Monday, March 26, 2018

Draft can't come soon enough for Dorsey

Poor John Dorsey.

You’ve got to feel for the Browns’ general manager right now. 

Here we are roughly four-and-a half weeks from the National Football League’s college draft, which means there are roughly four-and-a half more weeks of crazy questions and even crazier media speculation as to how he will handle his first draft with the team.

Under ordinary circumstances, it wouldn’t be so bad. But these are not ordinary circumstances. Not when you own the first and fourth selections in the lottery.

With all kinds of nutty rumors flying all over the NFL universe indicating he has already decided to make USC quarterback Sam Darnold his top pick, Dorsey was in semi-denial mode addressing the Cleveland media covering the league’s annual meeting in Orlando Monday.

“The draft is five weeks away,” he reminded them. In other words, chill guys. The big decision has “not necessarily” been made. “There are a few more pieces to the puzzle left.”

However, he allowed it was “fair enough” to say four quarterbacks are in the mix for the top pick, referring to Darnold, Baker Mayfield and the Joshes, Rosen and Allen. Shocking!

Asked if there was a leader in the clubhouse, Dorsey toyed with them. “I won’t tell you,” he said, and then added, almost mischievously, “I won’t tell you who it is. It could be Saquon Barkley.” He smiled as he refereed to the highly-ranked Penn State running back.

Dorsey better get used to this. It will continue right up until that moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Browns on the clock on April 26 in Arlington, Texas.

It will get worse. It might even reach the point when all Dorsey can do is roll his eyes whenever the big question comes up in conversation. That’s the price he must pay for being in a position few general managers have ever been.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he acknowledged before sharing his thoughts on the workouts of the quartet of quarterbacks within the last week.

He praised all four at this stage of the process, which must be somewhat confounding to those who follow the draft zealously and lean on every word he says in hopes he will carelessly drop a clue as to which way he is leaning.

That process still has a month to go. There are eight other selections the GM must make in the draft – barring any movements up and/or down on draft weekend – and a final board to assemble before making hard decisions.

Until then, all fans and media can do is speculate, try to read between the lines, searching for that little nugget that unlocks the mystery to the biggest question on the minds of the fans and media.

A word of caution: Listen and read all you want, but don’t believe anything you read or hear in the next roughly four-and-a-half weeks because chances are very good it won’t eventuate.

It is all mere speculation that helps make this event one of the most anticipated on the sports calendar.

Nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A step up at quarterback

It took him a while, but Browns General Manager John Dorsey finally found Tyrod Taylor’s backup this season.

Signing Drew Stanton to a two-year contract Sunday all but signaled the end of the careers of Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan in Cleveland.

Depending on how Hue (Trust Me) Jackson wants to align his quarterbacks, Stanton will be either Taylor’s caddy or the club’s third quarterback if the coach wants to elevate the club’s first draft pick to backup.

Either way, the Browns get an experienced career backup who most likely will share mentor roles with that top draft selection throughout at least the 2018 season, if not beyond.

In seven National Football League seasons, the new Cleveland quarterback has started 17 games and won 11 of them with Detroit and Arizona with a brief stop in Indianapolis in between.

All but four of those starts were with the Cardinals, including four last season – he won three – after Carson Palmer went down with a broken arm.

Stanton is one of those rare quarterbacks just good enough to be a backup, but falls far short in becoming a starter. And that is what Dorsey obviously was looking for.

The thought of Kessler, who preceded Sam Darnold at USC, and Hogan backing up Taylor apparently was anathema to the GM. If neither man could not beat out rookie DeShone Kizer last season, they don’t belong on the new revamped roster.

It will be interesting to see whether Dorsey invites either or both young men to training camp this summer.

While not the perfect backup, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Stanton is clearly a step up from last season. And he will have a lot in common with many members of his new team.

The 6-3, 240-pounder, selected by Detroit out of Michigan State by Detroit in the second round of the 2007 college draft, was a member of the winless 2008 Lions team that lost all 16 games.

Now fans have a new name to chant when they are dissatisfied with Taylor. After all, isn’t the backup quarterback the most popular player by the fans in that instance? Unlike last season, there is no need to worry this season. Stanton’s arrival is a definite step up.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The not-so-total package

All right. Let’s get this out of the way right out of the chute.

Josh Allen is a freakish quarterback.

He can flick his right wrist with little or practically no effort and propel a football 35-40 yards. On a straight line.

