Thursday, May 30, 2013

Browns fans need to relax

I love Browns fans for any number of reasons, not the least of which is how seriously they take their football.

Take the latest round of Organized Team Activities (OTA), for example.

How many fans around the National Football League place their teams as intensely under the microscope as Browns fans? That's a rhetorical question.

For the last couple of weeks, the Browns have pranced around their Berea training complex in shorts, helmets and no shoulder pads.  And yet, fans scrutinize them as though they were in full uniform.

Sees if this sounds familiar. Jason Campbell outplays Brandon Weeden in the OTA today. The Browns are having trouble adapting to Ray Horton’s new defensive scheme. Norv Turner reams players after blown assignments.

You gotta laugh. Guys running around in shorts just trying to get familiar with a new coaching regime and every little move is taken so seriously. As though what happens in these little sessions designed to bridge the gap between minicamps and eventually morph into training camp really mean anything.

They are nothing more than walk-throughs and run-throughs as the players and coaches establish a relationship so when training camp actually starts, confusion will be reduced to a minimum and the comfort level is increased.

And yet, fans glom onto every little tidbit, every little nugget, every little whatever as they eagerly await the beginning of training camp in about seven weeks.

Quite simply, they cannot get enough of their Browns.

Nothing wrong with that except that it blurs the perception between what is real and what is nothing more than players just going through the motions of playing football.

Whether or not Weeden has a bad day does not make him any less the starting quarterback than it does making Jason Campbell the opening day starter.

That leg injury that has kept Trent Richardson from participating in off-season practices? Not to worry. He’ll be ready for the regular season.

What these athletes do padless and in shorts has absolutely nothing to do with what they do in full uniform. There is no hitting, no major contact of any sort.

If nothing else, OTAs and minicamps keep the players in shape (in some cases gets them back in shape) as the regular season approaches.

No, the best time to judge players is when they are in full uniform and actually playing against another team. Definitely not when they are half dressed.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

'Tis better to keep a low profile

Sometimes, it’s a whole lot better – and safer – to keep one’s opinions to oneself.

Take Brian Hoyer, for instance.

Following the Browns’ organized team activities Thursday, the young man from St. Ignatius High School boldly told the assembled media, “No doubt I think I have the capability to be a starting quarterback.”

That one came from so far out of left field, it makes one wonder whether he needs a reality check. He just arrived in Cleveland and already he’s taking self-confidence to a whole new level.

Having the capability is one thing. Actually going out and proving it is something entirely different.

OK, Hoyer didn’t say he would be the Browns’ starting quarterback this season, but dropping “starting quarterback” into any conversation in Cleveland stirs more than a few pots. That’s a headline grabber.

It’s one thing to be confident about your abilities. It’s quite another to broadcast them to eyes and ears that thrive on stuff like that. It’s going to be a feeding frenzy in the Cleveland media over that line.

All Hoyer does talking like that is put more pressure on himself. As a newcomer to the team, he has figuratively placed a bull’s-eye on his back. And the spotlight will be even more intensified because he’s a local product.

Add the notion, whether true or not, that he’s a particular favorite of General Manager Mike Lombardi and you have the making of yet another budding quarterback controversy.

Hoyer knows he’s No. 3 on the Browns’ quarterback depth chart. He knows he still has a lot to learn with a brand new offense. He knows the chances of being the club’s starter on opening day range anywhere from slim to “are you kidding?”

As the new kid on the Browns’ block, he would have been much better off keeping his mouth shut. Talk to the media if you must, but couch your answers. In Cleveland, fans glom onto every word.

Hoyer knows the coaching staff makes decisions such as who starts at quarterback. It’s much smarter to defer to their judgment than try to get their attention by putting his confidence on parade.

As a Browns neophyte, he should slap it in sponge mode and do everything he can to make the coaches notice. It’s much better to lie low and let his talent speak for him.

For all we know, he just might have the talent to back up his words. Chances are, however, we’ll never really get to find out so long as Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell remain healthy and vertical.

It makes for a nice feel-good story, to be sure, that the local kid comes home and plays for his hometown team. But the likelihood of Hoyer upsetting the football world and beating out Weeden and Campbell for the starting job is extremely remote. That’s just not going to happen.

Not even Bernie Kosar could do that back in 1985. Despite all the fanfare that accompanied his arrival, Bernie still couldn’t beat out Gary Danielson. An injury suffered by Danielson in game five jump-started Kosar’s career.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hoyer signing strictly ho hum

OK, so what does signing Brian Hoyer to a two-year contract mean for the Browns? More specifically, Brandon Weeden.

Absolutely nothing.

Barring injury, Weeden will be the Browns’ starting quarterback in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins. Bet on it.

Jason Campbell will be his backup and Hoyer (after the Browns dispatch Thad Lewis) will be the emergency quarterback. He’ll be the guy who dresses but doesn’t get into a game unless at least someone in front of him is injured.

Signing a second-rate quarterback (being kind here) who has been a clipboard holder for three teams in his brief National Football League career is normally not a big story.

But since Hoyer is a St. Ignatius graduate and an avowed favorite of Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi, his signing has stirred a few pots.

