Thursday, April 26, 2012

Meet your new quarterback

There is absolutely no doubt who will line up under center for the Browns in the 2012 season. 

When the Browns made Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden their second pick of the first round in Thursday’s National Football League college draft, it signaled the end of the Colt McCoy era in Cleveland.

Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. basically told McCoy through their actions that he better start practicing holding a clipboard this season. Of course, that’s if he’s still with the club.

By selecting Weeden with the 22nd pick of the draft, Holmgren made known what most of us knew despite his protestations. The club president made it known in the weeks and months leading up to the draft that McCoy was his man.

He didn’t say so in so many words, but few took him seriously following McCoy’s brutal second season. And now it has become obvious with Weeden now on board.

This one had Holmgren’s fingerprints all over it. When it comes to quarterbacks, everyone in the ivory tower in Berea bows to the team president. Why? Because he knows quarterbacks. He’s the quarterbacks guru, right?

He’s the guy who built his reputation on recognizing and then developing quality quarterbacks. He’s also the guy who has whiffed three times with the Browns – Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and McCoy.

And now with the selection of Weeden, who will turn 29 in mid-October, it appears as though he has lost his fastball.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Heckert was overruled on his selection. We’ll never know, of course, because the general manager will put up a brave front and take responsibility.

But with the likes of highly rated offensive linemen Riley Reiff and David DeCastro surprisingly still on the board, the Browns stunningly went with Weeden, who almost certainly would have been there for the taking at the top of round two Friday night.

The Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers got it right with the next two picks, the Lions picking up Reiff and the Steelers selecting DeCastro. The Browns desperately need an offensive right tackle and two stared them right in the kisser.

Quite simply, Holmgren & Co. panicked. What they were thinking is hard to comprehend. The only team that might have taken Weeden before the Browns’ next pick at 37 was San Francisco. But the 49ers already have Alex Smith, who took them to the NFC title game last season.

No on else needed a quarterback. Not Detroit, Pittsburgh, Houston, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Baltimore, Denver, the New York Giants, Indianapolis, Washington or Tampa Bay.

As the draft unfolded, I kept wondering why top offensive linemen were falling. Certainly Trent Richardson (great trade up to get him, by the way – not good, great) would benefit from a rebuilt right side of the offensive line and two of the top guys were available.

Full disclosure: When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Weeden’s name, I slammed my pen down on my legal pad and uttered a string of loud profanities to no one in particular.

As one who firmly believes and preaches that games are won and lost in the trenches, I thought to myself as Goodell strode toward the microphone, how perfect is this going to be. Richardson and either Reiff or DeCastro in the first round.

It’s about damn time the Browns’ luck changes. It’s about time something good comes out of this exercise.

And then I heard Weeden’s name.

It’s not that I think Weeden is a bad quarterback. He sure racked up some special numbers at Oklahoma State. Can’t argue with those. And he beat some pretty good teams and quarterbacks along the way.

His arm unquestionably is stronger that McCoy’s. He’ll be able to make throws that McCoy can only dream of making.

My quarrel is he was taken too soon. Some other player at #22 would have been more impactful than Weeden, whose rookie season will be more of a learning experience than anything else.

Draft a Reiff or DeCastro, plug him in at right tackle and you have bookend tackles for at least the next five years. Both men come from good programs and will be starters in their rookie season, one of them with the Steelers. That hurts.

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert should send Holmgren and Heckert a thank you card for not selecting DeCastro, whose mean streak style of play will fit in nicely in Pittsburgh.

The quality depth of the offensive line in the draft is not nearly deep as other positions. When you can get a good one, leap. The Browns didn’t.

Still on the board for the second round are Cordy Glenn from Georgia, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin, Mike Adams of Ohio State and Booby Massie of Mississippi. But none of them are in the class of Reiff and DeCastro.

The whole idea of building through the draft is to select the best player at his position throughout the three-day process. The Browns failed to do that with Weeden, who is arguably the fourth-best quarterback in this lottery.