Ask him to air out said football and he can deliver it with modest effort in the vicinity of 80 yards. That’s practically inhuman.

Josh Allen is, indeed, a freakish quarterback. No argument there.

His nickname is well earned after he primed his howitzer, a.k.a. his throwing arm, and put it on dazzling display the other day for a coterie of professional football scouts, general managers and at least one owner (the one from Cleveland).

Lots of ooohs and aaahs on many of his impressive throws in the scripted workout. It is hard to not notice.

They all came to see this physical marvel and find out whether he was a figment of someone’s imagination. He did not disappoint and added another layer to the argument of which of the top four quarterbacks in this class should be the No. 1 pick in next month’s National Football League college draft.

In doing so, he validated the notion by many draft gurus who knew about him and believe he very well could be the top selection in the lottery. Allen’s coming-out party was a huge success.

It is so easy for scouts and coaches – and, yes, even owners – to fall in love with such a stunning weapon. It’s a trap most of them fall into. There is a tendency to overlook other aspects of quarterbacking.

Like Allen’s weakest attribute, for example. In two full seasons at the University of Wyoming, the big California kid completed only 56% of his passes. That normally is a gigantic red flag for coaches.

Allen’s only consistency in that regard is that he completed 56% of his passes in both seasons. Not a shred of improvement in the second season.

There is reason to believe he has problems with timing and anticipation with the possibility of so-called slow eyes in the execution of plays, like not recognizing defenses quickly enough to make the proper adjustments and not delivering the ball on time.

Holding the ball a split second too long before delivering it can make all the difference between a completed pass and either an incompletion or interception. DeShone Kizer was a perfect example of that malady with the Browns last season. Many of his 22 interceptions were delivered late.

The question is whether the inability to process quickly enough hurt Allen’s completion percentage at Wyoming more than receivers who failed to help him. It is much more important to fall in love with the total package than it is to fall head over heels for the throwing arm.

You don’t have to be freakish to be great. Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Eli Manning don’t fall into that category. All are great current quarterbacks headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but in an entirely different way.

The same can be said for the likes of Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Joe Montana. There is a lot more to playing the position that owning a rocket arm.

But isn’t launching a football great distances with air-piercing speed the most important weapon in a quarterback’s arsenal? No. Allen’s 56% completion parentage the last two seasons is not an aberration. It’s a trend.

It’s a trend the Browns might want to give serious thought to even though the top pick will sit at least one season behind Tyrod Taylor and experience what it’s like to be a professional football quarterback.

Sam Darnold, not nearly as dazzling as Allen in his pro workout, was a starter the last two seasons at USC, where he was a 65% passer and threw for more than 7,200 yards. (Full disclosure: I believe Darnold should be the pick if the Browns choose to go quarterback with the No. 1 selection.)

Strong-armed quarterbacks are intoxicating to scouts and coaches. The Oakland Raiders took a chance with the first pick in the 2007 draft on a bullet-throwing quarterback from Louisiana State named JaMarcus Russell. After three miserable seasons, Russell was out of football. He was the antithesis of the complete package.But he sure could throw the hell out of the ball.

Quarterbacks who struggle with accuracy rarely correct those problems. The successful ones are those who give their teams the best opportunity to win games by being consistently accurate. 

So is Josh Allen the franchise quarterback the Browns have sought for nearly two decades? Or is he the next JaMarcus Russell?

Former (Browns) scout and draft guru Daniel Jeremiah, now with the NFL Network, summed it up perfectly when discussing Allen: “His ceiling is higher than anybody, but the floor is lower.”

Food for thought.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Is Darnold the man?

Is there any question now who the Browns would select with the first pick in this year’s National Football League college draft if the lottery were tomorrow?

Not after Sam Darnold unloaded a wow! performance at his pro day at USC Wednesday in front of members of the of Browns’ front office, coaching staff and ownership in California.

The young quarterback's impressive 60-throw afternoon in the rain removed any doubts as to whether he has what it takes to make a successful jump to professional football.

If there are any lingering uncertainties about whether he is ready to take the next step in his football career, they were dispelled in front of an audience that included Browns General Manager John Dorsey, offensive coordinator Todd Haley, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and owner Jimmy Haslam III.

It is most unusual to see so many important members of the front office and coaching staff in attendance. That’s a clear sign Darnold is either sitting atop the Browns’ board now or is No. 1 in their hearts with regard to this terrific quarterbacks class.

