Monday, March 31, 2014

Shaking up Murphy’s Law

When it comes to doing the right thing, those who reside in the Ivory Tower at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. have failed miserably to do just that in the last decade and a half.

It’s as though Murphy’s Law hovers above that building and shows absolutely no signs of leaving.

But the club’s hierarchy finally did something right last week. Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day workout in College Station, Texas, was attended by the front offices of every National Football League except the Browns and Chicago Bears.

The Bears already have their franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler and their absence was not totally unexpected. The Browns, on the other hand, are in the market for a quarterback.

Pundits wondered out loud just what were the Browns thinking. They need a quarterback and Manziel is certainly considered by many of those draft analysts to be a certifiable candidate to be selected early.

Why weren’t the Browns there? Why weren’t they at Derek Carr’s Pro Day? And why didn’t they attend the Pro Days of Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater? What in the world is going on in Cleveland?

Common sense has finally arrived in Berea; that’s what is going on. And it’s about time.

Good for the Browns. Rather than waste time watching Manziel being put through his paces in a workout orchestrated by a quarterback guru, General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine stayed home to address more important things.

Not to worry. They’ll get their crack at Manziel one-on-one sometime between now and the May 8-10 college football draft. They’ll bring him into Berea, get extremely up close and personal with him and, at the same time, work him out using their own choreography.

Same with Bortles, Bridgewater and Carr (Carr’s is today in Cleveland) and other quarterbacks who interest them. By the time Farmer, Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are through with these quarterbacks, they’ll have a much better idea of just how they’ll approach the draft.

Watching Manziel go through his paces for everyone else in College Station proved nothing. If NFL teams don’t know by now just how much of an impact Manziel will make on the league, shame on them.

Hundreds of miles of game tape of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is ample evidence of just what you’re going to get if you step up and write his name on a card when Commissioner Roger Goodell puts your team on the clock.

About the only thing the mercurial Manziel showed in his workout that had not been seen previously was his ability to take the snap while lined up under center. Other than that, it was your regular dog and pony show.

Pro football teams have a tendency to overanalyze players, anyway, at this time of the season rather than rely on game tape. And the relatively useless Indianapolis combine in February just adds to the overanalyzing.

So when Manziel and his buddies show up in Berea and undergo much more personal scrutiny, that’s when we’ll get a much better idea of what the Browns think. That, of course, is if they choose to be transparent.

But don’t count on that. At least not yet. After all, making the right moves requires small steps. At least this is a start.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Too tough an act to follow

Perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to the Indians last season was making the playoffs, albeit for one game.

Now just about everyone rooting for the team expects a repeat this season. That’s not going to happen. A noticeably weaker pitching staff than last season is the great equalizer.

Last season, I figured the team would play around .500 ball in manager Terry Francona’s first season. They had that kind of talent. Too many “if” factors led to that conclusion.

Ifs like: If the starting pitching held up; if the hitting rebounded from a few down seasons; if the defense improved; and if the bullpen came through.

There is no question the 2013 Indians overachieved in just about every category. The starting pitching provided the biggest surprise, in large part due to the contributions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.

The hitting produced the fifth-most runs in the major leagues last season even though the leading home run hitter (Nick Swisher) had only 22 and second baseman Jason Kipnis led the team in runs batted in with just 84.

The defense, meanwhile, was steady, but not spectacular. Very few games were lost because the Indians beat themselves.

The bullpen, led by the erratic Chris Perez, blew 22 of 60 save opportunities. It would have been a lot worse if not for the strong setup work of Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, Cody Allen and Mark Rzepczynski.

Again, there is no question the 2013 Indians overachieved. No one figured they would be anywhere near contending status. But as the season progressed, the notoriously streaky Indians never lost sight of first place in the AL Central Division.

A highly favorable September schedule and a season-ending 10-game winning streak proved the correct formula for a return to the postseason, which caught many a Tribe fan by surprise.

The only surprise this season will be if the Tribe duplicates last season. After watching them in spring training, I came to the conclusion that the hitting will be every bit as good as last season, but the pitching won’t come even close.

Jimenez and Kazmir are gone from the starting rotation, taking advantage of their solid 2013 seasons to land lucrative contracts elsewhere. There is no way Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, who replace them in the starting rotation, come close to replicating their efforts.

