Thursday, August 14, 2014

Exhibition observations

Thoughts on the Browns’ opening exhibition game . . .

Nothing concrete can be gleaned from the first exhibition game of the season.

It is the first time players on defense get to hit anyone who isn’t their teammate. It is the time of the season where the offense gets to work on its rhythm and timing, almost always tough in the beginning.

So no conclusions reached after one meaningless game can be taken seriously, at least not by the coaching staff. The fans, on the other hand, jump to conclusions on just about every play.

One thing is certain, though: This will be a faster, quicker football team this season.

The plodding team that have been the Cleveland Browns the last several seasons is gone, replaced by one that showed life on both sides of the ball in the one-point loss to the Detroit Lions Saturday.

There were the usual – and expected – mistakes such as sloppy tackling, most notably in the secondary; dropped passes; botched blocking assignments; running wrong pass routes.

On the other hand, fans got a preview of what to expect on defense with blitzes from just about anywhere on the field. And on offense with the distinctly different looks depending on who operated at quarterback.

It soon will be apparent that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will call an entirely different game for Brian Hoyer than he will for Johnny Manziel except, probably, for the occasional misdirection rollout.

Hoyer does not possess Manziel’s unique escapability skills and Manziel does not (yet) own Hoyer’s ability to read defenses and be able to go through more progressions on pass plays.

On the upside scale, this could be as good as Hoyer ever gets. Manziel’s upside, however, is off the charts.
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If there is one certainty fans can take to the bank this season, they will see much more pounding of the football and much less throwing of it. Last season, the Browns threw the ball an average of nearly 43 times a game. The running game produced just 86 yards a game.

That will change dramatically his season, especially if Manziel wins the starting job. With his proclivity of taking off early and running the ball, there is a good chance he could be among the club’s leaders in rushing.

I liked what I saw of rookie running back Terrance West, who seems a perfect fit for the team’s new zone blocking scheme. His cutback ability and quick feet enabled him to make some nice runs against the Lions.

If he does not beat out veteran Ben Tate, another cutback specialist, for the starting job, West certainly gives Shanahan a quality backup. Both men are tough runners who do not go down easily.
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Coach Mike Pettine hinted we would see a no-huddle offense sometime during the exhibition season. And not just the no-huddle in the final two minutes of a half or in a desperate way.

Finally, a coach willing to try something different (at least for Cleveland) in the middle of game just to shake things up. Innovative offensive football has been absent in Cleveland for far too long.

Unveiling a hurry-up offense at any time during a game creates problems for opposing defenses. And with a guy like Manziel running it, especially with his ability to be creative, why not throw something different at the opposition?
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Other observations . . .

If Hoyer is looking for any help with his ability (or inability) to slide on a scramble, he should look no further than Manziel, whose slide following a 15-yard run on a busted play in the third quarter was a beauty. Hoyer short-circuited his season last season by tearing an ACL on such a play. Maybe Manziel, a former baseball player, should conduct some private lessons in the art of sliding to Hoyer. . . . Based on strictly one game, the Browns are set at left guard for the next several seasons. Rookie Joel Bitonio was solid in the run game and pass protection. Playing between Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack didn’t hurt. . . . Karlos Dansby will be much better than D’Qwell Jackson at inside linebacker. He has a nose for the ball and his great size enables him to plug passing lanes over the middle.
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Players who helped themselves: The unrelated Bryants (Desmond and Armonty) on the defensive line . . . rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey . . . linebacker Justin Staples . . . rookie fullback Ray Agnew . . . tight end/fullback MarQueis Gray (seemed as though he played the entire game) . . . rookie wide receiver Taylor Gabriel as a return man . . . safety Jordan Poyer.

Players who hurt themselves: Running back Dion Lewis . . . cornerback Leon McFadden . . . rookie cornerback Pierre Desir . . . rookie wide receiver Willie Snead.

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