Monday, June 25, 2012

Begrudging LeBron
OK, LeBron James haters, time to relax. And get over it.

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. After all, he is the best basketball player on the planet. Time to give him his due.

There was no way the Miami Heat wasn’t going to win at least one National Basketball Association championship with LeBron & Co.

The Dallas Mavericks made you feel as though Cleveland won the title last season when they took care of the Heat the first time around. That euphoric feeling lasted almost a year.

And if the San Antonio Spurs had taken care of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, this year’s title round might have wound up differently. The Spurs matched up much better with the Heat because of their playoff experience. The Thunder’s inexperience cost them.

So relax, haters. Breathe . . . breathe . . . breathe. It’ll get better. Really, it will.

As hard as it might seem, it’s time to admit the best team won and the best player on that team finally stepped up. Took him nine seasons and a traitorous act to do it, but he did.

There are those of you who will never forgive James for what he did. Count yours truly among them. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to accept the fact he accomplished his initial goal.

Now whether he and his buds can sustain that goal of numerous championships is another matter. On the negative side, Dwyane Wade isn’t getting any younger and Chris Bosh is strictly a complementary player.

But the fact LeBron is just now reaching his prime – he won’t be 28 until Dec. 30 – and the NBA is seemingly getting weaker lend credence to the belief he might eventually wind up with rings for all five digits on whatever hand he chooses to place them.

Who is going to stop the Heat? The Chicago Bulls? Derrick Rose can’t stay healthy. The Boston Celtics? Not unless Medicare intervenes. The Indiana Pacers? C’mon.

Over in the West, the Thunder pose the biggest threat and we saw what happened this season. The Los Angeles Lakers? Don’t think so. The Spurs? Not unless Tim Duncan finds the Fountain of Youth.

So who poses the greatest threat to a Miami Heat dynasty? Themselves, that’s who.

The only way the Heat doesn’t absolutely dominate the NBA for the next several seasons is to fall back to the pack. Wade no longer can play 82 games. Bosh relies too much on everyone else. The bench is a non-factor.

From now on, it all depends on James, who finally stepped out of his shadow and into the gleaming spotlight this season. From now, this is his team.

We all know how well he did when the Cavaliers was his team. He couldn’t do it alone. That’s one of the reasons he landed in Miami.

And now, he’s back in that lead role. Let’s see if he can do it mostly by himself more than once. How he handles that pressure will determine whether the LeBron haters will rejoice more than suffer in the next five years.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Transparent Mike

So Mike Holmgren has decided to become the transparent president of the Cleveland Browns, letting his hair down in a one-hour media session the other day.

One question: What took you so long, Mike?

Apparently, you have terribly misjudged your relatively new constituency. This is Cleveland, Ohio, where professional football is king 365 days a year; 366 this year. The Browns are never out of the consciousness of the fans.

You’ve been in Cleveland for more than two years now and only now you have decided to descend from your ivory tower and mingle with the peasants, er, fans. Kind of makes one wonder . . . why?

Could it be because you have chosen to ignore the wailing of the fans during your sterling 9-23 record since you arrived? The cries have gotten louder and louder and the fans, many of whom, still have faith in you and what you’re doing, wanted to know what you’re thinking.

Why you have chosen to remain behind the scenes until now will forever remain mystery. But it’s good to have you finally aboard. After all, someone has to take the blame for what has eventuated the last two seasons.

It takes a man to admit he was wrong. Glad to see you manned up and admitted you were wrong to say at the beginning of last season that the club’s 5-11 record in 2010 was unacceptable. And then they went out last season and finished 4-12.

“I shouldn’t have said that, honestly,” you told the media. “Of course it’s not acceptable, 4-12 is even worse. It’s not acceptable. I will say the same thing now. I’m not going to give you a win-loss record, but I will say what I’ve told the coaches and what I’ve told the team.

“I expect us to take a good healthy jump this year on the field. Of course, I’m talking about the record, and what that is I won’t make the same mistake I made last year, but that’s what I expect. . . . We’re a more talented football team.”

Not exactly certain what he means, but it sure sounds as though he’s doubling down even though he admitted it was a mistake to talk that way a year ago.

Holmgren, with remarkable candor not seen nor heard previously, admitted the club played poorly last season, citing dropped passes as one of the reasons. “I want to see a big improvement there,” he said. Don’t we all.

Then he went on to nail various aspects of the team. “I would like to see a vast improvement in our running game, our productivity of our running game,” he said.  “I don’t want to see as many sacks from the offensive line. I want to see more interceptions, all the measurables you would use to tell you if your team is doing the right thing. That should equate. If those things are happening it should equate to a better record, which ultimately is what you are judged on.”