The coaching staff is babying Salazar to protect his tender arm, and Carrasco has trouble finding the strike zone on a consistent basis. And if he has to work from the stretch, he has all kinds of problems. He will be either gone or in the bullpen with Josh Tomlin replacing him by no later than mid-May.

Justin Masterson is clearly the staff ace and one of the best pitchers in the American League. After Masterson, the quality drops off noticeably. Is Zack McAllister a .500 pitcher? Can Corey Kluber replicate his 11-5 season?

The bullpen is the key. If the starters can get to the sixth or seventh inning with a lead, the whole dynamic could change. Smith and Albers are gone, but Allen, Rzepczynski, Shaw, Blake Wood and Vinnie Pestano return, along with newcomers Josh Outman and Scott Atchison.

The X factor is John Axford, who replaces Perez as the closer. Axford flamed out as the Milwaukee closer last season before regaining his touch as a setup man in St. Louis. If he falters again, look for Allen and his 98-100 mph velocity to take over as the closer.

The hitting will be fine, although somewhat inconsistent at times. Once again, the power will be distributed throughout the lineup. Last season, 10 batters reached double figures in home runs. Don’t expect anyone to pound 30 or more home runs.

The Cleveland defense will be fun to watch this season, especially with Carlos Santana playing third base for at least half the season. Santana, who came up in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization as a third baseman before being converted into a catcher, did not embarrass himself in the field in spring training.

Santana most likely will start at third against left-handed pitchers, catch a couple of games a week in relief of Yan Gomes and serve as the designated hitter when Francona chooses to have Gomes and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall in the lineup.

Gomes represents a substantial upgrade behind the plate. He handles pitchers better than Santana and guns down potential base stealers better than most American League receivers. His strong bat is a bonus. The question is how he will hold up playing full-time.

The outfield is solid defensively with Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn (who starts the season on the disabled list) and David Murphy. Brantley had a brilliant spring, hitting well over .500. He hit everything hard, including many of the outs. Murphy, as usual, is a slow starter.

You can bet we’ll see a lot of Mike Aviles and Elliot Johnson, two of Francona’s favorites because of their versatility. They can play just about every position but pitcher, catcher and first base. Aviles swings the better bat, though.

Bottom line: As the pitching goes, so will go the Indians in 2014. Unfortunately, I do not see a repeat of 2013.

It may be a year later, but I’m sticking to the notion that the 2014 Indians will not overachieve as last season’s team did and finish where I thought the 2013 team would – at or around .500.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

So-so free agency for Browns

That’s it?

The Browns are finished with free agency for now?

In that case, time to slap a grade on what has been added to the club’s roster the last few weeks.

Seven new bodies on the roster. A mixed bag of good, questionable and downright training-camp fodder.

The signings of Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and Ben Tate provide valuable contributors. There is no question each man will be worth whatever money was spent to get signatures on a contract.

Dansby, only a year older than the departed D’Qwell Jackson, is an immediate upgrade over the popular inside linebacker. He’s bigger, stronger and quicker than Jackson, who is better suited for the 4-3 scheme.

Whitner is another upgrade over the departed T. J. Ward, whose pass coverage left a lot to be desired. He was very strong when playing a box safety, but there’s a lot more to playing strong safety than that. Whitner is every bit the hitter that Ward was and his pass coverage is comparatively superior.

Tate, in extricating himself from the shadow of Houston’s Arian Foster, has wanted to be the feature back for the last couple of seasons. And the Browns are more than happy to accommodate to him.

He will be the feature back in a Kyle Shanahan offense that will stress the run much more this season than last season, when the Browns threw the ball nearly two-thirds of the time because they had no running game.

The big questions are whether Tate can last the season with the beating he will eventually take, and can the front office provide enough backup protection in the event Tate goes down.

After this trio, it’s hard to get excited about the rest of the class.

A lot of people rave about the signing of smallish wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and I’m trying to figure out why. I don’t get it.

Those who rave say Hawkins will be the perfect – well, maybe not perfect, but the next best thing – slot receiver replacing Davone Bess. What has he done to warrant such respect?

Caught 86 passes in 35 games for less than 1,000 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons with Cincinnati. That’s it.  

