Friday, June 14, 2013

Too many blows to the head?

Sometimes I wonder if some football players are just naturally dumb or they work hard at it.

Take, for example, the reaction of one member of the Browns when the National Football League announced that thigh pads and knee pads are now a mandatory part of a player’s uniform except for punters and placekickers.

To be honest, I didn’t know the NFL Players Association had negotiated to make that equipment optional about 20 years ago.

When Browns wide receiver Greg Little found out the new rule, he adamantly declared, “I’m definitely not wearing pads. It’s just a swag thing. If you don’t feel good, you’re not going to play good.”

Oh, so it’s all about how you feel. All this time I thought it was all about how you played, not felt. I had no idea the two were connected.

I’m not certain how the addition of four fairly lightweight pads can affect how one feels. Besides, how does Little know how he’ll feel with pads if he’s never used them before?

The notion that about of pound and a half of extra equipment will make that much of a difference is preposterous. Before 1994, it didn’t seem to affect the quality of play in the league. Why now all of a sudden?

The notion that pads will restrict or slow down a player or players and give the opponent a competitive edge is nonsense if everyone is required to wear them. All that does is balance the scales.

The new mandate, handed down in yet another effort by the NFL to cut down on potential major injuries, is being met with some degree of resistance by players.

According to some reports, many players cite that legs are rarely struck with most of the contact coming above the waist. OK, so add hip pads to the equipment, too.

How many times have we seen a player’s padless knee or thigh struck by a helmet during a tackle? Not many, but certainly enough times to know that such a tackle can cause major damage such as a blown ligament or deep thigh bruise.

Injuries like those can be the cause of anywhere from a trip to the sidelines for a few games to a season on injured reserve.

Players are at least smart enough to realize that football is no longer a contact sport. It is a collision sport and if players are not protected properly, those collisions are capable of ending careers.

Leave it to a former player to inject some common sense into the latest flare-up. Frank Minnifield, one of the original Dawgs when he played cornerback for the Browns opposite Hanford Dixon from 1984 to 1992, doesn’t understand what the big deal is.

“Ask some of these players if they’re quicker when they are injured,” he told the Plain Dealer. “Imagine taking a helmet or the heel to the kneecap. . . . It can happen at any time. Somebody’s heel swings around and catches you like a sledgehammer. You are rolling the dice.”

Entering this season, roughly 30% of players in the NFL protect their knees and thighs with pads. A 2010 survey conducted by Fox Sports revealed that a vast majority of those who eschewed the pads played on the defensive side of the ball.

According to a league spokesman, uniform inspectors (some call them the uniform police) assigned to the games by the NFL will be given the authority to administer the new rule. Non-compliance could lead to possible disqualification.

So if Little maintains his stance  -- if he’s smart, he’ll concentrate more on becoming a better wide receiver – and thumbs his nose at the latest equipment dictum, we’ll see how long that “swag thing” lasts.

The Browns don’t need these kinds of distractions. What they need to do is have someone sit down with Little, and anyone else on the club with a problem here, and inform them there are many more important issues with which to deal.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grin and bear it, if you can

Now comes the hard part.

No football to speak of for roughly the next seven weeks.

The Browns are officially off the clock with regard to training. From an operational standpoint, the front office still has some contract work to do with a few draft choices.

Other than that, the silence that emanates from 76 Lou Groza Blvd. will be deafening. Fans will continue chirp and carp, however, because offseasons in professional football do not exist in their world.

That’s just the nature of being a pro football fan. There is always something to be discussed, to be argued.

For Browns fans, it’s whether Brandon Weeden’s strong minicamp and OTA performances will carry over into training camp late next month and beyond.

It’s whether Josh Gordon will finally take his career seriously after piling up his second strike with the National Football League drug abuse program. One more strike could mean a season’s suspension.

It’s whether Trent Richardson knows what it’s like to be completely healthy.

Same with Jordan Cameron, whose ability to stay healthy (problematical at best) hinges on what Norv Turner is able to do with the team’s offense this season.

Then there’s the fresh-scrubbed look of the new head coach. It’s always a risk to hire someone who has never been a big boss previously. It’s not nearly the same as being a coordinator. The key is coaching the coaches, letting them coach the players.

We won’t know for the next 47 days whether Ray Horton’s multi-front, high-blitz scheme on defense is more risk than rewarding.

And we won’t know whether there will be such a thing as a three-down outside linebacker this season. All signs point to a thunderous NO.

We’ll have to wait for what will seem an eternity to find out whether Joshua Cribbs is, indeed, irreplaceable. We became so spoiled by his outstanding success, his absence might seem palpable at first and unfair to those who will try to make you forget him.

And what about the defensive line? With all the high profile free-agent signings emphasizing the pass rush from the outside, the plug uglies up front have been relegated to second billing.

The offensive line, too, remains a mystery with the slots located on either side of center Alex Mack in the spotlight. Most effective running games rely on the strength of the interior line, i.e. the guards.

And what about the secondary? Lots of unanswered questions in Cleveland's defensive backfield. With Horton dialing up blitz after blitz after blitz, that part of the field might be the most fun to watch in training camp.

On and on the rhetoric will rage until then. Arguments will be won in some minds, lost in others. That’s the beauty of being a Browns fan.

Then before you know it, July 26 will be here, coaches’ air horns will blast, footballs will fill the air and everything will return to normal. Whatever normal is in Browns Nation.