Tuesday, May 27, 2014

News and views

News: Mike Holmgren thinks the Washington Redskins should change their nickname. “Absolutely because of what it signifies and what it means to so many people,” he told radio station KJR in Seattle recently.

“I’m not talking football fans. I’m talking about Native Americans and all that. Yeah. Just change the name. Big deal. Change the name.”

Views: I’m tempted to say who cares because, really, who cares what Holmgren says these days? But I can’t resist.

That sounds like the ramblings of a man not in full control of all his faculties. Not once in his 17 years head coach in Green Bay and Seattle did Holmgren suggest what he’s now suggesting. Where was he then?

He was responding to a question regarding a letter 50 United States senators sent to Redskins owner Dan Snyder recently, asking him to strongly consider changing the team’s nickname.

“You know, I’m an old history teacher,” the ex-Browns president said. “And I think if you read enough of that stuff and you see how people were treated, I think it’s the right thing to do. Now apparently 50 senators also agree with me.” Big of him to look at it that way.

Considering all the senators are members of the Democratic party – and three Democrats did not sign the letter – that says the other half of the Senate, at least theoretically, chooses to disagree. Does that make them wrong? Not necessarily.

I’m not taking sides here, although I do have an opinion. And unlike Holmgren, I choose to keep it to myself because I pontificate on football and some Cleveland sports-related topics, not politics. And this Redskins kerfuffle definitely falls under that category.

Holmgren now sounds like a man who hasn’t met a question he doesn’t like. Being out of the limelight since getting the boot in Cleveland seems to have sharpened his urge to answer any and all questions, no matter the topic.

Sure, he’s entitled to his opinion and should be taken seriously, but only when it comes to matters related to football. The man knows football, although he has stumbled in that area when not on the sidelines coaching.

When it comes to anything else outside that arena, however, his opinion should be not be taken seriously at best and ignored at worst.

News: Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel does Las Vegas over the Memorial Day weekend.

Views: So what is the problem? He’s 21, the legal drinking age last time I checked, is on the verge of making some good money, likes to have a good time and has the means to do so. So what is the problem?

There are those who say he should be elbow deep trying to learn the Browns’ playbook. He should be nowhere near Vegas. He should get his priorities straight.

This is still May. Manziel is about three weeks into his professional football career. He’ll have plenty of time to get serious about the next step in that career. What’s wrong with blowing off a little steam now?

When minicamp starts next week, his head will be where it’s supposed to be – buried in the playbook, which, by the way, he brought along with him to Vegas. It wasn’t as though it was non-stop fun in a city where there is no clock.

Right now, the kid probably doesn’t know why some fans are upset with his fun-loving sojourn. But he is smart enough to realize all the off-field nonsense stops now. There is no question he’ll have offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s undivided attention. 

He knows he wears a bull’s-eye on his back. He has worn one since winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman at Texas A&M. He is used to it by now. There are those who believe he thrives because of it.

So unless Manziel chooses to visit Las Vegas after the season begins for real with training camp in late July, I have no problem with his wanderlust ways. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Way too early to tell

Johnny Manziel sure is a news magnet.

No matter what he does, the rookie Browns quarterback is the subject of a story. Good, bad or otherwise.

The most ridiculous notion thus far is that Manziel should know his place on the team. He’s a newbie and thus should be treated like one.

He knows that. He doesn’t have to be told he should “act like a backup” and not like he’s king of the block. Give the guy a little credit. He’s not that ignorant where he actually believes he can walk right in and take over. He doesn’t need to be humbled.

After the first OTA session the other day, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer went on radio and declared Brian Hoyer was a better quarterback right now by a substantial margin.

Of course he is. What a ridiculous thing to say considering Manziel is taking baby steps in his transition to the professional game. He is merely dipping his toes in new waters.

The GM doesn’t need to go on radio and announce something like that to the world.  Some opinions are better off being left unsaid. Especially when the most rabid fan base in the National Football League is listening and gloms onto every word.

Hoyer is a seasoned veteran by comparison. He’s been down this road a few times. At this juncture, it stands to reason he is the much better quarterback. It’s not even close. And if the season started this Sunday, he would be under center.

But this is the latter part of May and the season does not begin for another 15 weeks.

It appears as though the Browns are taking something relatively benign right now and making a big deal of it. There is time for that later in training camp and the ramp-up to the regular season with four exhibition games.

It’s time to settle down and let this whole thing play out. Cool it with the hyperbole. By the time training camp begins in late July, Manziel will be that much wiser and the gap between him and Hoyer will narrow. It’s inevitable.

Hoyer is much closer to his ceiling now than Manziel. What will be interesting to watch is how quickly (or slowly) Manziel handles his learning curve in his acclimation to professional football.