Obviously Holmgren saw something in Weeden that allowed him to fall in love to the point where he twisted Heckert’s arm, much like he did a couple of years ago with McCoy on the third round of the 2010 draft.

Maybe it was Weeden’s strong arm. Then again, he’s also been known to play the game very well from the neck up. Whatever it was, Holmgren is gambling big time that Weeden is the Browns’ franchise quarterback.

He’ll no doubt blanch at that suggestion, but he has no one to blame but himself for anyone reaching that conclusion.

He must figure that if anyone can handle that pressure, it has to be Weeden, whose advance age and maturity is being counted on to produce positive results for a team in desperate need of them.

Holmgren gambled when he retained Eric Mangini as his head coach for one fateful season. Then he gambled and hired a relatively unknown Pat Shurmur, whose rookie coaching season turned out to be a disaster.

And now, he’s gambling one more time. This time, he had better be right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Do not mortgage the future 

Is there any question who the Browns should draft with their first pick tonight (Thursday)? If you’ve been following closely, the answer should be obvious. If the first word of your answer is not Trent, you have not been paying attention.

The Browns need an offense, which passed away midway through last season. To resuscitate it requires wise and adroit moves tonight by Tom Heckert Jr. and Mike Holmgren.

If drafting Trent Richardson means swapping places with the Minnesota Vikings, so be it. Unless, that is, the Vikings demand what amounts to a king’s ransom for the luxury of taking the Alabama running back.

If Minnesota General Manager Rick Spielman is reasonable and asks for the Browns’ second-round pick in return, that’s doable. Anything more, especially if it involves next season’s early draft picks, is treading in dangerous territory.

When I say smart, I mean think of the future, as well as the present ,before making any decisions. The Cleveland brain trust must say “no” emphatically to any deals with 2013 in mind.

Richardson would be a wonderful addition to this team, but not at a heavy cost that threatens the future. Heckert has to make certain Spielman understands that high draft picks next season are off limits.

Fans will understand if Heckert stands his ground and limits what he’ll give up to move up just one notch tonight. The general manager maintains that the draft is the lifeblood of the franchise. He should keep telling himself that when he and Spielman talk. And they will talk.

The Browns are not that desperate where they must mortgage the future for just one player. Heckert worked too hard to be in a position to get three of the top 37 players in this year’s lottery.

Maybe the Browns will get lucky (for once) and get their man without having to move, or at least not surrendering too much. Maybe all this talk leading up to the draft has been just that – all talk.

No doubt Heckert and Holmgren have plans A, B, C, D and E in place in the event something unusual comes up. But with only 10 minutes to make a decision, you’d be surprised how quickly 600 seconds tick off.

If they’re smart, they’ll have everything buttoned down by the time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Indianapolis Colts on the clock. And with quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin Eye Eye Eye certainties to go 1-2, the Vikings will be called on quicker than normal.

The Colts and Washington Redskins are not going to take the full 10 minutes to make their picks. They removed the mystery from that little scenario a long time ago.

Just about everyone who follows the draft closely acknowledges Richardson is the obvious choice for the Browns. He is far and away the best running back to come along in at least five years. The Browns need to catch a break in order to get him to the lakefront.

Yes, Justin Blackmon would be a nice pick. And Matt Kalil would be a better pick. But not if Richardson is still available. He needs to be there when Goodell intones, “The Cleveland Browns are on the clock.”

It’s time the pro football gods (can’t believe I’m writing this) turn toward the Cleveland Browns and smile. If any fans in the NFL deserve to be rewarded for their zeal, their loyalty, their stubbornness of refusing to give up on this franchise, it’s those who reside in Browns Nation.

Will that be the case? We’ll find out in just a few hours.
Learning curve

Here we are a little more than 24 hours from the National Football League’s three-day late April extravaganza, better known as the 2012 College Player Draft. And what have we learned as we head toward the finish line?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The rumor mill is spinning so furiously, a new one seems to pop out every hour. And the closer we get to tomorrow night at 8, those rumors will be air born by the minute.

And yet no one knows exactly what’s going to go down. No matter what you hear or read, no one knows.