If they wanted verification, Darnold did not disappoint. He dazzled, showing vast improvement in his footwork, accuracy with all his throws from the pocket and on the run, a smooth delivery and the ability to work mostly under center despite the adverse weather conditions.

He appears to have tightened his delivery (one of several flaws that caused early concern), seems to have corrected a hitch, displayed a quick release, but still needs to work on shortening that release. All are coachable.

Pro days for quarterbacks are carefully scripted and sometimes rehearsed so as not to embarrass the player. What made the day so special for him was how comfortable and unflustered he looked in the steady rain.

Darnold did not throw at the NFL combine a few weeks ago, generating speculation he had shoulder problems, but he made all the throws with no apparent problems with his shoulder. He looked especially sharp with his deep outs and go routes.

Granted he was in shorts and a T-shirt, was not facing a pass rush and knew exactly what he was going to do with every snap. That is what makes reaching conclusions in these matters so difficult.

Darnold unquestionably passed all the performance tests. Now the Browns have to find out about Sam Darnold, the person. Is he the guy the club wants to be the face of the franchise some day? What makes him tick?

The Browns were reportedly put off by Darnold’s laid-back manner during a brief interview with him at the combine. And he supposedly did not do well with the whiteboard.

Haslam, who sat with Darnold’s parents during the workout, got to know him a little more during dinner Tuesday night along with Dorsey and Jackson.. (Darnold had dinner Monday night with the New York Giants, who own the second pick in the draft.)

“He’s a great guy,” he said of his meeting with Haslam. “That whole staff is awesome. . . . I’m trying to impress them but at the same time be myself.”

The so-called upside on this kid – he is the youngest of the top four quarterbacks at just 20 – is off the charts. Wednesday’s performance in Cleveland-like weather conditions did not hurt his chances of being the top pick five weeks from Thursday night.

If in fact Dorsey writes Darnold’s name on the first card for Commissioner Roger Goodell to read, the tipping point very well might be how well he did on a rainy late March afternoon in Southern California.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Not your ordinary Joe

Joe Thomas is an outlier.

For 11 National Football League seasons, he labored in relative anonymity with a team that played football as badly as humanly possible.

Year after year after maddening year, his peerless performances went unrewarded. Unless, that is, you consider the first 10 seasons when he was recognized as one of the best offensive tackles in the business. Ten Pro Bowls in 10 seasons says it all.

In 2007, Thomas’ rookie season, the Browns finished 10-6, yet failed to make the playoffs. He didn’t know it at the time, but that was the pinnacle of his career from a standings standpoint.

The team never really came close to a winning season after that and yet Thomas, whose annual performance epitomized the blue-collar work ethic of the city he represented, labored on at an All-Pro level.

It was the only way he knew how to play. Hard, smart, head down, mouth shut and full of hope that next year would be better. It would be the year.  It had to be. Couldn’t get any worse. That next year never arrived.

Thomas, who officially retired Monday, experienced more next years than someone of his considerable talent and desire and hard work deserved.  Hope kept him in Cleveland all these years in spite of the constant losing.

New head coaches came and went; six came, one still remains. But the losing never stopped. It got worse. Historically worse. Agonizingly worse. And yet, he chose to remain.

He certainly didn’t have to. He had opportunities to leave through free agency. He could have demanded a trade, seeking to finally experience what it was like to play for a winner.

Isn’t that what most athletes want? Why waste that talent on a franchise that was disturbingly dysfunctional? That looked hope in the face and laughed. This was a team that constantly kept getting in its own way. 

Thomas was the one constant. Coaches knew he would deliver. He never failed them. And he did it from the opening kickoff to the final play of the game. Every game.

He began his professional football career as a starter in his rookie season. Until he tore a triceps muscle while blocking in game seven last season, he never knew what it was like to watch a game from the bench. After a remarkable 10,363 consecutive snaps, he was finally brought down.

Playing a position where injuries happen suddenly and often, Thomas was like a man of steel. Trench warfare is not much fun and yet nothing seemed to bother him. At least not outwardly.

He got dinged more than just a little in those 10,000 plus snaps. Whether it was preventing a defensive end from mauling his quarterback or providing running lanes for his backs, he was the dependable one on the offensive line.

Despite all the losing, Thomas head-scratchingly chose to stay. Browns fans were that much richer for it.