If nothing else, that will be one of the determining factors as he takes Farmer’s broadsides and uses them as motivation in his efforts to unseat Hoyer.

It should prove to be an interesting battle and bodes well for the future at the position.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Confession time

Time to haul out the lie detector. Someone is prevaricating.

On the one hand, we have Browns General Manager Ray Farmer insisting that owner Jimmy Haslam III in no way influenced his decision to move up in last week’s college draft and select Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“I can tell you with 100% certainty that Jimmy Haslam at no point demanded, requested or tried to influence the process in any way,” Farmer said in answer to the question the day following Manziel’s selection.

“He definitely asked questions. He’ll definitely give his opinion of what he thinks and all of those things are fine, but at the end of the day, he trusted the football staff to make the decisions that we thought were the right decisions for this football team.”

Now comes word that Haslam did, indeed, influence the selection of Manziel. It comes from Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, who admitted as much on an Arkansas radio program Thursday.

Loggains said he and Manziel, who was backstage at Radio City Music Hall in New York, were texting as the draft was unfolding. The more teams that passed on the quarterback, the more anxious he became.

“We’re sitting there and they keep showing Johnny on TV and Johnny and I are texting and he shoots me a text and he says, ‘I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there. I want to wreck this league together.’ “

Loggains said he immediately forwarded the text to Haslam, an unabashed fan of Manziel, and coach Mike Pettine. “As soon as that happened, Mr. Haslam said, ‘Pull the trigger. We’re trading up to get this guy.' "

Next thing we know, the Browns and Philadelphia Eagles work out a deal and all of a sudden, the Browns are moving up from No. 26 to No. 22, one pick ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs, who were poised to grab Manziel.

Now Manziel is no dummy. He knew that if the Chiefs had drafted him, he would sit for at least one season behind Alex Smith. He had a much better shot at starting right away with the Browns.

So someone here is lying. Now I know that lying is de rigueur around college draft time. But there comes a time when it should stop.

It’s much easier to believe Loggains’ story than Farmer’s with regard to what really went on in the draft room late Thursday evening.

Farmer was in the same room with Haslam. He had to have heard “pull the trigger” and “we’re trading up to get this guy.” And yet, he insisted the next day that he and his staff were responsible for the trade and subsequent selection of Manziel.

Someone is not dancing with the truth. The fans have a right to know what the truth is. It’ll be interesting how the Browns handle (spin?) what appears to be a right hand/left hand problem.

Will Loggains be disciplined for outing his own club? Will his job be in danger? Stay tuned for the next episode of “As the Browns Turn.”

Trolling for wide receivers

Don’t get too excited about the two wide receivers the Browns signed the last couple of days.

One can’t stay healthy and the other is the true definition of mediocre.

But considering the plight of the Browns’ receiving corps these days, especially with Josh Gordon facing a one-year banishment, any body that is vertical in training camp can’t hurt.

But again, let’s not get too excited about Miles Austin and Earl Bennett, whose signings swell the wide receivers roster to an astonishing 14.

Congratulations to General Manager Ray Farmer for really, really, really trying to make up for his lack of movement on the receiver front in the recent college football draft.

All he’s doing now is throwing as much stuff as he can against a wall and hoping some of it sticks. He has whipped out his credit card and gone shopping in the department of ya never know (unless you try).

The Miles Austin the GM signed is nowhere near the Miles Austin who was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Dallas Cowboys five years ago. That is comparative ancient history in the National Football League.

Austin, who turns 30 late next month, is a shell of that player. He has missed 11 games in two of the last three seasons, all with hamstring problems. Why else would the Cowboys let him go?

He is an injury waiting to happen. The only way he has any chance of making this club and becoming a solid contributor is by staying healthy. That seems to be his biggest obstacle.

And why would the Chicago Bears cut the 27-year-old Bennett loose? Try only 185 receptions and just 12 touchdowns in five seasons. He epitomizes mediocrity. The Browns have lots of mediocrity at the position already on the roster.

These moves smack of desperation by Farmer, who appears to be crossing just about everything on his person in hopes of getting lucky.

Chances are the fans will get excited about Austin, remembering how much of a factor he was with the Cowboys. But a sobering look at the last five years tells a much different story.

Bottom line: These latest moves are rooted in desperation. It could have been avoided if Farmer had taken either Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans off the club’s draft board with the No. 4 pick.

Well, there’s always next season.

*     *     *

This just in: The Browns have released wideout Greg Little.

Mistake. Why? The Browns misused him.

Going out on the limb a little here, but Little will never be a quality NFL wide receiver. That’s because he was being played out of position.

Yes, he was drafted to catch the football, but he also has running skills that were never tapped. If you watched him closely in the short time he was in Cleveland, he almost always ran well after making the catch. When he made the catch, that is.

Little is a running back playing out on the flanks. We never got a look at him running the ball from a pro set.