They can say they heard this and that. They can say with absolutely certainty that this will happen and this won’t. They can spew rumors until their vocal chords give out.

But they don’t really know. Not even those who occupy the important seats in the war rooms around the league know right now what’s going to happen. They can guess, but all that does is make time pass slowly.

Just when it looked as though the Browns were a lock to draft fourth in the opening round, word spread like a virus that the St. Louis Rams, in the sixth hole tomorrow night, would leapfrog the Browns and deal with Minnesota at No.3.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman (Chris’ brother) has shouted to the world that he’s more than willing to deal his pick. He doesn’t want to move down too far, of course, so that makes St. Louis the ideal trading partner.

The Rams, if the rumors are to be believed, covet Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Yep, the same Richardson just about all the draft experts predict will wear the Seal Brown and Orange next season.

Adding to the circus atmosphere that seems to permeate the draft at this time on an annual basis is the notion that Tampa Bay, at No. 5, would love to beat the Rams to Minnesota in an effort to get Richardson.

All that begets more rumors that make even less sense.

Why would the Rams, who need a wide receiver (Justin Blackmon) in the worst way for quarterback Sam Bradford, even think of talking with the Vikings? They can stay put at No. 6 and get their man.

Well, say the rumors, the Rams would like to get rid of running back Steven Jackson and put some fresh blood behind Bradford. Problem is Jackson, one of the very good running backs in the NFL, has two years remaining on his contract. Unless the Rams find a buyer for Jackson, it makes no sense to draft Richardson.

The Buccaneers, on the other hand, could use a running back like Richardson, but they have little to offer the Vikings in the way of a trade.

Meanwhile in Cleveland, panic has set in among Browns Nation. Just when it looked as though the club was finally going to get that elite running back, one who has a chance to become the face of the franchise, the Rams and Bucs rumors chill that possibility.

And the game of what if begins all over again.

What if either club is successful with the Vikings, then what? Richardson is gone and all that’s left are Blackmon, cornerback Mo Claiborne and offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Not too bad on the surface, but it’s not Richardson.

But what if the Browns see what’s gong on, become pro active and make the deal with Minnesota and grabs Richardson? Possible? You bet. Probable? Uh . . . no.

Why not? Because I think the St. Louis and Tampa Bay rumors are just that . . . rumors. And nothing will come of them. The louder they become, the less I believe them.

One more what if.

What if I’m wrong? What if some other team (New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles) comes from nowhere and convinces the Vikings to move down into the middle of round one and snags Richardson?

That’s no so bad, either. While I like Richardson a lot and would love to see the Browns get him, I wouldn’t be unhappy with Kalil at offensive right tackle or Blackmon teaming up with Greg Little at wide receiver.

I would, however, have a problem with Claiborne. Yes, he’s probably the best defensive player on the board. And yes, he’d give the Browns a nice 1-2 punch at cornerback with Joe Haden.

But the Browns’ defense is the club’s strong suit. They need help on offense. Desperately.

Taking Claiborne would be a wasted pick. Although I prefer the stud running back, I wouldn’t be disappointed with the stud offensive tackle or wide receiver.

Hopefully, Richardson’s name is still on the board when the Browns are placed on the clock. If so, the Browns can’t write his name on the card quickly enough.

Unless . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let's have some W & L fun

The National Football League’s schedule for the 2012 season is out and you all know what that means.

Yes, football fans and pundits alike. That means it’s time once again to play the W and L game. You know how that goes.

For the uninitiated, however, here’s a quick primer. Place the Browns’ schedule vertically on a piece of paper, then go down the list game by game and place a W or an L beside each game depending on whether you think the Browns are going to win it or lose it.

Sure, it’s just mid-April and the season is five months away. Sure, the team hasn’t drafted yet. And sure, the Browns have yet to hold OTAs or minicamps.

But this is the time of football season where we suspend all belief and have some fun. The time of the season where you can kick back and believe anything you want to believe. So let’s have some fun.

Place those games in a row, starting with the season opener at home (again!!) against Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles right down to the season finale at Pittsburgh.