He follows in a long line of outstanding offensive left tackles this franchise has produced. From 1947 through 1995, the Browns employed only five men at that position – Lou Groza, Dick Schafrath, Doug Dieken, Paul Farren and Tony Jones.

And then along came Joe with the new Browns. In spite of all the losing, the future first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer has ultimately emerged a winner.

No, this Joe is hardly ordinary. He is a pro’s pro. A coach’s dream.

He was – and still is – exceptional.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Jets muddle quarterback picture

The New York Jets Saturday tossed a grenade that will have a dramatic effect on how the top of the 2018 National Football League college draft unfolds next month.

The Jets, one of several teams hungry for a quarterback, moved up three spots in the draft order to No. 3, swapping places with the Indianapolis Colts in addition to parting with three second-round picks, one next year.

The move definitely affects how the Browns General Manager John Dorsey and his staff approach the draft and has already triggered another round of plausible possibilities.

In what way, if at all, will this change Dorsey’s thinking as he approaches the final days leading up to the draft? Right now, it’s too early to be thinking that far ahead. But it certainly has to give him pause as he methodically maps out the course he seeks to take his new club.

He now knows the two New York teams situated between the Browns’ top pick and their fourth selection are candidates to select a quarterback. The Colts would have opted for a non-quarterback.

The Jets undoubtedly will select a quarterback even though they recently signed Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in free agency. Giving up that much to the Colts and then not taking one makes no sense.

The Giants, on the other hand, can move in either of two directions. They can take Eli Manning’s successor and groom him for a couple of years. Or they can wait and select his successor down the road and instead take running back Saquon Barkley.

The first scenario would force Dorsey to take a quarterback even though that player might not be on top of his board. If that player is Barkley, the second scenario forces him to take the Penn State running back first, believing he won’t be there at four. He has to be lucky and guess correctly.

Then again, the Giants could surprise and also take a quarterback even if the Browns choose one with the first selection. This is a draft where you only think you know what is going to eventuate at the top.

It’s either that for Dorsey or remove all doubt and work a deal with the Giants, thereby ending up with the first two picks. That, of course, would come at a heavy price and is a long shot at best.

Right now with the Jets firmly in the picture, it becomes a guessing game and evaluation of the talent at the quarterback position could very well determine how it all comes down on April 26.

It is said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Sam Darnold, for example, might be ranked fourth on one team’s list and on top of another team’s board. Same with Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. It is all in the eye of the beholder.

Another distinct possibility is the Giants trading down and muddling the situation all over again. The Denver Broncos, sitting at five, is another team with a quarterback in its crosshairs even though they signed Case Keenum.

If that happens, all bets are off and we start all over again speculating on the seemingly never-ending possibilities.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Three is always better than two

What’s better for a National Football League team than having one good running back? Two? Three?

Well after the first big round off free-agent signings, the Browns added to their infantry approach on offense by signing ex-Ohio State star Carlos Hyde, who will pair with the extremely versatile Duke Johnson Jr. in the backfield.

Good move. He more than replaces Isaiah Crowell, whose inconsistency marginalized him in the eyes of the new front office and off he went to the New York Jets.

But the depth in the Cleveland ground game does not need to end there. Hyde and Johnson together are nice, but they would be even better, more effective, with the addition of one of the strong running backs in this year’s draft class.

At the top of that position class, of course, is Saquon Barkley, who is also at the top of the entire draft class and a possible selection for the Browns ay No. 1. Possible, not probable.

General Manager John Dorsey was asked whether Hyde’s signing precluded any thoughts of passing on Barkley when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Browns on the clock six weeks from now in Arlington, Texas.

“Not necessarily,” Dorsey coyly told the Cleveland media the other day. “You can’t have enough good football players.” That right there should stop fans of this team in their tracks.

Was that a yes or a no? Seems as though Dorsey is playing mind games with the rest of the NFL in true cloak-and-dagger fashion at this time of the year. Sort of a keep-them-guessing game.

He then furthered his remarks with this tease: “Saquon would be a nice addition to the team,” he said, “another guy who can go out and make big plays. Use all the weapons you can. If he comes here, the more the better. He’d definitely be a great addition.”

Would be? If he comes, not when? A classic case of mixed signals. The man sure knows how to confuse.

And while it’s still way too early to make a definite commitment at the top, it almost sounds as though Barkley’s name will be the first of Goodell calls. Almost. Can’t be positively certain yet,

But if it’s Dorsey’s intention to completely resurrect the Browns’ offense, he needs to follow through on one of his answers to the media when he told them, “You can’t have enough good football players.”

