Saturday, April 28, 2018


Expect the unexpected with Dorsey

Never let it be said John Dorsey is afraid of taking chances or keeping everyone guessing, usually incorrectly.

He gambled big time in the opening round of the National Football League college football draft by selecting the shortest quarterback in the lottery with the first pick and reaching for a cornerback, a need pick instead of the best player available, with his second.

So when the final four rounds of the draft began Saturday, one could only wonder what the unpredictable Dorsey would attempt. He did not disappoint. It took only five picks to find out.

Antonio Callaway is a super talented wide receiver at the University of Florida and regarded at one time as one of the best wideouts in this draft. He was regarded by many to be good enough to be no worse than a second-round certainty, if not higher.

But off-the-field baggage, which included failing a drug test at the Indy Combine, dropped his value so low, many teams erased his name from their draft boards.

Not the Browns. Not Dorsey. Five picks into the fourth round, the GM, fearful other clubs were about to make a move on Callahan, could wait no longer. He traded up with the New England Patriots and pulled the trigger.

Never mind that Callahan missed the entire 2017 season at Florida after being suspended along with several teammates for alleged credit card fraud. He previously faced sexual assault allegations and was ultimately found not responsible, and was cited a year ago for marijuana possession.

The young man was trouble. And didn’t the Browns have enough problems with Josh Gordon, who is just one step away from receiving a lifetime suspension from the NFL due to drug abuse? Numerous red flags surrounded him. Dorsey did not care

He arrived in Cleveland several months ago as the Browns’ general manager with the reputation of being fearless when stocking a franchise. If he was a quality football player, Dorsey did not hesitate to target him and eventually select him in the NFL’s annual college football draft regardless of personal problems.

Perfect example was wide receiver Tyreek Hill in Kansas City. Hill, who was involved in a nasty domestic assault incident at the time, lasted until the fifth round of the 2016 draft. And that’s when Dorsey pounced.

Hill rewarded Dorsey with two scintillating seasons as a wide receiver and kick returner, gaining the reputation as one of the most dangerous players in the league.

There is no question Dorsey is hoping lightning can strike twice with the 5-11, 200-pound Callahan, who would give the Browns a solid and potentially dangerous deep threat.  

 A wide receiver corps of Gordon, free-agent signee Jarvis Landry and Callahan would give the Browns strength at a position that has sorely lack the last several seasons.

Callahan, in an effort to turn his life around, has leaned on veteran Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown for guidance as he begins his professional football career.

Dorsey made three other picks in rounds five and six – Memphis linebacker Genard Avery, Texas A&M wide receiver Damion Ratley and Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Simeon Thomas – but none had the impact of the Callahan pick.

Dorsey justified his controversial move. “He’ll understand what it means to be a Cleveland Brown,” he said without defining what that meant. “Once he understands 100% . . .. the Cleveland Browns are 100% committed to make this man a football player.”

The Browns’ support system was one of the key factors in the decision he believes will help turn this young man’s life in the right direction.

Callaway, who recently became a father for the first time, said, “I’m not this bad person the media portrays. I can’t stress it enough. I just have to let my actions speak for me. . . . It ain’t too much about athletics, just really about life and how you have to make good decisions.”

Avery, Ratley and Thomas most likely will be special teamers at best if they make the final roster. At worst, they could wind up a training camp fodder.

All in all, an interesting – to say the least – three days for Dorsey’s first draft with the Browns. I’ll share my final thoughts and the final grade in a couple of days.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Much better evening

Their names might not have been atop the Browns’ board entering night two of the National Football League’s draft extravaganza, but rest assured Austin Corbett and Nick Chubb will become well known to Brown fans during the 2018 season.

There is no question that when General Manager John Dorsey made Corbett, a versatile offensive lineman, his first pick to kick off the second round Friday night, many members of Browns Nation blinked and declared, “Who?”

Not so with Chubb, who went two picks later. The bulldozing Georgia running back’s exploits made him a desired target in this year’s lottery. Most followers of college football know all about the rugged 5-11, 227-pounder.