Maybe those fans are looking at Hawkins’ 51-catch season for 533 yards and those four TDs in 2012. Is that something about which to get excited? Not in this corner.

Hawkins is being counted on to take heat off Josh Gordon, who certainly will draw a lot more attention this season after his remarkable season in 2013. In other words, he’s being counted on to be the No. 2 receiver.

One national writer went so far as to compare Hawkins to Wes Welker, when he was a wildly productive wide receiver with the New England Patriots until last season, calling him Welker to Gordon’s (Randy Moss when he was with the Pats). Really?

Nowhere in his three National Football League campaigns did Hawkins provide proof he has the talent to take that big step up and become a high-profile target for whomever the Browns settle on at quarterback.

Now let’s look at tight end Jim Dray. He was signed for only one reason – he can block better than incumbent Gary Barnidge. At 6-5, 255, he has the requisite body type and skill to be an effective blocking tight end. But how often will we see him on the field?

He should be a more than adequate complement to Jordan Cameron, whose pass catching far exceeds his ability to block. It looks as though he will be nothing more than a part-time contributor.

And then there are Paul McQuistan and Isaiah Trufant. As we’ve stated before, if McQuistan becomes a starter, the Browns’ offensive line is in trouble. And Trufant is nothing more than . . . well, I’m not sure exactly what he’s nothing more than.

He is a defensive back who isn’t nearly good enough to crack the starting lineup or play in any of the sophisticated packages coach Mike Pettine and his defensive staff are expected to unveil this season. In fact, it would be surprising if he makes the final roster.

So on the plus side, there are Dansby, Whitner and Tate. In the iffy category are Hawkins and Dray with McQuistan and Trufant bringing up the rear in the “why in the world did the Browns ever sign them?” category.

If the Browns had stopped at the first three, the grade definitely would have been an A. Bringing Hawkins and Dray on board drops that to a B-. And the McQuistan and Trufant signings lower it to a straight C.

One of the main ideas of free agency is to sign players who will contribute on a full-time basis. The Browns are three-for-seven in that category. Hawkins is the X factor because he has never been a starter in the NFL and there are serious questions he can carry a full load.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Browns sign McQuistan; pass the No-Doz

So the Browns have signed offensive lineman Paul McQuistan.

Pardon me if I stifle a yawn.

Signing McQuistan does not fix what ails the Browns’ offensive line. It doesn’t even come close. It’s not even a building block.

The Browns cited his versatility when announcing the two-year contract agreement. I don’t want to know how versatile he is. I want to know how good he is.

Yes, he played on a fairly regular basis for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks for the last three seasons. But there was no way he would have been a starter for the Seahawks in 2014.

Another statistic to factor into the McQuistan equation: He’ll he 31 years old by the beginning of the season. When you sign a 31-year-old offensive lineman, it’s more for depth than regular duty.

If somehow McQuistan winds up on the starting line this September, that will tell you all you need to know about how much this unit has been improved. In other words, not at all.

The Browns not only need to get better on the offensive line, especially at the guards, they need to get younger.

Versatility and experience are nice attributes for a player like McQuistan, but c’mon, the Browns can certainly do better. Much better. Look for at least one guard to be selected in the college draft in May.

So excuse me if I don’t get too excited about McQuistan’s arrival in Cleveland. It prompted me to reach for the No-Doz, which I used earlier when the Browns signed free agent defensive back Isaiah Trufant.

Both men might make the team, but their contributions hopefully will be limited.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Playing the prevarication game with Manziel

The longer we go without hearing the name Johnny Manziel attached to the Browns’ first choice in the National Football League college draft May 8, the more I believe that’s exactly who they will choose (if he’s there) when called on the clock by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

We have been told the club is not in love with any of the four quarterbacks mentioned as first-round fodder. Not Teddy Bridgewater. Not Blake Bortles. Not Derek Carr. And certainly not Manziel.

We have heard names like wide receiver Sammy Watkins, defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Khalil Mack associated with the first pick. All are legitimate choices.

So what exactly does all that mean? At this time of the NFL season, it means absolutely nothing. In fact, it might mean quite the opposite. After all, it is silly season when lying is the norm.