He was a running back in high school and rushed the ball 166 times for 805 yards in three seasons at North Carolina. For some reason, the Tar Heels coaching staff thought he was a better receiver. He wasn’t. Stone hands.

The next NFL team that picks him up and sticks him at wide receiver will be making the same mistake and his career will ebb to its conclusion. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Media spotlight too hot to handle

So the Browns are limiting media access to the club’s rookie minicamp this weekend.

Local media are welcome, but there will be no live video. And national writers, with a few exceptions, are being told they are not welcome.

Someone needs a lesson in public relations.

The reason for the clampdown, of course, is quarterback Johnny Manziel. The media can’t get enough of the young man. 

And what do the Browns, a team hungering for any kind of media exposure, do? They shut it down.

Perhaps it’s the possibility of a circus atmosphere that scares them. If that is the case, then why did they draft the most polarizing figure in the college draft?

Rather than embracing the spotlight, the Browns are running from it as fast as they can. And there is no good reason to.

They could use the minicamp as a dress rehearsal for the media onslaught that certainly will be coming when training camp begins in late July. Make mistakes now and correct them by the time TC starts.

Do the Browns’ PR folks think Manziel can’t handle the media? Didn’t seem to cause him any problems at Texas A&M. What makes Cleveland any different?

The national exposure, whether the Browns like it or not, is there. No reason to turn a blind eye to it. By doing so this weekend, they expose themselves as amateurs to the national media.

Browns fans complain the team does get any national publicity. Now that Manziel is aboard, that will change in a hurry. Don’t run from it. Only problem is the Browns’ PR machine seems ill equipped to handle it.

The club needs someone other than Jimmy Haslam III, who has his own PR problems elsewhere, to call the shots on this one. Whether it's a consulting firm or just someone who specializes in handling  such problems, the Browns need help.

This is the club’s chance to make a big splash on a national level, the chance to put Cleveland back on the National Football League map once again, and they are blowing the opportunity.

Want to be like the big boys? Well, then, act like it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Haslam needs to take a chill pill

Didn’t take long for Johnny Manziel to become a lightning rod in Cleveland. It took less than a week after he was drafted.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III told Pro Football Hall of Fame luncheon Monday in Canton that Manziel “is not the starter. Johnny’s the backup.” And he should start acting “like a backup quarterback.”

Wrong move.

First of all, Haslam should have referred all personnel questions to either his general manager or head coach. And neither of them was present at the luncheon. All Haslam does is sign the paychecks. Other than that, he should learn to be more diplomatic and keep his opinions to himself.

And there is no second of all.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Manziel nonsense has officially begun and we can thank the club owner for that.

Regarding Manziel’s playing status, it is ludicrous for anyone to say anything remotely resembling where he stands. No rookie is anointed the starter even before picking up a football. No one.

And who proclaimed him the starter? Maybe it was a broad assumption among the fans, but no one from the organization came out and declared him the starter. Mike Pettine has all but said Brian Hoyer is the incumbent and there will be a competition for the starting job.

Where and when did Manziel pronounce himself the starting quarterback? I must have been off the planet when he said that. We know he is an uberconfident young man and has designs on the starting job. But we also know he’s smart enough to keep such lofty goals to himself. He doesn’t need to be slapped into place.

It is entirely possible Manziel will come to training camp and blow the coaching staff away, much like Russell Wilson did a couple of years ago in Seattle. But it’s only May. We’ve still got a couple of months until training camp. It’s time to chill.

Why not allow the situation to unfold at its natural pace? No need to put this one of a fast track. The club has a rookie head coach. Let him grow into his job. Outside interference from the owner serves no positive purpose. He will have enough pressure as it is.

As far is pressure is concerned, Manziel just might be more than capable of handling it and emerging stronger for it. He certainly displayed that trait at Texas A&M while playing under a national microscope.

If he proves that’s the case, that makes it easier on his head coach and the offensive staff when it comes to making decisions.

There is no question the Hoyer-Manziel battle will be the highlight of training camp. It promises to be the main focus of not only the local media, but you can bet the national spotlight will make Berea a hot spot this summer.

The Browns don’t need Haslam to poke his nose in the spotlight. He's not the story. It’s time for him to slink into the background and let those he pays very well do their jobs.

It’s going to be a circus anyway once training camp commences. No need to add to the atmosphere.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Solid start for Farmer

Time to grade Ray Farmer’s first college draft.

On the one hand, it was encouraging. On the other, it was disappointing.

The biggest disappointment was the number of players the Cleveland general manager selected. The Browns went into this talent-laden lottery with 10 picks and emerged with only six players.

You don’t build – or in this case rebuild – a National Football League team with a minimalist approach. Once Farmer made cornerback Pierre Desin his sixth and last pick late in the fourth round Saturday, he basically shut it down for the day.

