds Hue Jackson remains as the Browns’ head coach for the entire season?