That, ultimately, is what the success of any team is judged on. Doing the little things well. Minimizing mistakes. The difference between winning and losing games is often quite small.

Saying it is one thing, however. Doing it is entirely different.

Holmgren’s honesty with the media at the session carried over to his relationship with the guys and gals who act as conduits for the fans. He said he had no regrets for not making himself more available until now.

“I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing this time to be honest, but I feel like as long as you don’t involve me in a big controversy with my coach, then that’s how I’d like to do it,” he said. “ I don’t want you to ask Pat (Shurmur) a question the day before I talk to you then, “Oh, gotcha.” Don’t do that because then I will go back into my shell.

“As a coach, I was very open and very transparent and not too many things bothered me as far as my relationship with you guys. As long as I thought it was a fair and reasonable relationship. I really thought I was doing the right thing, and maybe I still was doing the right thing, but that’s how I’m going to do it.”

The best way to avoid that is to make certain all lines of communication are open with the media. Nothing is a secret. Everything is above board. That way, nothing gets lost in the translation.

And it all begins with Holmgren. He’s the boss. He controls everything at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.

The media would like nothing better than to cover a competitive team, a contending team. That makes their job that much easier.  It also makes Holmgren’s job that much easier.

Be open with the media and the media will respond in kind. If his efforts produce a winning team, he’ll find that out soon enough.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Don't let the door hit you . . . 
One of them must go.

The sooner, the better.

The Browns cannot keep Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace on the same roster. If nothing else, it would foment an untenable situation.

The Browns’ backup quarterbacks cannot coexist behind Brandon Weeden for any number of reasons, not the least of which is at least one of them does not believe he should be a backup.

Wallace doesn’t mind being No. 2 behind Weeden. It’s a position with which he is thoroughly familiar. After all, he’s been a backup his entire career.

McCoy, on the other hand, has never been a backup unless you include the first half of his rookie season when he sat behind Jake Delhomme before the veteran got hurt halfway through the campaign.

Tom Heckert Jr. and Pat Shurmur are messing with the minds of McCoy and Wallace, although Wallace knows he has no chance of starting. McCoy believes otherwise.

That mind-set is typical of the extremely confident young man from the University of Texas, who honestly thinks he has a great shot at the starting job.

And that’s where Heckert and Shurmur, particularly the latter, are playing with two sticks of dynamite. Wallace doesn’t mind clip boarding behind Weeden. McCoy does.

That’s a problem. A very big and potentially dangerous problem.

Maybe it’s not in his nature, but McCoy might sulk when it becomes glaringly apparent Weeden is the top guy and nothing he does is going to change that. Sitting behind Delhomme is one thing. Sitting behind someone who has never thrown a pass as a professional is entirely different.

We know Wallace, who balks at the notion that he'd be No. 3 if the club kept all their quarterbacks, can handle being No 2. We don’t know how – or if  – McCoy can handle it.

Someone must go before training camp begins. Not when training camp begins. Too much can fester between now and then. It has to happen sometime in the next month.

Heckert and Shurmur can blather all day long about conducting a fair competition for the starting quarterback job, but their words fall on increasingly deaf ears. It’s not fair and they know it.

The guess here is they want to move McCoy, but have no takers. Who wants a relatively small, weak-armed quarterback who can’t even make it with the Cleveland Browns? That’s a tough sell.

Teams that have even a minuscule amount of desire for such a commodity will wait until the Browns no longer have a choice other than to place him on waivers. And that’s when you’ll see some takers.

It certainly won’t be Wallace. He’s golden because he knows the system too well. And his connection with Mike Holmgren works heavily in his favor. Besides, he’s even shorter than McCoy.

If the Browns want to begin camp with a poisonous situation, they’ll hang on to both backups and continue pretending the competition is fair. If both are in camp late next month, that‘ll be yet another indication this front office doesn’t get it.

It’s also quite possible that sides in the quarterback issue will be taken among the players. Locker room mentality cannot be underestimated. The front office and coaches should know that.

If the Browns want to start off training camp in the right manner with the proper atmosphere, both physically and psychologically, they must make one very important move.

One of them must go.

The sooner, the better.

It’s time to stop playing games.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What, Shurmur worry?
Pat Shurmur says he’s not worried about his wide receivers. Not exactly bulletin stuff.

At this point, he shouldn’t be worried. They’re all wearing shorts and helmets and no one is touching them.

Nowhere in the head-coaching manual is a coach permitted to wax pessimistic at any time during the season, let alone at this time of the season. It’s a minicamp, for crying out loud.