It should read Philadelphia, at Cincinnati, Buffalo, at Baltimore, at New York Giants, Cincinnati, at Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Bye (a tossup), at Dallas, Pittsburgh, at Oakland, Kansas City, Washington, at Denver, at Pittsburgh.

Got your W’s and L’s in place? OK, here are mine as I put my Mr. Glass Half Empty hat on.

Philadelphia is a big fat L because the Eagles will finally live up to their 2011 hype and hammer the Browns led by Michael Vick. Follow that with another L down in Cincinnati as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton laughs at the sophomore jinx and shreds the Cleveland secondary.

Here comes the first victory of the season over Buffalo with Trent Richardson mistreating the Bills' front seven. That will be balanced by consecutive losses at Baltimore (in front of a national television audience on a Thursday night) and the New York Giants. Too much talent on both of those teams to overcome.

So that’s a 1-4 start against some tough competition. But that’s going to change as the Browns rack up their first two-game winning streak for the season against the Bengals at home and at Indianapolis, where Andrew Luck will experience growing pains.

And now that the Browns are 3-4 with home games against San Diego and Baltimore dead ahead, one would think that maybe, just maybe, this might be the year the Browns become the surprise team in the NFL.

Think again.

That 3-4 becomes 3-6 as the Chargers, with Philip Rivers and a rejuvenated Antonio Gates leading the way, and the Ravens, with Ray Rice and Joe Flacco once again plundering the Cleveland defense, slam the Browns and their fans back to reality.

And now comes the bye, which couldn’t come along at a better time. But it doesn’t help.

That’s because a trip to Dallas results in the third straight L as the Cowboys, who almost always play better at home, prevail easily. And the downward spiral continues in week 12 as Pittsburgh invades CBS and spanks the Browns again.

That’s four straight L’s and a 3-8 mark with no relief in sight. This isn’t much fun at all.

OK, we plod on with a trip to Oakland next up. The Raiders are improving, which would prompt one to automatically place another L beside that one. Au contraire. Every season, the Browns come up with a surprise game, the kind of winning effort that comes from out of nowhere. That’s this game as Colt McCoy and Richardson overwhelm a good Oakland defense and end the losing streak.

They build momentum on that victory with another W against Kansas City at CBS, lifting the record to 5-8 and a shot at becoming semi-respectable with games at home against Washington and the final two at Denver at Pittsburgh looming.

Would love to put down at least two W’s next to those games, but I can’t. In fact, I can’t put even one next to them.

Robert Griffin The Third will invade CBS and make Mike Holmgren even angrier that he couldn’t pull off that pre-draft trade back in early March and obtain the Baylor quarterback. The Third will throw and run for a whole bunch of yards as the Redskins romp.

Those trips to Denver (Peyton Manning) and Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger) will result in L’s and bring to a close yet another abysmal season under Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr.

The final tally: 5 W’s and 11 L’s.

From a personal standpoint, I guess this little journey through the schedule wasn’t much fun after all.

Oh well, there’s always next year.

Now it's your turn. Lemme see what you've got. And remember, don't be too kind.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Browns need to get Rich(ardson)

What’s with this nonsense that taking a running back in the first round of the National Football League college draft would be a wrong move for the Browns?

It’s almost a sure bet Alabama running back Trent Richardson will be there for them when the Browns are called on the clock by Commissioner Roger Goodell at approximately 8:45 p.m. on April 26.

And barring unforeseen circumstances, so, too, will be Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Of course, we all know wide receiver is a position that screams help for the Browns.

Richardson is the No. 1 running back on the board. Blackmon is the No. 1 wideout on the board. In some quarters, however, Blackmon seems to be the choice for the Browns even though they have a running game that borders on embarrassing.

Granted, the NFL has become a quarterback-driven league. The importance of the ground game, at least statistically, has been reduced in the last several years. But has it really been diminished that much where an elite runner like Richardson would be bypassed?

It isn’t often that someone like Richardson comes along. The last time a talent like him arrived, the Minnesota Vikings snapped up Adrian Peterson, now one of the top running backs in the NFL.