The Browns might as well have vacated the war room after the fourth round for all practical purposes because all they did the final three rounds was sit on their haunches except to ship their seventh-rounder to Baltimore for a pick next year.

Five deals by Trader Ray left him bereft of picks when it came time for the final three rounds. He and his men should have just clocked out for this year and started planning for next year’s draft for all the work that was left.

Quality depth on teams can be found in the latter rounds of the draft. Panning for gems is an art form. Some NFL general managers and personnel people are better at it than others.

We don’t know yet whether Farmer can be placed in that select group because he never got that far. We can’t evaluate his prowess when it comes to digging for those hidden nuggets.

For a team that had numerous holes, one in particular that arose due to a pending year-long suspension for his best wide receiver, he failed to address a few of them because he pawned off four draft picks.

One of them netted Buffalo’s first-round pick in next year’s draft, which sort of places it in the win category. But that doesn’t erase the disappointment of once again picking too few players.

As for the picks he did make, that’s where the encouraging part enters the picture. With one notable exception. We’ll get to that later.

It appears as though one of Farmer’s goals was to increase team speed. He obviously noticed the plodding 2013 squad and was determined to make certain the 2014 Browns would be more athletic, quicker and faster.

Of his Farmer’s six picks, three definitely will gain starting status in a hurry and a couple of more will be vital contributors. From a percentage standpoint, that sounds like a dynamite draft.

There is no question the Cleveland GM hit the mother load in the first round with the selections of Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. Barring unforeseen circumstances, both will start in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7.

And yes, I realize that means Manziel will have to beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job at quarterback. No problem. As much as I like Hoyer and what he brought to the team in a brief time last season, there is no way he beats out the rookie.

My only quarrel with Farmer is his strategy in the first round when he reportedly knew about the pending one-year suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon. He inexplicably disdained any effort to pick up a wide receiver.

He could have had Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans had he not dealt the fourth pick to Buffalo. And he still would have been in position to do what he did later in the round – trade up to get Manziel. Imagine the 2014 Browns with Manziel throwing to Evans, his main man at Texas A&M.

Instead, he now has Gilbert, arguably the best cornerback in the lottery, paired up with Joe Haden in what very well could be the best cornerback tandem in Seal Brown and Orange since Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.

Hard to argue that, but the Browns need more help on the offensive side of the ball and a Manziel-Evans pairing sounds more intriguing and exciting and explosive than Gilbert and Haden. There were a few cornerbacks available in the third round – most notably 6-3 Keith McGill of Utah – who could have been paired with Haden.

Clearly, this is in the nature of a second guess. Farmer had to make the call and gambled with Gilbert, instead of Watkins or Evans, probably figuring he’d be able to get a wideout in the second or third rounds. We’ll probably never know why he didn’t at least try.

In the second round, he opted for Joel Bitonio, a college tackle who should fit right in nicely at left guard between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. The athletic Bitonio (he ran a 4.97 40 at 305 pounds) brings a bellicose approach to his game. He’s Mike Pettine’s kind of player in that regard. What’s not to like?

There’s also a lot to like about running back Terrance West, a third-round choice, and cornerback Pierre Desin, a fourth-rounder.

Some experts believe West, at some point in the upcoming campaign, will unseat Ben Tate as the starting running back. A slightly larger version of Maurice Jones-Drew at 5-9, 225 pounds, he figures to get a long look at training camp.

Desin, who many experts thought would go much higher, should see plenty of the field in the nickel and dime packages. He’s not good enough yet to supplant Haden or Gilbert, but he was a strong pick from a value standpoint.

Farmer’s only belch came at the top of the third round when he took outside linebacker Christian Kirksey’s name off the board. The Browns immediately announced Kirksey will be moved inside and battle Craig Robertson for the starting job.

As much as the GM got good value from the West and Desin picks, he overreached for Kirksey, who most likely will wind up on special teams. Kirksey is fast and quick,, but that’s about it. Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, available at the time, would have been a much better choice.

As well as he did, Farmer might have done even better had he held on to at least a couple of his picks. My only quarrel is while he appears to have done extreme well on the quality level, he came up short on quantity.

I want to see more of what he can do. Next season, as with this season, he has 10 cracks at the draft. By then, of course, there will be fewer holes to fill on the roster and he can be much more selective and not feel the need to wheel and deal.

For this year, though, Farmer deserves high marks. He slipped just twice – once with the Kirksey pick and once by totally ignoring the wide receiver problem. By picking up at least three starters, maybe four if West pans out, not a bad start at all for the rookie GM.

Final grade: Solid B

Friday, May 9, 2014

 Mixed emotions on day 2

As exhilarating as the first day of the college draft was for the Browns Nation on Thursday, the second day Friday turned out to be relatively disastrous.