Prevarication is in season at this time of the year. It blooms on a daily basis until May 8. Everyone does it. Say one thing and mean something entirely different. No such thing as a guilty conscience at this time of the season.

The Browns, of course, are not tipping their hand. It’s way too early, anyway, to hone in on a particular player since we are still more than seven weeks away from the lottery. A lot can happen in that span to change plans.

That’s a very long time in which a club can change its mind any number of times. But it is more than a little curious that General Manager Ray Farmer indicated early on that a quarterback is not on the Browns’ radar, at least in the first round.

That could change, of course, depending on whether they can procure the services of a veteran quarterback to battle Brian Hoyer for the starting job.

Matt Schaub is still a possibility, but the Houston Texans are playing hardball and have stubbornly refused to release the high-priced quarterback and put him on the open market, hoping to extract something in a trade for him. Maybe the Browns are playing the waiting game in hopes the Texans will blink and finally cut him loose.

If the Browns lose that waiting game, then a quarterback definitely has to be part of the first-round draft strategy, Farmer’s and the club’s denials notwithstanding, they can’t head into the 2014 season with Brian Hoyer unchallenged.

Again assuming he’s there, drafting Manziel would give the team an identity. And if there is a team that desperately needs an identity, it’s the Browns. They would immediately become much more relevant as a news story with him on the roster.

The media loves him. He is a magnet, a lightning rod. No matter where he lands in the NFL, no matter what he does, the heavyweights of the media will be there, especially the electronic media. It happened with Tim Tebow several years ago and Tebow wasn’t nearly as talented or NFL ready as Manziel.

So let’s not totally rule out the possibility that Farmer is being extremely coy, if not downright evasive, when it comes to Manziel. For all we know, which isn’t as much as we’d like, the Cleveland GM realizes that and has set his sights on the former Texas A&M quarterback

He just doesn’t want anyone else to know that.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Health can bring wealth for Tate

All that waiting and waiting and waiting for just a two-year contract worth $7 million?

Yep, that’s what Ben Tate gets for autographing said contract with the Browns Saturday, solving in one big gulp the club’s running game problems. Maybe.

Why maybe? Because Tate is a running back who has trouble staying healthy. He has never suited up for all 16 games in a regular season in his three campaigns with the Houston Texans.

But negotiating more than 48 hours for just $7 million? That’s a deal that could have been reached in 48 minutes, let alone 48 hours. One would have thought the two sides were haggling over something like a four- or five-year deal in the $35-$40 million range.

Maybe they were and couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal. Obviously, the Browns took Tate’s penchant for being unable to avoid injury into consideration and declined to offer more than two years.

It was as though they said something like let’s see what you can give us in those two years and we’ll revisit your contract. Show us you can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season, provide positive numbers and your stay in Cleveland will become more permanent.

There is no question Tate, rumored it seems to be the replacement for Trent Richardson almost since Richardson’s trade to Indianapolis last September, is the kind of running back who can be a game-breaker.

Most savvy pro football fans knew he was going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013 season and the Browns, with arguably the worst running game in the NFL, were looking desperately for a feature back. It was a natural fit.

Tate considers himself a feature back. His only problem was the man playing in front of him on the Texans’ depth chart. Arian Foster is one of the elite running backs in the National Football League.

Until last season, Tate was known mainly as one of the best backup running backs in the National Football League. He ran for 942 yards playing part-time as a rookie in 2011 in his only relatively injury-free season. And injury-riddled 2012 season saw him run for just 279 yards.

But when Foster went down early with a knee injury this past season, Tate had his chance. But broken ribs slowed him and he produced only 771 yards in 14 games, no doubt hurting his chances of scoring a big contract.

Why other teams didn’t rush after Tate once free agency began is a mystery. He’s still very young at 25 (he’ll be 26 in August) with his prime years dead ahead. Maybe the Browns were the only team that would have provided him with the chance to be a feature back. Now he is being afforded the opportunity to back up his words.

At 5-11, 215 pounds, he is your prototypical cutback runner. And with the Browns’ new zone-blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, it looks like a perfect fit.

It looks as though the Browns finally got lucky with a big-name signing. They also got lucky with the numbers. Bottom line: They got off cheaply with this signing.