With the likes of Connor Williams, Brian O’Neill, Will Hernandez and Braden Smith still on the board, Dorsey opted for the lesser-known Corbett in hopes he would be in the mix to replace retired left tackle Joe Thomas.

As it turns out, Corbett has a shirt-tail relationship with the Browns. He operated in near anonymity for four seasons with the Wolf Pack after taking over for Joel Bitonio, who was scooped up by Cleveland in the 2014 draft.

Both men are 6-4, 305-pounders, both were drafted by the Browns in the second round and they very well might wind up playing side by side along the offensive line this season.

Corbett, who has played mostly left tackle but has seen action at guard and center, is thought by some to be the heir apparent to Thomas. But that might necessarily be the case by the time the season begins.

The Browns indicate Corbett and Shon Coleman would battle for the starting job initially, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the club eventually plugs Corbett in at left guard and shifts Bitonio, who played the position in college, back to tackle.

Chubb, meanwhile, joins a backfield that includes free-agent signee Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson Jr. and Matthew Dayes, giving the club their best infantry in many seasons.

Many fans hope Dorsey strikes running back gold like he did last season as GM of the Kansas City Chiefs when he drafted Kareem Hunt, who ran for more than 1,300 yards.

Chubb figures to be in the rotation with Hyde, freeing Johnson to do what he does best as a third-down back or flanking out in passing formations. Look for offensive coordinator Todd Haley to take advantage of his versatility.

The selections of Corbett and Chubb – too bad Dorsey didn’t draft the other Chubb Thursday night – provide quality depth at positions that are key to the success of an offense that has stagnated in the two years under head coach/offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

The GM traded down a few places to gain a third sixth-round selection Saturday to grab defensive end Chad Thomas, ostensibly to help a pass rush that begs for improvement. However, Thomas’ numbers for Miami of Florida do not provide much hope there.

Nevertheless, it was definitely a much better night in the war room for Dorsey and his guys after Thursday night’s puzzling opening salvo.

Final grade for the evening: B

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A nightmare in Berea

It is now official. The Cleveland Browns proved once again Thursday they have trouble getting out of their own way. Another invasion of Murphy's Law torpedoed yet another attempt at restarting this franchise.

The National Football League team that has tortured its extraordinary fan base beyond all reason with baffling moves since returning in 1999, had a chance for redemption in this year’s college draft and blew it in the first round.

Sitting pretty at draft positions one and four, the Browns and their new front office had an opportunity to mine solid gold and instead came away with fool’s gold with selections practically no one saw coming.

With a wealth of talent at the top of the board and a terrific opportunity to recruit that talent, General Manager John Dorsey sadly and disappointingly chose instead to draft a couple of players who did not deserve such lofty status.

It all began at 8:17 p.m. when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed what most people learned late  through social media. In selecting quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick and Cleveland-area cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth, Dorsey clearly went against the grain.

The stunned reaction by most of those who attended the Browns’ draft party in downtown Cleveland said it all. While a select few rejoiced the Mayfield selection, most stood silently and wore puzzled expressions.

The two whiffs at the top, which caught numerous draft experts by surprise, took the air out of the notion that quarterback Sam Darnold and edge rusher Bradley Chubb were all but slam dunks to wear Seal Brown and Orange this year.

Dorsey obviously saw it quite differently. His selections were met initially with a great deal of skepticism, if not downright anger, to the point where some fans are already looking forward to next season’s rebuild.

For a while there, I thought Sashi Brown had sneaked back into the war room and made the picks himself.  Didn’t the Browns fire him? This sure looks like this might be his revenge for being cashiered.

It makes one wonder did the Browns lose every game last season and 34 of the last 35 for this? For a pair of Smurfish football players whose contributions will have little or no impact this season?

It was reminiscent of the 2014 lottery when the Browns drafted a cornerback (Justin Gilbert) who failed miserably and a smallish mercurial quarterback (Johnny Manziel) who couldn’t control himself off the field.