When the news arrived that star wide receiver Josh Gordon faces a season-long suspension for once again violating the National Football League’s substance-abuse program, it was assumed the Browns would grab at least one wide receiver in rounds two and three.

Uh, no. Three times no.

It has been reported – and not yet substantiated – that the Browns were made aware of the Gordon suspension before the draft began Thursday. And then Browns General Manager Ray Farmer, the hero of the first round, made three head-scratching selections in rounds two and three.

First, the Gordon case. If it’s true, as being reported, that the Browns knew about the possible suspension before the draft began Thursday, Farmer made a mistake when he traded out of the No. 4 spot in the first round.

By doing so, he lost the opportunity to select either Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans, the two top-rated wide receivers in the lottery and immediate replacements for Gordon. The only reasonable conclusion that can be reached is the GM believes Gordon will not be suspended.

Losing a player the caliber of Gordon for an entire season would be a devastating blow to a team whose offense revolves around the passing game. Teams knew the 2013 Browns had no running game and still couldn’t stop Gordon.

By not selecting a wide receiver Friday – and Farmer had three opportunities to grab one – means either the report on Gordon is incorrect or the Cleveland GM seriously overvalues his wide receivers corps and is fooling himself by eschewing pass catchers.

Farmer has been quoted as saying he is “not worried about the depth at wide receiver.” Maybe not the depth with nine wideouts (including Gordon) currently on the roster, but what about the quality? Not worried? Well, he better be.

If Gordon is absent for the season, who becomes the No. 1 receiver? Nate Burleson? He’s clearly on the downside of his career. (And he injured his left arm again in the OTAs, although he’s expected to be ready for training camp in July.)

How about Greg Little? One problem. He has trouble catching the ball. Then there is Andrew Hawkins, the smurfish slot receiver signed as a free agent. Highly overrated. Or possibly Travis Benjamin, who missed half of last season with an ACL tear. He’s not good enough to start.

Neither are Josh Cooper, Charles Johnson, Conner Vernon (when did he arrive on the roster?) and Tori Gurley.

And there you have it. The Cleveland Browns’ wide receivers for 2014 unless Farmer selects one or two with the picks he has left (rounds four and seven) Saturday afternoon.

Is that whom Farmer expects Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer to throw to? Is that a corps of receivers that will scare opposing secondaries? No need to answer. That’s a rhetorical question.

On Friday, Farmer, while side-stepping wideouts, added a guard, inside linebacker and running back to his shopping cart to go along with his first-day haul of Justin Gilbert and Manziel.

In round two, he solidified the offensive line with Nevada guard Joel Bitonio, then came back in round three with inside backer Christian Kirksey from Iowa and Towson running back Terrance West.

He took Bitonio with wideouts Marquise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams,Cody Latimer and Allen Robinson still on the board. All were gone when round three began.

Hard to quarrel with the Bitonio pick, though. He should have little trouble winning the left guard job and wind up working between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. His reputation for truculence precedes him, as well as his desire to play to the whistle. He’s Mike Pettine’s kind of offensive lineman.

Now the Kirksey pick is a puzzler, especially when you consider speedy wideout Donte Moncrief from Ole Miss and Chris Borland, another Big 10 linebacker, were still on the board.

The only beef against the 6-2½ Moncrief is that he sometimes catches the ball against his body. But like Gordon, he runs well and gains a lot of his yards after the catch.

Borland is the former Wisconsin linebacker who seems to be a magnet for the football. He is a tackle waiting to happen. Yes, he is shorter than most backers at 5-11, has short arms and is probably a two-down player. But all he does is make tackles. The ball seems to follow him around. He’s a playmaker.

Kirksey was outside linebacker at Iowa, but the Browns intend to move him inside and challenge Craig Robertson to see who plays next to Karlos Dansby. He’s not nearly the playmaker that Borland is.

A trade with San Francisco paved the way for the selection of West, an intriguing prospect because of his production at Towson. He scored 42 touchdowns and ran for more than 2,500 yards in his senior season. Those are career figures for just about anyone else. 

The 5-9, 225-pounder is your old-fashioned, between-the-tackles, one-cut runner in the mold of Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins. Maybe that’s why offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who coached Morris the last couple of seasons, probably lobbied for the selection. West is a finisher, especially at or near the goal line.

So now that the glow of the first day of the draft has worn off and Farmer’s star has fallen somewhat, what’s next?

With the two picks he has left, what are the odds he sails through this draft with nary a wideout? At this point, forget the board. Forget the best player available. The Browns need another receiver or two.

The best available are smallish (5-9½) Bruce Ellington of South Carolina and tallish (6-6) Brandon Coleman of Rutgers. Ellington was more productive last season, but Coleman played most of the season with a knee injury and his production suffered as a result.