The possibility of having Hyde, Johnson and Barkley in the same backfield in some way, shape or form seems to be what he is implying. He should listen to himself.
*       *        *
So who is going to replace the retired Joe Thomas at left offensive tackle for the Browns this season? Shon Coleman? Spencer Drango? Rod Johnson? Newcomer Donald Stephenson? Is that man not yet on the roster?

The draft class at that position is not strong this season. So unless Dorsey gets lucky and finds a gold nugget as he pans for that position deep in the lottery, it looks as though one of the aforementioned will be the man.

Coleman, who played right tackle for the Browns last season, most likely will get the first crack. He is no stranger to the position, having played it during his final two years at Auburn.

He is free to move to left tackle after the Browns signed Chris Hubbard as a free agent earlier this week. Hubbard filled in at right tackle and played well last season for Pittsburgh when Marcus Gilbert encountered hamstring problems.

Dorsey pointed out during his news conference that he saw Thomas working with Coleman in the Berea facility, obviously trying to pass along some of the nuances of the position that enabled him to carve out a Hall of Fame career.

Drango, who replaced Thomas when he went down with a torn triceps muscle in week seven of the winless 2017 campaign, had his problems in the second half of the season, most notably in pass protection.

Stephenson has made 37 NFL starts in six seasons, mostly at right tackle. Johnson, a fifth-round draft pick by Cleveland last season, suffered a sprain MCL in early September last year and landed on injured reserve.
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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Taylor doesn’t play bridge

Remember the game Browns coach Hue Jackson played during training camp last season? It involved the merry-go-round situation at quarterback.

If you recall, the Browns’ roster listed four quarterbacks: Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and rookie DeShone Kizer. It became a daily exercise with the media to find out which one of the four would start the season opener against Pittsburgh.

Jackson seemed to have fun with the media during the competition as he waffled depending, in some cases, on how they performed in practice. After Osweiler was traded to Denver, Kizer’s ascendancy to the starting job became apparent.

That guessing game will not be played this season. Jackson made that quite clear Thursday when the Browns introduced quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall to the media.

“Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback,” Jackson declared. “There is no competition.” Really, coach? Now tell us something we don’t know.

Jackson assures fans Taylor will become the Browns’ 29th starting quarterback since 1999. And it won’t be for just a couple of seasons as he becomes the bridge to the quarterback the club selects in the first round of this year’s draft. Not if he can help it.

“I don’t necessarily view myself as a bridge quarterback,” Taylor said. “As far as a bridge, hopefully I’m helping bridge this team to a Super Bowl. That’s the plan.”

Lofty goals for sure. But what else did you expect him to say? Sure, I can do two years here and then go somewhere else? Of course he is going to throw some red meat at a fan base that loves hearing the words “Super” and “Bowl” in the same sentence from their quarterback.

But deep down, Taylor has to know his stay with the Browns has an expiration date unless he has no problem becoming a backup and mentor to the new quarterback.
*       *       *
The Browns are still trying to convince Terrelle Pryor to return, but the former Browns wide receiver has reportedly attracted interest from the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.

The thought of Pryor, Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry in the same huddle is intriguing and something that would provide new offensive coordinator Todd Haley all kinds of weaponry as he constructs the new Cleveland offense.

Offering Pryor the same contract (four years, $32 million) they did last season before he turned it down and bolted to the Washington Redskins might get the job done this time for the Browns, who could make the awful Cleveland offense the last two seasons seem like nothing more than a bad memory.

Throw in tight end David Njoku and running back Duke Johnson Jr. and the possibilities abound. Add a strong running game and a slightly revamped line and the Cleveland offense could turn out to be one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 season.

Pryor would be a key ingredient in that offense. The big question is whether General Manager John Dorsey sees it the same way and opens up Jimmy Haslam III’s vault one more time during what thus far has been a bountiful free-agent/trading season.
*       *       *
The McCourty brothers of the NFL have tried for years to play for the same team. Dorsey finally made the dream come true for the twin brothers on Wednesday.

McCourty, easily the Browns’ best defensive back last season, was traded to the New England and will join brother Devin, a free safety, in the Patriots’ secondary this season. He also joins ex-Brown nose tackle Danny Shelton, recently swapped to the Pats, as he moves from the outhouse to the penthouse.

