Monday, May 2, 2016

Draft weekend notebook

One position was conspicuously absent in the 14-player haul the Browns took away from last weekend’s National Football League college draft.

Sashi Brown, Hue Jackson, Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry filled holes via the lottery all over the roster except one: running back.

Only five names have an RB next to them on the current roster: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr. and three guys who probably won’t be on the roster when the Browns open the season in Philadelphia on Sept. 11.

So why no running back? The Browns didn’t exactly blow the opposition away infantry style last season. In fact, Crowell and Johnson ran for 1,085 of the club’s 1,529 yards in 2015, an average of just 95½ yards a game.

The Browns ran the ball only 38.5% of the time last season and scored a measly four touchdowns, all by Crowell. That’s not Hue Jackson type football. His football is much more 52-48 pass to run than 62-38.

So again, why no running back? Could it be Jackson sees Crowell and Johnson, two entirely different runners stylistically, a little differently than the previous Cleveland coaching regime?

Maybe he sees them more like Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, the running tandem he had as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati last season. Hill, the 6-2, 235-pound banger between the tackles, rushed for 794 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Crowell is 5-11, 225 pounds and a between-the tackles kind of guy..

The shifty 5-10, 210-pound Johnson gave the Browns a dimension they haven’t had for several seasons as a receiving threat out of the backfield. The rookie was the team’s third leading receiver last season with 61 catches for 534 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He picked up another 379 yards on the ground.

Bernard, a shifty 5-9, 205-pound scatback, was a little more versatile for the Bengals, racking up 730 yards on the ground and another 472 through the air on 42 catches.

Overall, the Bengals rushed for 1,805 yards (113 a game) last season and produced 13 touchdowns.

So one can see there are a couple of distinct similarities between the two teams. The big difference, however, lies in the guys who play in front of them. The Cincinnati offensive line is one of the best in the league. The Browns cannot echo that boast, especially now that Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz are gone.

It will be very interesting to see just how Jackson formulates his offense with a new quarterback in Robert Griffin III and some fresh new faces in the wide receivers room.
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Here we go with the stupid rhetoric with regard to who the starting Cleveland quarterback will be in Philadelphia.

Stop it, Sashi Brown, with the nonsense that the competition for whom that man will be is wide open. Griffin is your quarterback. You know it. He knows it. The fans know it.

During the news conference following the final day of the draft, it was suggested by some in the media that Griffin didn’t have anything worry about competition from third-round pick Cody Kessler.

“I beg to differ with that,” Brown declared. “I think Cody is a guy I would not want to sleep on at all if I wanted to be starting quarterback of the Browns. He’s going to come in serious (and) ready to work.”

Really? You honestly believe that?

“Robert has four years of NFL experience, is tremendously athletic and serious about becoming a starting quarterback in this league. There is no reason he can’t, but this is going to be a competition.” No it’s not.

Stop it already. You have no idea what you are talking about when you talk like that. Stop trying to sell the fans on Kessler, who was one your several reaches and probably would have been on the board two rounds later.

There will be competition for the starting job only in the sense both quarterbacks will wear the same uniform in practice and on game day. You hurt your credibility when you try to foist that canard on the fans.

Who are you trying to convince? The Third? He’s too smart to fall for that. It sounds more like you’re trying to convince yourself.
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The new denizens of the draft war room have pronounced themselves satisfied and excited with the results. That is to be expected.

But based on the overall talent level of this class, which is questionable at best, I have to seriously wonder whether the problem lies in evaluating all that talent.

When the club was thrilled to grab defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah at the top of the second round because he had a mid-first-round grade and they didn’t expect to see him there, the first seeds of draft doubt began to creep in.

And when that very bizarre fourth round unfolded, those seeds gave way to full doubt. The Browns sure do look at players in a strangely different way. But I don’t do this for a living, so what do I know?

From this standpoint, the lack of war room experience proved costly, at least in the short term. Brown & Co. were overmatched this time around. Hopefully they learned some valuable lessons.
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The middle of the Browns’ offensive line will be different this season. Cameron Erving gets first crack at the pivot after a highly disappointing rookie season playing just about everywhere else but center and left tackle.

He won’t be handed the job. The Browns made certain of that by signing Mike Matthews of Texas A&M as a free agent. He is not your typical free agent, though. He has a terrific football pedigree and should not be discounted as just another free-agent signing.

He is the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews and cousin of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III . His dad, Bruce, is in the Pro football Hall of Fame. Uncle Clay played in the NFL for 19 years, 16 with the Browns (1978-1993).

So there is some serious talent there. The question is why wasn’t he drafted? Perhaps it’s because the 295-pounder is a tick shy of 6-2 and most teams like their centers to be around 6-4. That didn’t seem to bother the Arizona Cardinals, who needed a center and picked up 6-2, 310-pound Evan Boehm in the fourth round.

But those who know Matthews, a three-year starter in college, say that while he is not impressive in his workouts, he is a different player on tape. In other words, when the games are played, he shows up. He's a gamer.

So while Brown doesn’t want you to go to sleep on his third-round choice for quarterback, it behooves you to do the same for Matthews. This is one competition that could prove very interesting.
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It’s safe to say Ohio State had a much better weekend at the draft than the Browns. Of the 15 Buckeyes eligible to be drafted, 12 were selected, all in the first four rounds. That’s two shy of the record, set by the 2004 Buckeyes.

Only wide receiver Jalin Marshall, safety Tyvis Powell and offensive lineman Chase Farris went undrafted. Seattle signed Powell, a big safety from Bedford, as a free agent. The New York Jets signed Marshall and Detroit picked up Farris.
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Notebook: The Browns moved down the draft so much in round one, winding up at No. 15 after starting with the second overall pick, that NFL Network host Rich Eisen, as he went to a commercial break midway through the round, said, “The Cleveland Browns are up next. We assume they are going to make a pick.” . . . The Los Angeles Rams waited until nine of their allotted 10 minutes to make the first overall pick elapsed before turning in Jared Goff’s name. Why? They knew all along Goff was their man. . . . Have to assume either Joey Bosa or Zeke Elliott was the Browns’ target in round one. San Diego and Dallas blew that up in a hurry by taking the former Buckeyes at three and four. . . . Main theme for the Browns: Going down. . . . Corey Coleman was the best player left on the Cleveland board at No. 15? Hmmmmm. . . . Adding to the ineptitude was the acquisition of Jamar Taylor from Miami in a deal in the waning moments of the draft. The highly regarded cornerback coming out of college has been a huge disappointment for the Dolphins. Sort of like Justin Gilbert with the Browns. The old change-of-scenery excuse was used. Could that mean the departure of Gilbert for the same reason? . . . Preview of next season’s draft: Can you say Deshaun Watson?

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