There is still some value left in this draft. It is incumbent on Farmer to find it, especially at wide receiver. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Waking a sleeping giant

At approximately 10:40 on Thursday night, the city of Cleveland exploded onto the national sports landscape with one simple pronouncement.

“With the 22nd pick in the 2014 National Football League draft,” intoned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, “the Cleveland Browns select Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M.” And just like that, the Browns were reborn.

It was mindful of that night in late May of 2003 at the National Basketball Association’s lottery draft when the Cavaliers bucked all the odds and wound up with the No. 1 choice, which turned out to be LeBron James.

The unbridled joy the Cleveland sports fans felt that night 11 years ago hadn’t been experienced again until Thursday night when Manziel dropped into the Browns’ lap. The most talked about player in the draft, the most exciting player in the draft, the most polarizing player in the draft is now a member of the Browns.

The franchise that had become the laughingstock of the NFL for the last 15 years instantly took on a whole new aura. Johnny Football is coming to town with revival on his mind. He gives the Browns instant relevance.

And you can bet his arrival and subsequent journey with the Browns will be watched closely by the national media. It means they no longer will be an afterthought. The spotlight will shine brightly on Cleveland in the coming season and for many seasons beyond that.

Manziel is a magnet for that type of attention. Evidence of that was apparent as ESPN and the NFL Network, on almost a pick-by-pick basis, chronicled his precipitous fall to the Browns.

Camera cuts to him sitting with his family, looking alternately hopeful and forlorn, were plentiful. It was like a drama being played out episodically and in slow motion. The longer he sat at that table, the tighter the close-ups.

When the Browns’ third trade of the evening in the draft was announced, it was though the city was jolted awake. It was an immediate attention getter.

When it became apparent Manziel might fall to Kansas City at No. 23, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer, sitting at No. 26, swung a trade with Philadelphia at No. 22 and leapfrogged the Chiefs. All it cost him was the club’s second pick in the third round.

That’s when the fans just knew Manziel was going to be the choice. And they responded in raucous, almost delirious fashion at the club’s draft party. The anticipation of a Manziel announcement was so great, the actual announcement seemed almost anticlimactic.

The initial reaction was quite the opposite of when the Browns grabbed cornerback Justin Gilbert with the eighth overall pick after a couple of trades, one of which secured Buffalo’s top pick next year, along with a fourth-rounder.

In that one, the puzzled fans sort of looked at one another and seemed to ask, “Who’s that?” Just a smattering of quiet applause. Yes, Gilbert was the highest-rated corner on the board, but didn’t the Browns bypass better players at other positions? Why does it feel like a disappointment?

Gilbert should fit in nicely opposite Joe Haden in the secondary. He will be a starter, His size and cover skills are what shot him up the board. The only chink in his armor is his supposed reluctance to play the run physically.

When Gilbert was announced, it appeared as though all that pre-draft talk by the Browns was nothing more than lip service. If his name was ever mentioned, it might have been once and obliquely at that.

That’s when Farmer dropped his bomb.

Along came Manziel, who will affect Browns Nation as no other player since Bernie Kosar arrived 30 years ago. Kosar was a savior for the franchise. Manziel, whose on-field magic at Texas A&M thrilled an entire nation for the last two years, now has a chance to duplicate what Kosar brought to Cleveland.

Even though the beginning of the 2014 season is still 18 weeks away, there is a renewed feeling, a renewed hope, an energized fan base. Training camp can’t come soon enough. And you can bet attendance in Berea will threaten records.

Does Manziel bring a media circus to Cleveland? Of course he does. So what. He’s used do that kind of circus. Didn’t seem to bother him at Texas A&M. A change of venue shouldn’t affect him at all. He’s used to this kind of treatment. He knows how to handle it. If anything, he seems to crave the spotlight.

He knows he arrives in Cleveland under a lot of pressure. Adapting to the pro style of play won’t be easy. But offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who helped Robert Griffin III assimilate smoothly to the NFL, should have no trouble working his same magic with Manziel.

Fans watching in television were quickly reminded that 22nd slot in the first round of the draft has not been lucky for the Browns in recent years. Brady Quinn was taken there in the 2007 lottery and Brandon Weeden fell to the Browns at No. 22 in 2012. Third time a charm?

The big question now is how patient will Browns fans be with Manziel? Will he be able to live up to their expectations? And will those expectations be so high and so demanding that practically nothing he does can match them?

First, let’s see if he can beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job. It should be an interesting competition. Both men are overachievers. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hoyer doesn’t take Manziel under his wing and help him assimilate to the NFL.

If Hoyer wins the stating job, and that’s a big if right now, the selection of Manziel should not be considered a mistake. There is no question he will win the job one day. Count on it. It’s just a matter of time.

As it turned out, day one of the draft has to be considered a huge success. The Browns landed a starting cornerback, who is also very good at returning kicks, and a quarterback whose mere appearance has energized a slumbering fan base.