The chances of maximizing their investment rest solely on Tate’s ability to remain healthy. If he does, then he could very well become the biggest bargain of the 2014 free-agent class.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Addition by subtraction

The fact the Browns released Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell does not come as a shock to most of Browns Nation.

It was an inevitability that was bound to happen after last season’s disaster. Campbell is a journeyman quarterback to begin with and Weeden is on the precipice of becoming one, too.

You can blame their releases on their abysmal failure to elevate the Browns to even mediocre status last season. They didn’t even come close, although both contributed mightily to the success Josh Gordon enjoyed.

Campbell was brought in as insurance if something went wrong at the position. That he was bypassed in favor of Brian Hoyer following an injury to Weeden in game two should have been the first clue he wasn’t going to be with the team in 2014.

Weeden was doomed by his inability to play well on a consistent basis. The former first-round draft pick never lived up to his advance billing. He brought a strong arm and not much else to the position.

They will not be missed.
*     *     *
The pursuit of Matt Schaub, if we are to believe the rumors floating about, is intriguing in that the Houston Texans still have him under contract and are playing hardball with any team that desires his services.

If they deal Schaub, that leaves them with only T. J. Yates at quarterback and virtually assures they will select a quarterback with the first pick of the college draft May 8.

Schaub, who will be 33 in June, would not be a bad get for the Browns if the Texans lessen their demands. He’s big (6-5, 235 pounds) and has a big arm. He’d fit nicely into the offense of Kyle Shanahan, his offensive coordinator for a few years in Houston.

There’s still plenty of time for the Texans to decide on what to do with Schaub. The longer it goes, the more likely he will be dealt and the Browns very well could wind up as the beneficiaries.
*     *     *
News item: The Browns have signed tight end Jim Dray to a three-year contract. Pardon me if my excitement over that move lasts a nanosecond. If that. Dray is being brought in strictly as a blocker.

If he reaches double digits in receptions, it’ll be a major surprise, although he did catch 26 passes with Arizona last season. He had only seven receptions in three seasons before that. He’s with the Browns for one reason and one reason only.
*     *     *
As it turns out, it looks as though the Cincinnati Bengals probably won’t match the Browns’ offer sheet to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.


Even though the National Football League outlawed them, it appears as though the Browns slipped a small poison pill into the offer in the form of $10.8 million payout in the first two years of the four-year, $13.6 million deal.

There is no way the Bengals are going to pay that kind of money to a part-time player.

Maybe they’ll change their minds.

Wishful thinking.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Random thoughts at the dawn of 2014 free agency . . .

If the Browns sign Matt Schaub as a free agent, they will not draft a quarterback in the first round of the college draft on May 8. Maybe not even the second round. More likely the third round or later.

It would appear they have loads of faith that new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who worked successfully with Schaub in Houston, can resurrect the quarterback’s career, which suffered a big hit last season.

With Brian Hoyer, Schaub and Rex Grossman (strongly rumored headed for the Browns) on board, the need for a developmental quarterback is not as urgent as before.
*     *     *
The Browns got a little older on defense and a lot meaner and larger. After saying goodbye to D’Qwell Jackson and T. J. Ward and saying hello to Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, it obvious the Cleveland defense in 2014 will be hyper aggressive.

Whitner, just 16 months older than Ward, is every bit as bellicose as Ward, but a much better cover strong safety. And Dansby, unusually large for an inside linebacker at 6-4, 245 pounds, is much better than Jackson in the run game and passing game.

In adding Dansby and Whitner to the roster, new coach Mike Pettine now has two weapons with which to back up his contention that the Cleveland defense will be much more aggressive this season.
*     *     *
The four-year offer sheet to the dwarfish (comparatively speaking) wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is puzzling. Yes, the 5-7 former Bengals wideout is fast and quick. But if the Bengals don’t match the Browns’ offer and he signs with Cleveland, he becomes a redundancy to the offense.

Isn’t Travis Benjamin still with the Browns? And isn’t he every bit as quick and fast as Hawkins?

Here’s hoping the Bengals match the offer sheet. Word out of Cincinnati is they will. Good.
*     *     *
News item: The Washington Redskins sign former Browns guard Shawn Lauvao to a four-year, $17 million contract.

I call that addition by subtraction.