McCourty was easily the best corner for the Browns last season, but his numbers suffered in the second half of the season when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams played more zone to offset a disappointing pass rush.

Apparently, Dorsey liked what he saw last season of youngsters Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Mike Jordan down the stretch and decided to move the 30-year-old McCourty.

Originally, the Browns announced they had terminated McCourty’s contract, then pulled back and shipped him and this year’s seventh-round pick for the Patriots’ sixth-round choice in April’s college draft.

According to my calculations, the Browns own nine picks in the lottery, including five in the first two rounds. They also have selections in the fourth (114), fifth (150) and now two in the sixth round (175 and 205).
*       *       *
In addition to McCourty, the Browns also terminated the contract of defensive back B. W. Webb and waived eight others, including wide receiver Sammie Coates and offensive tackle Zach Banner, none of whom would have made the team next season. There are currently 76 men on the active roster.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A better team already

On a day when the Browns bid farewell to future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, who retired after 11 seasons, they said hello to four more newcomers as General Manager John Dorsey stepped up the pace in reimaging the 2018 roster.

Cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and T. J. Carrie, running back Carlos Hyde and tight end Darren Fells joined previously reported defensive lineman Chris Smith, offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall.

Dorsey’s wild spending and trading spree to officially kick off free agency on Wednesday has brought 10 new faces to the roster, portending a significant rise in the average age and veteran leadership.

And when the GM is finished, many fans will have some problems recognizing the new iteration from the one that concluded the miserable, long-suffering and historically embarrassing 2017 season.

It was a roster that needed a whole lot more than a tweak here and there. It needed a vast overhaul and it didn’t take long for Dorsey to figure it out. Thus the first wave of what eventually will turn out to be a massive rebuild. The reconstruct is merely in its embryonic stages.

When he is finished, and that includes making several members from last season’s team disappear, many fans will finally get a sense of what a real National Football League team looks like.

At first blush, it sure appears as though Dorsey thought little of the secondary last season with the signings of Randall, Carrie and Mitchell, all young veterans. Randall has already been plugged in at free safety, liberating Jabrill Peppers to move up to strong safety, where he should have been all along.

Mitchell and Carrie most likely will battle to play opposite Jason McCourty at strongside corner with the loser becoming a strong candidate to play the slot in the nickel and dime packages. It represents a definite upgrade.

The signing of Fells signals a new philosophy with regard to the running game, an aspect of the Cleveland offense the last two seasons that was virtually abandoned by head coach Hue Jackson. The 6-7, 270-pound Fells is a sound blocker.

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a big fan of the ground game, having established it as the perfect partner for the passing of Ben Roethlisberger for the last half dozen seasons in Pittsburgh.

The most curious signing, however, brought Hyde back to Ohio. The Cincinnati native and former Ohio State star played four seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, scoring 21 touchdowns, rushing for more than 2,700 yards and catching 109 passes.

It is yet another upgrade over the departed Isaiah Crowell, who signed with the New York Jets. But it also cast some doubt whether Dorsey is signaling the Browns might pass on Saquon Barkley as the overall top pick in next month’s college draft because he seems to have secured his No. 1 running back.

An argument can be made that a team never has enough running backs. The prospect of Barkley and Hyde on the same roster – and sometimes in the same backfield – could be intimidating to opposing defenses. There is no reason they could not co-exist.

All you have to do is look at what happened down in New Orleans last season when rookie Alvin Kamara joined veteran Mark Ingram Jr. in the Saints offense and not only set the league on fire, their success made quarterbacking a lot easier for Drew Brees.

The loss of the peerless Thomas, however, still has to be addressed by Dorsey, who brought in Hubbard and Stephenson as insurance. Replacing him has leaped to the top of the GM’s to-do- list.

He has two options with the fourth pick, one on each side of the football, should he grab a quarterback with the top pick and pass on Barkley one way or the other.

He could draft North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, giving Myles Garrett a pass-rushing partner. Or he could pick Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson and move left guard Joel Bitonio out to left tackle, a position he played in college, That part of the puzzle is still yet to be played out.

After the first wave of free agency, though, the scorecard says Dorsey has picked up at least five, possibly six new starters who bring NFL experience and production to the table and already makes the Browns a better and decidedly more competitive team.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Draft intrigue

What an intriguing spectacle the top of the 2018 National Football League college draft has become.

The possibilities within the first five picks are absolutely mind-boggling with a myriad of moves that may or may not eventuate. That is what makes it intriguing.