Nicely done.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Believe in the board

Some free advice to Ray Farmer and the men responsible for the thinking behind the 10 Browns picks in this weekend’s National Football League college draft extravaganza.

Be true to your board.

Do not factor need into your decisions. That is a recipe for disaster. You must stay loyal to your draft board and select the highest ranked player at all times.

You gentlemen have 10 picks in seven rounds with which to build a promising future, seven of them in the first four rounds. Do not be swayed by need-based decisions at any time.

And for goodness sakes, don’t try and get cute. Hold on to these precious choices and be wise with your decisions. Why try and add more choices by either trading down or up along the way? Aren’t 10 picks enough?

As much as this team desperately needs a quality quarterback, if one is not in the top five on the Cleveland board, take the linebacker or wide receiver or offensive lineman. The whole idea is to strengthen the team with a total disregard to position.

Hopefully, Farmer will believe his scouts, as well as his eyes. Do not necessarily look at the numbers a particular player posted at the Indianapolis combine or in a private or pro day workout. Game videotape does not lie. Numbers can and usually do.

It has always been my belief you win football games with football players, not athletes who happen to play football. And you win football games by being better in the trenches. That is where most games are won and lost.

Teams that win the line of scrimmage consistently invariably wind up winning a majority of their games. All you have to do is look at the personnel on teams that win or compete on an annual basis to come to that conclusion.

It is so easy to be seduced by college athletes whose numbers strongly suggest they will be able to make a successful transition to the professional ranks. Many general managers mistakenly believe their head coaches can coach up these athletes to the point where they can become productive. More often than not they fail.

Perfect examples of the type of football players the Browns should seek are former linebackers Chris Spielman and Ray Lewis. Both men had outstanding NFL careers.

Lewis is four years away from landing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Spielman was one of the best backers in the league for many years before injuries cut short his career. They epitomized the kind of players Farmer should seek.

Neither man blew scouts away with their athleticism. But both men possessed an ingredient that foretold their greatness: A determination to play the game the right way. Neither was physically imposing, but a fire burned inside that helped elevate their game.

Spielman was a high second-round pick and Lewis a late first-round selection. Both were overachievers in college and continued on that path in the NFL. They played well beyond their talent. The Browns need players like that. They need young men who are fundamentally sound, smart and play the game correctly.

Give me a team full of football players who do not blow assignments, bring a strong mental edge to games, trust their instincts and talents and play with a nasty streak and I’ll beat your team of underachieving athletes every time.

Opportunities like this to significantly improve the Browns do not come along often. It is imperative that Farmer and his men get this right. No margin for error. They have a chance to add to a growing core of outstanding players with a draft considered by many the deepest in talent in recent memory.

One huge reason the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have not suffered as the Browns have the last 15 years is the intelligence with which their respective front offices construct teams. They do not build or rebuild. They reload.

Poor front-office decisions by the Browns, especially in the college draft, have predictably produced poor teams. This franchise has not had one solid draft since the resurrection in 1999.

And don’t say they haven’t had the opportunity. Selecting in the top 10 year after year after provided that opportunity and they blew it every year.

Yes, there have been some solid choices along the way, strengthening the belief that every now and then, you’re going to get lucky. But they have been too few and far too in between.

It’s now time for the Browns to get smart, flush the stupid pills, and make wise decisions with the greater picture in mind.

The outcome of this draft could very well wind up being another defining moment for a franchise bereft of memorable positive defining moments. Hopefully, this one will fall on the positive side.

Lord knows the Browns need something spectacular with which to reward their long-suffering fan base. Maybe, just maybe, this is their time.

We’ll find out starting around 8:30 Thursday night.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It's starting to get drafty

And down the stretch they come!

As we approach the finish line called the National Football League’s college draft, it’s anybody’s guess what the Browns will do with their two picks in the first round Thursday night.

The first selection could be a quarterback. Or a defensive end. Or a wide receiver. Or an offensive lineman. Or a linebacker.

That’s way too many ors for that pick at this point. And any of them vey well could be correct. Unless, of course, we take into consideration another or – or trade down.

All of which means new Cleveland General Manager Ray Farmer, if he chooses to keep the pick, will select either Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins, Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson or Khalil Mack when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell place the Browns on the clock.

How’s that for waffling?

With the exception of Manziel, all are just about guaranteed to go in the first 10 picks. Maybe the first five.

The polarizing Manziel is the X factor. He could go as early as No. 1 to the Houston Texans. Or as late as No. 26 to the Browns. Or maybe not in the first round at all. But if he and Derek Carr are still on the board at 26, I’ll be surprised if he’s not wearing Seal Brown and Orange this season.