Mayfield, who checks in just three-quarters of an inch taller than Manziel, arrives with a boatload of talent, tons of confidence, a Heisman Trophy and plenty of off-the-field baggage. Sound familiar?

It naturally evokes a natural comparison with Manziel, that other too-short-for-the-NFL quarterback who arrived with great fanfare, a Heisman Trophy and loads of off-the-field baggage. Is history repeating itself?

Even though he reportedly loves to party and has had several scraps with the law, Mayfield chafes at the notion that anyone would compare him to his fellow Texan, whose professional career was flushed by his erratic behavior.

Dorsey, it would appear, loves Mayfield’s brashness, his ability to be a leader of men and his outgoing personality. “I have no qualms about him as a man or as a football player,” he said.

The GM declared Mayfield “was the best player available. I felt this was the best fit for the organization moving forward.” Sounds like a business executive making excuses for a questionable decision.

Mayfield’s curious selection as the best player on Cleveland’s draft board culminates an impressive climb to the top for Mayfield, who began his collegiate career as a walk-on at Texas Tech.

After sitting out a season and transferring to Oklahoma, Mayfield dazzled with 119 scoring passes and only 21 interceptions in three seasons with the Sooners. He appeared on Dorsey’s radar last fall and, at least in the GM’s mind, fought off all comers in a very strong class.

His beat-the-odds approach impressed Dorsey and Hue Jackson. "This guy has a chip on his shoulder,” the coach said. “I think we all know that. What I saw was a leader of men.”

Advisor Scot McCloughan, who championed Dorsey’s choice, labeled Mayfield “a smaller version of (Hall of Famer) Brett Favre.” One significant difference, though. The kind of football played in Favre’s days is no longer played today.

Today’s game is faster, quicker and much more sophisticated. It has become a cerebral game for quarterbacks. How well Mayfield adapts to that style remains to be seen.

Preparing for NFL defenses is not nearly the same as preparing for the more simplistic defenses in the Big 12 Conference. The throwing windows are a lot tighter and close much quicker, and the coverages are much more complex.

And don’t count out the possibility of Mayfield lobbying for the starting job despite Jackson’s contention that veteran Tyrod Taylor will be his starter this season. His personality suggests his ambition is to open the season against Pittsburgh on Sept. 9.

Troy Aikman, working as a commentator for Fox and the NFL Network, went so far as to say he “wouldn’t be surprised if Mayfield starts week one.”

Russell Wilson, another small quarterback (but much more athletic than Mayfield) stunned the pro football world in 2012 when he won the starting job in Seattle as a rookie, beating out Matt Flynn. He made his debut on Sept. 9 (there’s that date) against Arizona.

Also trying and failing to tap into Dorsey’s thinking here with regard to the Ward selection with Chubb still on the board. The Browns believe he was the best shutdown corner in the draft.

One of the main reasons the Browns had trouble shutting down opposing receivers last season was their inability to get to the quarterback. The best friends of the secondary are defensive linemen who make opposing quarterbacks’ lives miserable.

Many fans envisioned Chubb and Myles Garrett as bookend pass rushers, which would have taken pressure off the secondary. Dorsey saw it differently and now Ward, who went to Nordonia (Northfield/Macedonia) High School, faces a huge challenge.

Ward’s selection was also curious because Dorsey brought in four new cornerbacks in free agency in addition to welcoming back corner Howard Wilson, who missed all last season with a knee injury.

All in all, it was a disappointing debut for Dorsey as the Browns’ general manager considering his strong reputation as a solid judge of talent. Based on that, one can only imagine what day two Friday will look like.

Final grade: C- (and that’s being charitable)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The intrigue ends

The intrigue is almost overwhelming as we finally arrive at draft day Thursday. Almost, but not quite.

The scenarios that have attached themselves to the Browns’ first two selections in the annual National Football League college draft have multiplied to the point where whatever unfolds will come as no surprise,

Just about anything can happen within the boundaries of the picks the Browns own at 1 and 4. All of which means most likely – quite probably, in fact – nothing out of the ordinary will happen.