“I think we have some guys (who are) good players and I think they’ve had a chance to play a year in the system and improve their game,” the Browns’ head coach said Tuesday after the first minicamp practice in Berea.

All true. It’s one year later, one year of the west coast offense under their belts and improvement is expected. What else do you expect him to say?

Shurmur is an optimist. All coaches are optimists. They can’t help themselves.

What you have to do is wade through the rhetoric, cast aside the usual bullroar before arriving at the conclusion that the Browns still have one of the worst wide receiver corps in the National Football League.

Unless Greg Little starts holding onto passes, Mo Massaquoi suddenly discovers how to get off the line of scrimmage with consistency and Joshua Cribbs finally masters the art of playing wide receiver, that label will stick.

Shurmur tried to spread a little cheer in Massaquoi’s direction after the first practice. “I think he’s had a great offseason,” the coach said. “I’m very pleased with where he is. He’s come in healthy. He’s taken advantage of the offseason and he’s made plays out there.”

And what constitutes a great offseason? Recovering successfully from a concussion? Still able to remain vertical? Didn’t drop a pass? How does that translate into great?

As for making plays, remember everyone is in shorts and helmets. No hitting.

What will Massaquoi do the first time the pads and full uniform go on and he is called on to run a short slant with someone in his face? With at least one concussion in his past, how gun shy will he be when called on to journey into traffic?

Another reason Cleveland receivers are not that feared is they run routes that are not crisp. Trying to be nice here. Running disciplined and correct routes, especially in the west coast, is mandatory. With Cleveland receivers, it’s a lost art.

Brandon Weeden, however, is impressed with his new receivers. “I wasn’t here last year,” the rookie quarterback said. “From what I see, the group has a lot of ability and can play. And not just the wide receivers. We have a good group at tight end.”

In a moment of clarity, Shurmur nailed it. “The receivers have to get open (bingo!) and the quarterback has to get them the ball (double bingo!!),” he said. “I do know with a receiver who gets open and a quarterback who gets the ball to him accurately, now you have a chance to do something with the ball.”

So easy to say, so much more difficult to accomplish with a bunch of receivers who have shown in the past that they don’t have what it takes to take that next step.

But if Weeden can somehow make this group look good, rather than vice-versa, then the 2012 season could be more entertaining than originally thought.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why not Matt Roth?

Scanned the list of remaining free agents in the National Football League and one name jumped off the screen: Matt Roth.

Yes, that Matt Roth. The same guy who played for the Browns in 2009 and 2010. The same guy who had 7½ sacks for the Browns in 22 games.

Remember him? He’s the outside linebacker who gave the Browns a semblance of a pass rush in those 22 games. And what could the Browns use on defense now? That’s right – a strong pass rush.

Wouldn’t he look good in a Browns uniform? You bet he would. At 6-4, 275 pounds and in the prime of his career, he’d look great opposite Jabaal Sheard at defensive end. He’s still pretty quick and very strong.

Only one problem. Apparently, the big guy from the University of Iowa doesn’t like playing defensive end. That’s why he left the Browns and signed as a free agent with Jacksonville last season after Cleveland switched to a 4-3 alignment on defense.

Something about playing outside linebacker makes Roth happier than lining up as a defensive end. Not quite sure what that is because he’s a terrific pass rusher, an essential quality the Browns lack in a division with some pretty good quarterbacks.

Roth was drafted by Miami as a defensive end before the Dolphins eventually switched to a 3-4 and moved him to outside linebacker, a position he played in high school and for his first season at Iowa.

When the Hawkeyes moved him to defensive end in his sophomore season, he became a fixture, gaining All Big 10 honors as a junior. In his final three seasons, he compiled 30 sacks and 52 tackles for loss before becoming a second-round draft pick in 2005.

He arrived in Cleveland with just six games left in the 2009 season after the Browns snagged him off the waiver wire less than 24 hours after the Dolphins cut him loose. At the time, the Browns were 1-9 in Eric Mangini’s first season. They lost their next two games before finishing the season with a four-victory flourish.

Roth was immediately plugged in at outside linebacker. In the 10 games the Browns played before his arrival, they had 19 sacks. In the final six, they registered 21, including an eight-sack pounding of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in game 13.

Coincidence? Don’t think so. Roth brought a dimension to the Browns’ defense that had been missing all season. He dropped opposing quarterbacks four times in those six games, but his presence allowed for others to cash in.

At some time, Roth has got to realize jobs in the NFL are not easy to come by even though he’s a proven seven-year veteran. He might not like playing defensive end, but he soon will realize it might be the only option he has if he wants to continue his career.

And the team that could maximize his talent best? That’s easy. The one he left a year ago.