Manziel would be the perfect elixir for most of what has ailed this franchise since the NFL so (sarcasm alert) generously (end sarcasm alert) allowed it back into the league in 1999.

If the Browns somehow manage to wind up with Manziel, Cleveland once again would become a major focal point for the national media for the first time since LeBron James bolted for Miami. No longer would the city languish on the back pages of the sports world.

Manziel would bring instant recognition to a franchise that has hungered for that recognition for years. Even if he does not play well enough to become a starter, that in and of itself would be a news story.

It’s sort of the Tim Tebow scenario four years hence. His every move would be scrutinized. The media would glom onto every utterance, every decision made with regard to his status.

Tebow underwent that type of treatment after the Denver Broncos made him their top draft choice in 2010. Even now, when no NFL teams seem interested in signing him, the former Heisman Trophy winner remains a polarizing figure.

The Browns could have kicked Tebow’s tires recently, but chose instead to sign Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen. That’s all you need to know about his chances of getting back into the league. Tebow not getting a call is news.

Manziel is about to experience what Tebow went through: A Heisman winner whose college career is splattered with many seeds of doubt as to how successful he can be as a professional.

Some scouts would call Manziel a boom or bust type. He’ll either thrill you or kill you. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his chances to successfully assimilate to the pros.

There are a few pundits out there in mock draft land who believe Farmer will shock everyone and place Manziel’s name on the card with the No. 4 pick. They do not buy the notion the Cleveland GM will address another area before quarterback.

In the next few days, we will read or hear all about how the Browns love this guy and that guy as the smokescreens rise and settle in place. No one except those who possess a key card to the war room know exactly what is going down.

Only the head coach, GM, owner and, in some cases, the offensive coordinator are being quoted. And that’s probably after consulting with each other just to make certain there are no contradictions.

With just two days left until the lottery, absolutely nothing should be taken at face value. Don’t believe what you read. Don’t believe what you hear. And that, in a strange way, is what makes the run-up that much more intriguing.

Not until Goodell intones the actual names on the two first-round cards the Browns turn in can Browns fans react. And depending on what those names are, fights breaking out on the Internet are a distinct possibility as reality finally sets in.

That’s what makes this time of the NFL season so special.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A run on quarterbacks

Welcome to Quarterbacks R (can’t turn that damn R around) Us, a.k.a. the Cleveland Browns.

With the announcement of the signings of Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen to one-year contracts, the Browns’ quarterbacks corps now numbers four, including incumbent starter Brian Hoyer and trick-throw artist Alex Tanney.

With the college draft around the corner (finally) and the Browns rumored to be strongly considering drafting perhaps a pair of quarterbacks, the QB roster by the time training camp starts in late July could number as many as six.

Five or perhaps six quarterbacks taking snaps in training camp begs the question: How are any of them going to hone their skills whilst awaiting the next snap? Coaches do not like their quarterbacks standing around looking for something to do.

Most teams have three quarterbacks on their rosters in training camp. A few have four. But five? Or six?

Chances are Tanney will be released before the start of camp. He was a novelty, a body the Browns  needed to add to last season’s roster when injuries crippled the position. So let’s reduce those numbers to four of five, depending on what the Browns do in the draft.

The idea of training camp is to sharpen skills, especially on offense, where timing and rhythm are quintessential. How can one sharpen those skills when taking every fourth or fifth snap?

How can receivers lock in with the quarterbacks when facing as many as four or five different throwing styles? How can running backs expect to practice handoffs with as many as four or five different handoff styles?

Why in the world do the Browns need all these quarterbacks? Don’t they know it will be counterproductive? No good can come of it.

Exactly what did Young and Thigpen do to warrant a further look? Have they miraculously regained their fading skills that quickly after long layoffs? Or did they just not embarrass themselves in the three-day minicamp that ended Thursday?

And what about the rumors of the Browns eventually bringing in Rex Grossman and ramping up efforts to pry Kirk Cousins loose from the Washington Redskins? Can we assume the signings of Young and Thigpen have sufficiently put an end to that scuttlebutt?

Hoyer will be under center when the Browns open the season Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh. That's a given unless, of course, he doesn’t physically make it through the exhibition season.

The Browns seem to be traveling in murky quarterback waters here. It seems right now to be to a position that has a lot of elasticity. And that is the one position where you want to avoid elasticity.

An argument can be made that you can never have enough arms in training camp. That’s an argument that can be won if you’re referring to quarterbacks considered marginal at best with the slimmest chance of making the final roster.

Young and Thigpen do not fit that mold. They’ve had more starting experience in the National Football League than Hoyer. Young has started 50 games in his six-year career; Thigpen has started 12, but none since the 2008 season. Hoyer has four career starts, three of them last season for the Browns before his season-ending injury.

So good luck to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose main job this summer will be keeping four, maybe five, quarterbacks happy. And sharp.