But the numerous possibilities in the run-up to the draft sure are buckle-your-seat-belt intoxicating and definitely make this one of the most mysterious and yet exciting beginnings of the lottery in many years.

The Browns sit right in the middle of the building drama as to which of the four quarterbacks General Manager John Dorsey takes with the first pick and who will be on the board for him at 4.

That, of course, is if he plans to stay at 4 with the distinct possibility several teams will try to move up to get whichever quarterbacks remain on the board. That’s one of the many possible scenarios that can still unfold.

As for what Dorsey does at 1, the only thing chiseled is it will be a quarterback. That is the only absolute certainty. Who that quarterback is is anyone’s guess right now.

A few days ago, Sam Darnold (my personal choice) appeared to be the favorite in the clubhouse after Josh Allen commanded much of the attention in the previous several weeks. Now Baker Mayfield has emerged as a possibility.

What we think we know for certain now is Josh Rosen will not wind up in the Seal Brown and Orange. Or will he? Talk about smokescreens.

Only Dorsey knows for certain and now that he has emerged from the dark world he inhabits mere weeks before the draft, the only people he says he has shared his decision with are owner Jimmy Haslam III, coach Hue Jackson and the major occupants of the front office. And maybe his wife.

Unless there is a major leak in the organization, fans and the media will not know what name will be written on that initial card for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to read except the aforementioned.

Not knowing until that moment when Goodell utters the lucky guy’s name has driven Browns Nation to the brink of perplexity. Dorsey’s wondrous ability to keep it a secret for this long has given this event more drama than a soap opera.

As for the fourth pick, just about anything is possible there, including the possibility of a trade involving the New York Giants, who sit at 2, that could knock down highly ranked players to Cleveland.

Dorsey will have numerous interesting options once the Browns are placed on the clock after the New York Jets finally arrive to make their pick at 3.

Let’s examine some of them. All are based on hypotheticals.

If the Giants trade out, Dorsey will have a shot at the best non-quarterback on the board. If he leans offense, it probably would be running back Saquon Barkley. On defense, the overwhelming choice is edge rusher Bradley Chubb.

If the Giants stay put, they can go two ways. They can take a quarterback (Eli Manning’s eventual successor) or they can grab Barkley or Chubb, which would remove the difficult choice factor for Dorsey and enable him to draft whoever falls. What they do will heavily influence Dorsey’s thinking.

If Barkley and Chubb wind up in Dorsey’s lap at 4, it really is the best of all worlds. He cannot lose no matter whom he chooses because both young men are on the precipice of a terrific pro career. Both are solid can’t-miss products. It is a win-win situation.

Conventional wisdom suggests he goes with Chubb, the absolute best pass rusher by far in a draft where there is a significant drop-off to the next tier of edge rushers.

Barkley is decidedly the best running back, but this year’s crop of runners is just as deep as last year’s. (I can’t believe what I’m about to type since I’m a huge Barkley fan.)  That being the case, unless the Giants take Chubb off the board, he should be a no-brainer for Dorsey at 4.

There is one other option for the GM. He could pull a Sashi Brown and trade down, stockpiling future draft capital if he could find the right partner. That, however, would be a mistake.

There is no good reason to pass on either Chubb or Barkley at 4. Brown and his minions worked hard to put the Browns in position to draft high quality talent. The time to implement is now. It should not be squandered. Dorsey might not get this opportunity again.

The opportunity to select (choose between Mayfield, Darnold and Allen) and (Chubb or Barkley) puts him in a unique position to finally launch his plan to make this franchise not only relevant again after nearly two decades, but extremely competitive for a long time.

Fans of this franchise have been through football hell for way too long. They are fiercely loyal and passionate enough to deserve a lot better than they have received.

And now we are just hours away from discovering what Dorsey has been planning in his quest to give the Cleveland Browns brand a whole new meaning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

If it’s Tuesday . . .