Right now, the Browns are a bad offensive football team looking to get at least respectable. In order for them to get better, not good, they need a solid running game in order to take off any pressure on whoever steps under center.

Once they get better, they can take it up a notch in their quest to become good. But unless a strong running game is part of the equation, that’s not going to happen. Not now, not next year, not ever.

The Browns don’t have a Drew Brees or an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady, quarterbacks who can take their teams to a Super Bowl and win it. They are special quarterbacks who are resourceful enough that a running game serves as a mere adjunct.

The Browns don’t have that luxury. Neither do Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Big Ben needs a strong running game to be successful. And where would Flacco be without Ray Rice? Or the Houston Texans without Arian Foster; the San Francisco 49ers without Frank Gore; the Atlanta Falcons without Michael Turner?

The Browns have to start somewhere and running back, at least with a talent like Richardson, is the place to start. If the top running back in this draft were a lesser player than Richardson, then yes, Blackmon would be the man.

The Browns must start becoming a team on an upward trend. They must start to become good somewhere on offense. And considering the state of the current offense, running the ball is a good start.

Yes, I know the west coast scheme is pass-first philosophically. But ask any offensive lineman which he would prefer to do, pass block or run block, a vast majority of them would say run block, especially with a horse like Richardson behind that line.

Another factor that should steer the Browns toward Richardson: He would touch the ball at least 20 times a game, maybe more considering his reputation as a good receiver out of the backfield.

How many times would a wide receiver touch the ball? Five, six, maybe seven times a game on average. Do the math. Who would be more valuable?

Most arguments against drafting a running back this high cite the lack of Super Bowl appearances by teams with a superstar runner. A valid point.

But it would be silly to use Super Bowl and Cleveland Browns in the same sentence. In order to even consider using them in the same breath, they must show signs of getting better. Walk first before jogging. Jog before you start running. Run before you sprint.

Currently, the Browns are in walk mode when it comes to the offense. Placing Trent Richardson’s name on a piece of paper to be delivered to the NFL clearing house on draft night would be the first step toward jogging.

If there’s one team in the NFL that would benefit most from someone like Richardson, it’s the one for which you are rooting.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The what-if game

Time for a game of what-if with regards to the National Football League’s college draft later this month, targeting the Browns in particular.

We all know what’s going to happen with the first two picks. The Indianapolis Colts will select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and the Washington Redskins will take Baylor quarterback The Third.

Ho and hum.

But what if . . .

The Minnesota Vikings put the third pick up for auction and someone, say the Miami Dolphins or Philadelphia Eagles or Kansas City Chiefs, bites? The Vikings move down, one of those three teams, which would love to draft a quarterback, takes Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, and the Browns have the pick of the litter.

What to do, what to do?

If the Vikings do, indeed, find a buyer and pick up an extra pick or two along the way, Browns chieftains Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. will be staring at offensive tackle Matt Kalil, running back Trent Richardson and wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

Each of those athletes is rated the best at his position by just about every draft guru. And with Luck and The Third gone, it’ll be interesting to see what the Browns’ draft board looks like. Who occupies the top spot?

Is it Richardson, whose reputation as a hard, tough runner could help keep pressure off Colt McCoy? Is it Kalil, who would make a terrific bookend tackle to Joe Thomas? Or maybe it’s Blackmon, an Anquan Boldin (as a rookie) clone who can come in and improve the passing game right away.

Quite a decision for the H&H guys. Then again . . . what if . . .

The Browns decide they can get one of those guys if they drop down to, say, St. Louis, just a couple of picks away at 6, because the Rams are desperate for a wide receiver for Sam Bradford?

That way, they could pick up an extra selection (as if 13 isn’t enough already) and really stock up, or at least have ammunition enough to move back into position to select a third first-rounder.

But what if . . .

The Rams decide they could stay put and pick up Blackmon, anyway, because they believe the Browns need Richardson or Kalil more?

Then what if . . .

The Browns drop massive hints they are staying at 4 and taking the Oklahoma State wideout, forcing the Rams to at least pick up a phone and try to read what’s really going on in the Cleveland war room?