While he’s a decent (trying to be nice here) pass blocker, he is awful in the run game. The Redskins, who have a good ground game, will find that out in a hurry. They definitely overpaid for him.
*     *     * 
He’s 5-8 and 170 pounds, 31 years old, played for Pettine with the New York Jets and never played regularly in the National Football League. So why did the Browns sign defensive back Isaiah Trufant as a free agent?

Beats me. Teams weren’t exactly falling all over themselves to sign this guy. The Browns beat no one to the punch here. So why . . .

Maybe it’s the Pettine connection. Maybe it’s the name Trufant. Older brother Marcus has had a nice NFL career and kid brother Desmond was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons a year ago. Both are defensive backs.

That still doesn’t answer the question. If he makes the club, he’s nothing better than a special teams guy. If that.

*     *     *
More thoughts as they warrant.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is another Mack on horizon for Browns?

The D’Qwell Jackson era has ended.

Welcome to the Khalil Mack era.


All of a sudden, there’s a huge hole at inside linebacker for the Browns with the release of Jackson and the position, just like that, has rocketed to where it now is at or very near the top of the club’s list of needs. And Mack just might be the guy to fill that hole.

Unless Browns General Manager Ray Farmer is adamant that he’ll draft a quarterback with his first choice, do not be surprised if he thinks seriously of going after the relatively little known linebacker from the University of Buffalo.

Well maybe not little known in college football circles. But playing at Buffalo didn’t exactly expose him to the rest of the nation as he toiled in relative anonymity. Ask Ohio State fans about Mack and they’ll tell you he probably was the best player on the field last August when Buckeyes knocked off Buffalo.

Even though he played a position that didn’t require it as much, he had a nose for the ball. In his four years at Buffalo, he racked up 327 tackles, 28½ sacks, forced 16 fumbles and made three of his four career interceptions last season, including a pick 6 against the Buckeyes.

Mack has soared up the pre-draft lists of many National Football League teams recently to the point where he has landed among the top 10 prospects for the May 8-10 college lottery.

And now that the heart of the Cleveland defense has erected a vacancy sign with Jackson’s departure, Farmer needs someone to bring it back to life. He needs someone like Mack, who can be just the guy to pull it off.

The Cleveland general manager needs someone who can inject life into the middle of his defense. Sort of a Ray Lewis type. You know, the kind of football player who reaches deep down emotionally and inspires his defensive teammates to play beyond their capabilities.

For years, Lewis led the Baltimore Ravens to emotional heights that helped them win two Super Bowls and a number of AFC North championships. 

Naysayers might argue that Mack is an outside linebacker and would have trouble making the switch inside. Not necessarily. He has the instincts to work in the middle of the defense and definitely has the body type (6-2½ and 245 pounds) to play inside.

He can give the Cleveland defense something at inside linebacker that it sorely needs: The ability to tackle ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage, not at or near the line of scrimmage. For years we watched Jackson taken out of plays because he wasn’t strong enough to shed opponents.

Jackson was best suited for a 4-3 alignment and prospered in it for two seasons under defensive coordinator Dick Jauron in 2011 and 2012. He struggled somewhat in Ray Rhodes’ 3-4 hybrid scheme last season and that’s the same scheme favored by new coach Mike Pettine.

Based on his collegiate performances, Mack is much stronger at the point of attack. His speed and quickness in the NFL would enable him on occasion to rush the passer in the form of an inside blitz.

Mack is young enough and eager enough to make the switch inside successfully if the Browns select him with the fourth pick of the draft. Yes, the responsibilities are different inside than on the flank. So what. He can adapt. Besides, don’t the Browns already have enough outside linebackers to take care of the pass rush?

Unless he is as dumb as a box of rocks, Mack should have no problem switching to a new position. It’s only a few yards from where he made his reputation in college.

In the grand scheme of things, Jackson’s departure could very well alter Farmer’s approach to the draft. Maybe it already has for all we know. While quarterback is still a priority, there are enough good (not great) quarterbacks where the GM can wait until the second or third round to take one.

Right now, inside linebacker just might have trumped the need to take a quarterback with the first pick. With the extreme likelihood he’ll be there at No. 4, don’t be surprised if Mack is at least seriously considered, especially if Farmer throws up a few smokescreens along the way and the linebacker’s name is not mentioned.