About 18 months ago when he was an analyst for the NFL Network, Lombardi declared that Hoyer, at the time backing up Tom Brady in New England, was good enough to be a starter in the NFL.

“If I were the Cleveland Browns, I’d rather have Brian Hoyer (under) center than Colt McCoy,” he told a Boston radio station in November 2011. “I think he’s got all the traits you need in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team.”

Well, Lombardi is the Cleveland Browns now. He’s the guy who makes all the important personnel decisions and feeds them intravenously to CEO Joe Banner, who takes the major share of the credit.

I wonder what they think of Hoyer now that he’s going to be wearing the Seal Brown and Orange. And whether he still has all those traits at age 27. “Hoyer has demonstrated the skills needed to be a starter,” Lombardi reiterated to a reporter 12 months ago.

It didn’t take the GM long to finally wrap his praise around Hoyer in person. Forty-eight hours after the Arizona Cardinals couldn’t find any buyers for Hoyer’s sterling talents and released him, Lombardi pounced. All he had to do was outwait the Cards and the quarterback fell into his lap.

Weeden handled the news well, although he admitted being surprised. “That’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “It’s part of the business and if you start worrying about it, that’s too much to worry about. That’s my mentality . . .“

So what can we read into bringing Hoyer back to Cleveland? Again, absolutely nothing unless Lombardi sees in his newest acquisition something that is not readily apparent to the eyes of many fans.

Hoyer is your typical journeyman quarterback. Three (now four) teams in four seasons with one start. And that start was in the final game of last season when everyone else in front of him was either injured or brutally ineffective.

It’s obvious why he has started only one game. Playing behind Brady and Ben Roethlisberger (for two games in Pittsburgh last season before he was released) does not bode well for starting status.

We really don’t know what kind of quarterback Hoyer is. We can’t take Lombardi’s word for it because the youngster has done nothing in his NFL career except watch games from the sideline.

All we know is that he completed 19 (of 34) passes for 225 yards with a touchdown and interception in a loss to San Francisco. Eight of those completions and 166 of those yards were to wideout Michael Floyd.

Bottom line: Even with all those wonderful traits Lombardi spoke of, Hoyer is just good enough to be a backup quarterback. And not just with the Browns. He can’t embarrass you from the sideline.

Now we get a chance to see up close and personal just how right (or wrong) Lombardi was about Hoyer. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

News and views

News: Armonty Bryant reported to the Browns’ rookie camp the other day and displayed remorse after being busted recently for DUI at 4:30 in the morning in Ada, Okla.

Views: This young man should never have been allowed anywhere near Berea. He should have been cut by the team the moment word came down that he got behind the wheel of a ton and a half of destruction and drove it in an inebriated state.

The defensive end already had a red flag attached to his name in the recent college football draft because of a couple of drug busts in college, but the Browns decided to give him a second chance and grabbed him with one of their seventh-round choices.

Nothing wrong with that. Everyone deserves a second chance.

But then you remember what Bryant told the Cleveland media after his selection. “ ‘Good people make mistakes’ is something that I’ve always been told by my (college) coach,” he said. “I feel like it was just a stupid move on my part.

“I should have been more mature about the situation and more focused on football, which is something I really want to do with my life. Now that I’ve gotten a second chance, I feel like I won’t let anyone down, I won’t let myself down, the people around me or the Cleveland Browns.”

That conjured up an old expression: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Bryant did neither.

When that second chance is ignored as blatantly as Bryant ignored it, a third chance should never have even been considered.

First of all, what the hell was he doing out at 4:30 a.m.? That’s no time to be out on the road, unless you’re starting the day early, for anyone, let alone a football player who has already run afoul of the law once.

The damage control machine was immediately started up for Bryant, whose agent practically pleaded his client’s case to the Plain Dealer.

 “He (Bryant) was distraught and felt he let a lot of people down, especially the Cleveland Browns,” Marc Lillibridge told the Pee Dee. “He was adamant about getting a hold of (Cleveland General Manager) Mike Lombardi and making sure the Browns heard it from him.”

Sounds more like Lillibridge was the adamant party and made his client make that call after chiding him.

Bryant, drafted because of his ability to rush the passer, might turn out to be nothing more than a spare part because the Browns have loaded up on players whose specialty is harassing opposing quarterbacks.

But that’s not the point here. It is obvious that Bryant has a tough time controlling himself off the field and is a magnet for trouble. If he knows the difference between right and wrong, he has shown incredibly poor judgment.

By not cutting him, the Browns are basically giving him a free pass. The club reportedly has a strong support system, but those systems have been known to fail.

Lillibridge, however, has assured the Browns that Bryant’s party days are over. “He’s not leaving the house,” he said.

Until, that is, he’s cut. That move should have been made after the DUI.

News: Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III is pedaling furiously as he tries to protect the good name and integrity of Pilot Flying J.

Views: Talk about your distractions and damage control.

Browns fans finally get an owner who cares about the product he owns and then that owner’s business world collapses all around him.

I don’t know exactly what’s going on in Haslam’s truck-stop world.  Something to do with fraud and a federal investigation. All that is beyond my scope. All I know is that he is frantically trying to restore his company’s good name and it seems to be taking him away from the Browns.