Then what if . . . Hold on, Wait a minute. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

What if the Vikings can’t be convinced to move from 3 and make a selection?

What if . . .

The Vikes stun everyone and make Louisiana State cornerback Mo Claiborne their pick? That would put H&H in the same situation, a win-win situation.

But what if . . .

The Browns have no intention of staying at 4 and desperately look for a partner so they can move down? Given what they did last year with Atlanta, that is not only very possible, it’s highly probable.

So many different scenarios to ponder. So many possibilities with what could go down on the 26th of this month. Holmgren and Heckert had better have plans A, B, C, D and E ready for the first round because it looks as though just about anything can happen. Or not.

That’s the biggest what if.

What if . . .

Nothing happens and the first 10 picks are made without a hitch? No trades. Just rumors. And every 15 minutes, no one moves.

It almost never fails. Just when you expect all kinds of fireworks to go off, it’s disappointingly business as usual.

All that juicy talk leading up to the lottery. All the possibilities and probabilities. All that guessing. All that drama and nothing to show for it.

All for naught.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Liars' Club

Right now is my almost favorite time of the year. Right before the National Football League’s college draft (my personal fave) comes that period leading up to the lottery.

I call it the Liars’ Club period. It’s the time when coaches, general managers, personnel people and anyone remotely connected with the draft play fast and loose with the truth.

Prevarication season is now upon us as the days wind down to the big weekend the NFL has concocted to generate even more popularity for an event that is extremely popular to begin with.

Ever since Mel Kiper Jr. and ESPN joined forces more than a generation ago and took what used to be a mundane event and elevated it to what is now prime-time status over a three-day period, the college draft has become a seasonal phenomenon.

And lying has become the norm as the NFL’s massive rumor mill churns out of control, while self-appointed gurus festoon the draft landscape. Everyone has become an expert in the art of predicting which college star will land with which team.

They don’t stop at round one. Oh no. Many give the entire seven-round package. How and what they predict serves as fuel for discussion in the days and weeks leading up to the draft.

Those who actually draft, meanwhile, barricade themselves in war rooms all around the league, carefully constructing their draft boards, all the while playing games with the media.

Every Browns fan wants to know what the club is going to do with its 13 selections. Will it be an unlucky number? Will General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. reduce that number by trying to trade up? And just what is he planning to do with his first three picks?

With picks 4, 22 and 37, Heckert has lots of room to have some fun. He can trade down, trade back up or stay right where he is. Or a combination of all three.

He uses his teasing powers to send messages to his fellows GMs around the league. He has not ruled out the possibility of drafting Louisiana State cornerback Mo Claiborne, arguably the best defensive player on the board.

How do you pass on the best defensive player on the board? Easy. When your club is one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL, you don’t draft a defensive player at No. 4. But you don’t want other clubs to know that, so you throw out a bone and hope someone jumps at it.

The more we hear that the Browns are interested in taking Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with their first pick, the more I believe Heckert will go in an entirely different direction.

Like running back, where Trent Richardson’s name is likely to be on the board when NFL Commish Roger Goodell tells the Browns they’re on the clock. Granted the west coast offense is a pass-first scheme, but it goes nowhere without a strong running game and the Browns, as now constituted, don’t have one.

Another possibility would be the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 surprising everyone and grabbing Claiborne, thus giving Heckert the latitude to tap USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Richardson.

Or he could swap places with St. Louis at No. 6 and still get his man while picking up an extra pick (as if he needed more). The Rams need Blackmon, and either Kalil of Richardson would still be there for the choosing. Kalil (if he’s there, he’d be my personal choice) would make a terrific bookend tackle with Joe Thomas.

Heckert knows he needs help on the offensive line, receiving corps and offensive backfield. The draft is sprinkled with nice depth at all three areas in the first two rounds. This will be his opportunity to finally inject a transfusion of talent on that side of the ball.

This very well could be his last chance to address this aspect of the club and have a good chance to be successful. Without an offense that can score points, the Browns are destined to finish in the basement of the AFC North every season.