Let’s see. It’s Tuesday of draft week and the flavor of the day is Baker Mayfield.

Yep, the smallish quarterback from Oklahoma became the latest draft darling of the National Football League’s college football draft nation as we careen toward D-Day Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.

On Monday, noted draft expert Mike Mayock had a “gut feeling” the Browns were going to take USC quarterback Sam Darnold with the top pick in this year’s lottery and everyone got excited because, well, because Darnold has become a fan favorite.

Then Tuesday arrived and Mayfield, who has impressed with his aggressive attitude and leadership qualities, has seemingly supplanted Darnold on the draft guru throne at the top.

The esteemed Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted – and this is where the rumor gained legs – that Mayfield, according to a NFL executive, is “definitely” in the mix by the Browns and being strongly considered with the precious first choice.

Being considered, mind you, is not the same as having his first name already scribbled on the card NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will intone when he launches this year’s draft.

It is not chiseled, either, because as we have all learned over the years, just about anything can happen at the top of the draft. It doesn’t take much to cause little belches early that can severely alter the course many believe it will take.

The equally esteemed Peter King of Sports Illustrated in his one and only mock draft a few days ago had the Browns grabbing Darnold, which eased the fears of Darnold supporters for at least a day.

Now along comes Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report who drops a creative little nugget into the laps of Browns Nation with his final mock draft. It’s a thought-provoking eye opener.

He has the club taking Darnold with the initial pick, then trading down twice with Buffalo and New England to take offensive tackle Kolton Miller, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Josh Jackson in the bottom third of the round.

That means no Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb, rated in many quarters as the two best players in this draft regardless of position.

It must be a Tuesday thing.

Actually, that’s not a bad haul because it fills important holes with three well-regarded prospects and strengthens the roster. But the likelihood of General Manager John Dorsey working the opening round with such dexterity is unlikely.

Who knows what Wednesday will bring? By Thursday night, it will all seem anticlimactic.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Silly comparison

Mike Bath is the running backs and fullbacks coach at the University of Wyoming, which means he knows all about Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen.

Allen, who became legendary at Wyoming because of his freakish throwing arm, is a hot candidate to be selected by the Browns with the first overall pick of the college football draft Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.

Since he emerged front and center as a distinct possibility several months ago, it is only natural to compare him to other NFL quarterbacks.

This is where it becomes silly, and somewhat ludicrous, especially after Bath drew a favorable comparison between Allen and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, who has a been gigantic annoyance to Cleveland pro football for the last 14 seasons.

Bath knows Roethlisberger. They were teammates for one season at Miami of Ohio before Big Ben began carving out a career that will lead to his enshrinement in Canton five years after he retires.

“(Allen) has the same competitive nature Ben has which has served Ben extremely well in his career,” Bath told Mary Kay Cabot of recently. “But he’s also got some of those field characteristics and football characteristics as Ben, like the ability to throw on the run and make a play with his feet at an extremely high level.

“People probably look at their stature. But he’s bigger than Ben (was) coming out. From a size perspective, arm perspective and athleticism, there are a lot of similarities.”

Let’s look at those similarities. Actually, there are only two, both of a physical nature.

Both are a legitimate 6-5. Allen checks in at 237 pounds, nearly 17 pounds more than Roethlisberger weighed when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 (the Browns grabbed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. that season).

Both men own terrific throwing arms, although Roethlisberger couldn’t chuck a football 80 yards on the fly like Allen can without ripping his arm out of its shoulder socket.

That’s it.

The big difference was Big Ben was ready for the NFL. He stepped right in and guided the Steelers to a 15-1 record as a rookie. For an encore, he won the first of his two Super Bowl rings in his second season and has led his team to the postseason 10 times.

His statistics at Miami dwarf, almost embarrassingly, what Allen has accomplished at Wyoming. It’s not even close.

In his two full seasons with the Cowboys, Allen completed 56.1 % of his passes for 5,015 yards, 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions and was sacked 49 times in 25 games.