That means he has to implicitly trust Browns CEO Joe Banner to run the day-to-day operation of the team while he tries to fend off, among others, the federal government. Right now, he’s much more concerned with his multi billion-dollar business than his billion-dollar professional football investment.

Trusting Banner, though, is a scary thought. The way he cavalierly handled the college draft sends a strong signal that things really haven’t changed at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.

The lifeblood of any NFL team is the draft. In the most recent draft, Banner applied a tourniquet to that blood flow with his relative non-participation.

Meanwhile, rumors swirl that Haslam’s fellow National Football League owners are not exactly thrilled with the negative attention he’s receiving. Talk – and that’s all it is . . . talk . . . at this time – around the NFL landscape suggests Haslam might be asked to give up the Browns.

That is more of a possibility than probability. Judging from his pro-active stance and the sincerity with which he is trying to resolve his huge problem, Haslam is still standing on firm ground with other league owners.

The guess here is they are waiting for everything to come down before making a snap judgment. That doesn’t mean Haslam is in the clear. Far from it. It’s entirely possible we might not see a resolution to his dilemma until well into the regular season, if not later. If at all. These things take time.

For the time being, Haslam is saying all the right things to Browns fans.

After apologizing a few days ago to the city of Cleveland, northeastern Ohio and Browns fans, he said, ”The last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was detract from football and the Browns and what a great football area this is. I so apologize for that. We feel badly about it and we’re very comfortable we’ll work through this situation.”

I don’t doubt his sincerity. Owning a professional football team has been a long-time dream for Haslam. To lose it because of questionable practices in another business would be the cruelest of blows.

Monday, May 6, 2013

What quarterback competition?

It’s fairly common knowledge that Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is an unknown quantity.

After all, his rookie season in the National Football League last year was spent playing in a system that was as foreign to him as the languages of China.

The fact he did as well as he did – OK, maybe not well, but certainly not embarrassing – despite having to play in catch-up mode all season is a testament to the desire of the young man to prove his critics wrong.

Now I’m not going to say flat out that Weeden will be a staggeringly different quarterback this season. And I’m not going to say he will mute his critics with surprising performances.

But some of the nonsense floating out there about Weeden and a Browns quarterback competition in the vast wasteland of NFL Rumorland is downright ignorant.

Here we are in early-May with training camp about two months away and already rumors are being peddled that Jason Campbell will be given a legitimate shot at being the Browns’ starting quarterback this season.

The factory that spews out that kind of drivel cannot – and should not – be taken seriously. As much as the Weeden critics would love to see it happen, it won’t.

Right here, right now, let me be the first to say that unless Weeden is injured, Campbell will not be the Browns’ starting quarterback in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Campbell was brought in because he was supposedly the best out there when Joe Banner went shopping for Colt’s McCoy’s successor. He’s the kind of guy you like coming off the bench if Weeden goes down. At least he won’t embarrass his team.

Sure, he’ll see some playing time in the four exhibition games, maybe even play most of the final game. But he will not see a majority of the reps in training camp and might be given a few opportunities to play with the starters. But that’s as far as it’s going to go.

No, if the Browns are going to make any progress on offense this season, it will be with Weeden in the shotgun or pistol formations. Can’t say under center because Norv Turner is expected to play to Weeden’s strengths and that’s lining up anywhere from four to seven yards behind the pivot.

The new offensive coordinator is not a dumb man. He knows talent when he sees it. And he has seen enough of Campbell to know he’s no better than a clipboard holder in the NFL. He is a journeyman at best.

Turner also knows, but for some reason declines to say, that Weeden is the man. It’s his job to lose. And he’s got to be awful to lose it. Again, that’s not going to happen.

It can be argued by Campbell supporters—no, make that Weeden’s critics – that Campbell played in Turner’s offensive system for three seasons while Weeden is a neophyte. Therein lies the X factor. We don’t know if Weeden can adapt.

It is distinctly possible he will reach a comfort level with Turner’s offense quickly because it has elements of the one he played in at Oklahoma State. While not as wide open, it relies on stretching the field and that’s what the Cowboys, with Weeden at the controls, excelled at.

It’s difficult to imagine Weeden regressing from last season. He now has four wide receivers he can rely on in Josh Gordon, Greg Little, David Nelson and Davone Bess with Travis Benjamin in reserve.

Campbell, meanwhile, is saying all the right things when the competition issue comes up. “I’m going to help Brandon as much as possible,” he said recently. “But at the same time, I’m going to push him and compete and help the guys around us continue to get better.”

If the coaching staff has thrown down a gauntlet, it is invisible. The worst thing the coaching staff can do is play mind games, especially with Weeden. He and his teammates need to know now who the starter is.

Shrouding the issue is not the way set the tone for training camp, especially this one. This is Rob Chudzinski’s first crack at being a head coach. The last thing he should want is even a hint of a controversy.

He and Turner should channel most of their efforts toward turning Weeden into the kind of professional quarterback most Browns fans had hoped to see last season. Then if it does not work out, there is only one person Weeden can blame.