Eventually, there will come a time when Browns Nation throws up its hand and says, “Enough already. It’s time to get serious and gives us a team we can be proud of, a team that represents Cleveland the way it used to.”

The so-called Factory of Sadness needs to become the Factory of Happiness. There’s no better time than now to achieve that goal.

And that’s no lie.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gonna be a long baseball season

Indians spring training thoughts and observations . . .

Being the born pessimist I am, I can’t help but be amused at how optimistically most baseball writers regard the Indians. Some have them playing at least ,500 ball.

After watching them throughout a painful spring training season, I don’t see the Indians winning any more than 70 games. And even that might be a tad sanguine.

There are too many negatives about this team that spell trouble for the next 161 games. But one of them was not the bullpen, which turned a season-opening victory into an extra-inning marathon Thursday.

When Chris Perez smeared Justin Masterson’s two-hit dazzler with a ninth-inning seismic blowup against the Toronto Blue Jays, it signaled a possible weakness in what is considered a club strength.

The bullpen was the one area most everyone thought would serve as the glue for a very ordinary (except for Masterson) starting staff. Five innings and fly would be the mantra as manager Manny Acta would be forced to overwork the pen.

Ubaldo Jimenez. Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez do not conjure up thoughts of competing, let alone contending, for anything in the American League Central Division.

Jimenez is not the same pitcher he was in Colorado before being shipped to the Indians midway through last season; Lowe is a 38-year-old, over-the-hill, shadow-of-his-former-self pitcher; Tomlin doesn’t miss many bats; and Gomez, the second-best starter in Arizona this spring, is untested.

Jimenez very well might go down as one of the best half-season pitchers in baseball history. His 15-1 start in the 2010 season has proved nothing more than an aberration. He has come nowhere close to being that pitcher since joining the Indians midway through last season.

The Indians won just seven of their 29 spring training games this season due to poor pitching, a shaky defense and virtually no hitting.

Yes, those games meant nothing. They were just exhibition games designed to get ready for the regular season. I understand that. But c’mon, one would think they would win four or five more just by accident.

It’s very difficult to be enthusiastic about a team that has no stars. The closest the Indians can come in that category are shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana.

Cabrera comes off a season in which he hit more home runs (25) than he did in his previous four seasons (18). And he reported to camp carrying a few more pounds – OK, many more pounds – than he should have.

The glove should not be a problem for Cabrera, but unless he sheds those extra pounds, his range will be severely limited. And don’t count on him coming close to duplicating his 2011 home run total.

As for Santana, Acta has a problem locking him into one position, which eventually might have a detrimental effect on his hitting.

Is Santana a catcher? Yes, but not a very good one. He has trouble throwing out potential base stealers, and he’s not the smoothest handler of pitchers.

Or is he a first baseman? Yes. But at 5-10, he doesn’t make the best target for infielders. One could categorize his defense there as OK. He’s not the best defensive first baseman on the club.

That would be Casey Kotchman, who is certain to help cut down on throwing errors, a vital statistic considering the Indians have several ground-ball pitchers on their staff. If Kotchman, who swings a nice bat (with hardly any power), doesn’t play at least 120 games, Acta will wear out a path to the mound this season.

At second base, Jason Kipnis is still struggling to find his Major League legs, while third baseman Jack Hannahan is solid with the glove, less-than-ordinary with the bat.

In the outfield reside many questions marks. Shelley Duncan has the power (when he connects); Michael Brantley is adequate on offense and defense, but doesn’t utilize his speed well on the basepaths; and Shin-Soo Choo’s numbers last season fell far short of what he put up in his first three seasons with the Tribe.

There is absolutely nothing about which to be excited regarding the Indians this season. It looks as though they will battle with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central basement.

Unless General Manager Chris Antonetti waves his magic wand and comes up with a deal or two to improve this team, this looks like a very long season for the Indians. To predict a 70-92 season would be very optimistic if one is to judge this team on paper.

Looks much more like a 65- to 68-victory season. And that, too, is being very optimistic.