Roethlisberger in three full seasons completed 65.5% of his passes (69% in his final year) for 10,829 yards, 84 touchdowns, 34 picks and was sacked 88 times in 38 games. In his final season, he threw for 4,486 yards (about 520 yards shy of Allen’s total output for two seasons), connecting on 37 scoring passes with just 10 interceptions.

What Bath has unwisely – and unfairly – done to Allen is compare a wet-behind-the-ears, not-even-close-to-being-ready-for-prime-time quarterback to one whose collegiate résumé was spectacular.

(One can only imagine what direction the Cleveland franchise would have taken had Butch Davis ignored his Miami of Florida bias and instead taken the quarterback from the other Miami.)

It very well could turn out that Allen, based on his mediocre success on the collegiate level, turns out to be nothing more than a larger version of DeShone Kizer, Tim Couch and Charlie Frye.

All had problems with anticipation and timing in delivering the football on time. Sound familiar with regard to Allen’s problems at Wyoming? That aspect of quarterbacking cannot be taught or acquired. Roethlisberger never had that problem, either in college or the NFL.

It’s all about coordination between the feet, the arm and the eyes. Either you have it or you don’t. If Allen has slow eyes, all the coaching in the world won’t help.

Not only is Bath’s comparison incorrect, it is absurd.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

All hands on deck

All right. Let’s put this hand-size situation in perspective.

All of a sudden, it seems as though the size of a quarterback’s hands ostensibly can be an important, if not determining, factor in the selection process for the National Football League college draft.

And with the Browns definitely taking the top pick in Thursday night’s opening salvo of the three-day lottery extravaganza, how big a player’s hands might very well be the key factor who the club’s selects.

Cleveland General Manager John Dorsey during his pre-draft media session a couple of days ago dropped what is being perceived as a large hint as to how he is thinking when asked what he looks for in an AFC North quarterback.

“You all laugh at me when I say it, but I think hand size is important,” he said with a straight face. “Hand size in November and December, when it’s snowing and raining, it’s getting muddy, we all know the elements in Cleveland are going to play a role.”

That was said by the man who, as GM of the Kanas City Chiefs, drafted Patrick Mahomes II and his 9¼-inch hands a year ago. Of course, he could argue the meteorological elements in Kansas City are not nearly as harsh as in Cleveland during the final two months of the year.

What makes Dorsey’s remarks so interesting is that the rumors are rife he will select Josh Allen and his 10 1/8-inch hands for the very reason he stated. He wants big mitts on the football when it gets sloppy.

It appears to be a not-so-subtle hint that Sam Darnold, with his measly 9 3/8-inch paws, will lose the beauty contest to Allen and most likely wind up with the New York Giants at No. 2.

Dorsey sure seemed to intimate hand size will be the determining factor with regard to the future of this franchise. Or did he?

This might be yet another swerve as he continues to toy with the media, local and national, in what seems to be a game with him. The art of deceit. Say one thing and mean something entirely different.

While he probably has a shred or two of belief that hand size is important, Dorsey has been around long enough to realize there are many other factors that enter into such an important choice for a team in desperate need for a franchise quarterback.

I’d like to think hand size is not important enough to stand in the way of making the correct choice in a job where every move is, at best, a gamble.  

If that were the case, a lot of pretty good quarterbacks down through the years might not have achieved success based on their hand size, whereas others with larger hands have failed abysmally.

Tom Brady, who owns enough Super Bowl rings to cover one hand, has the same hand size as Darnold at 9 3/8 inches. Aaron Rodgers is another member of the 9 3/8-inch fraternity.

Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner, has 9 1/8-inch mitts. Jared Goff, who quarterbacked the Los Angeles Rams to the playoffs last season in his second year, barely makes it into the ring at an even nine inches.

Other successful quarterbacks with average size hands include Philip Rivers (9¼ inches), Matt Ryan (9½), Joe Flacco (9 5/8), Alex Smith (9 3/8) and Jameis Winston (9 3/8). Jimmy Garoppolo and his 9¼-inch hands turned around the San Francisco 49ers fortunes last season.