It also is the source of arguments, stances and guesses made by Browns fans, mainly because the club is squarely in the middle with ownership of two of the first four selections in next month’s annual lottery.

So many permutations to consider between now and the night of April 26 in Arlington, Texas, but the Browns are in position to dictate the direction the draft takes once they make their first selection.

The arguments and stances (and guesses) by fans start with that pick. It all revolves around a solid quarterback class, one that is difficult to rank because they are so close in their respective talents, and numerous teams seeking to improve at that position.

The Browns, of course, are one of those teams. Owning the fourth overall pick gives them some insurance they will have a shot at one of those quarterbacks no matter what. Therein lies the problem, though.

A lot depends on how much, if at all, General Manager John Dorsey and his guys fall in love with one quarterback in particular. The pros and cons for each of the top four quarterbacks are so close, a love connection with one might not be achieved.

It is entirely possible in evaluating the quartet of Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield that a consensus might not be reached, resulting in a conundrum. That’s because they might like them all but for different reasons.

Do they figure that these guys are so close, they’ll still get a good one no matter who is there at No. 4? If that were the case, it would free them to take the best player on their board regardless of position.

Never mind that the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos (even though they reportedly signed Case Keenum) and New York Jets (even though they reportedly signed Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown), three teams with early picks, would take dead aim at one of the aforementioned and try to move up in the draft.

The Bills currently check in at No. 12, while the Broncos and Jets are back-to-back at five and six. And if they trade up, , that would possibly affect two of the quarterbacks the Browns could lose should they opt for someone else (Saquon Barkley?) at No. 1.

The New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, who follow the Browns at the top, most likely will be trade targets for any of the aforementioned should they choose to go in that direction. But they also have good reason to stay put and resist moving down.

Two of the top-rated players in this draft, maybe the top two according to many draft experts, are Barkley and defensive end Bradley Chubb, each of whom plays a position of need for the Giants and Colts.

The Giants still believe they can get at least a couple of more good seasons out of Eli Manning and could seek much needed help at running back (Barkley?). The Colts, banking on Andrew Luck returning to form after missing last season, need lots of help on defense, particularly the pass rush (Chubb?), and at running back.

If Dorsey and his men cannot come up with a consensus pick at quarterback. Barkley is the likely first name on his board the night of the draft. That’s the conundrum he faces because even though he made drafting the team’s future franchise quarterback his top priority. What does he do?

The only way the Browns take a quarterback first is if they fall head over heels totally for one in particular, too many possibilities exist that they might lose him and kick themselves for gambling incorrectly.

Dorsey will not know definitively on his ultimate course of action until he sees and speaks with these quarterbacks in person in the next several weeks. There is still plenty of time to make what fans hope is the right decision.

The unannounced deals (until Wednesday) by the Broncos (Keenum) and Jets (Bridgewater and McCown) certainly helps and could have a positive impact on how the Browns begin the draft.

On a day when all three Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks last season changed uniforms (Sam Bradford to Arizona), the need for the teams involved to move up in this draft, ostensibly ahead of the Browns, diminished somewhat.

Only the Bills, who shipped Tyrod Taylor to the Browns and created a huge hole at quarterback, Broncos and Jets could be considered legitimate candidates to move up. But the quarterbacks class is so deep, the Browns could sit tight and still get a good one at four. 

That should be considered wishful thinking by your blogger, who remains hopeful for Barkley, then the quarterback.
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The Browns agreed to contract terms with two offensive linemen and a defensive lineman Tuesday as Dorsey continues massaging his roster.

He signed offensive tackles Chris Hubbard (five-year deal) and Donald Stephenson (one-year contract) as insurance in the event Joe Thomas decides to retire. Both men are right tackles. He also signed defensive end Chris Smith to a three-year deal.

Hubbard, 26, filled in capably for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season after Marcus Gilbert suffered a hamstring injury, starting 10 games. The undrafted free agent has a good shot at unseating incumbent Shon Coleman at right tackle.

The 29-year-old Stephenson was drafted by Kansas City and played last season in Denver. The six-year pro, who is expected to provide veteran depth along the offensive line, has 37 NFL starts on his résumé.

Smith, also 26, played for the Cincinnati Bengals last season. He most likely will be a situational player along the defensive line, replacing Danny Shelton, who was traded to New England over the weekend. He is a little on the small side at 6-1, 266 pounds.