On the plus side of the hand-size argument, Ben Roethlisberger owns 9 7/8-inch hands (the same as Johnny Manziel). So does Cam Newton, A couple of little guys, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, check in at 10¼ inches. Brett Favre’s hands measured 10 3/8 inches.

Know who else has big hands? Tyrod Taylor, the Browns’ newest quarterback, stretches out to an even 10 inches. Ponder that for a while. Speaking of Ponder, Christian Ponder had one good season with Minnesota before flaming out with his 10¼-inch hands.

If hand size was that important, the Browns would never have traded Cody Kessler and his 10 7/8-inch hands to Jacksonville and Kevin Hogan, who was a bit smaller at 10¼ inches, to Washington.

So Dorsey is either putting the media on with such drivel with this hand size thing or he has a very short memory (with regard to Mahomes). Right now, drivel has the lead in the clubhouse.

As it turns out, points can be scored on both sides of the argument, which usually results in a draw. It also means that Allen’s chances of being selected by the Browns at the top of the draft do not necessarily lie with the size of his hands.

In the end, it’s not about the hands. It’s about what lies between the ears.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

That nagging feeling

Ever get that feeling of impending bad news?

You just know something terribly wrong is going to happen, but you can’t put your finger on it. You don’t know when. You don’t know what. You just know. And it gnaws at you.

You try to figure it out in an attempt to head it off and it just isn’t coming to you. It frustrates the hell out of you.

It is a terrible, helpless feeling.

Then you realize what it is and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Talk about helpless.

That’s sort of where I am right now with the Browns and their plans for the upcoming college football draft a week from tonight deep in the heart of Texas. More specifically, the first overall pick.

This is unquestionably a pivotal draft for a franchise that has struggled – that’s putting it mildly – since returning to the National Football League in 1999 following an unwarranted and underserved three-year absence.

A team with a fan base that has been subjected to unmerciful embarrassment in the last 19 seasons has finally positioned itself to have a legitimate opportunity to restore the franchise’s good name.

By owning two of the first four selections in a quarterback-rich lottery, they will be able to finally secure that elusive – due largely to the ineptitude of previous front offices – future franchise quarterback.

There is no question General Manager John Dorsey will grab one of those quarterbacks as he embarks on his quest to restore the famed legacy of the Browns prior to the move to Baltimore nearly two decades ago.

And that is where that feeling – the one of impending bad news – kicks in. It is a recent arrival, but has caused some dyspepsia because of the direction Dorsey appears to be headed with regard to that quarterback.

Word is leaking out as we plunge into the final week of smoke screens that invariably lurk at this time of the NFL year.

Dorsey reportedly has narrowed his choices for the top pick in the draft to Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, a couple of California kids. Unless this is the mother of all smoke screens, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen are headed elsewhere.

Allen, if the rumors are true, appears to have nudged in front of Darnold with a week to go. Thus that feeling.

(Full disclosure: I am a Sam Darnold fan. Have been since watching him in that classic Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. Thought I was watching the future Browns quarterback. Shocked, but happy, he declared this year.)

So when I hear Dorsey, who I greatly respect as a talent evaluator, is leaning in Allen’s direction despite numerous red flags, I get the sense this franchise will never again be relevant.

Makes no difference who runs the front office for this franchise. He is destined to make the wrong move at a critical time because, well, because he can’t help it. Destiny works that way.

If Allen turns out to the No. 1 pick, it will be just another chapter of Murphy’s Law continuing to dog this franchise. It’s the classic “if something can wrong, it will.”

When most of the evidence points not only to why Darnold should be the choice but why Allen shouldn’t, Dorsey appears to side with the physical freak: A quarterback who can launch a prolate spheroid 80 yards. How many 80-yard pass plays (on the fly) can new offensive coordinator Todd Haley stuff into his playbook?

Asked Thursday at a pre-draft news conference, Dorsey was asked what he looks for in a quarterback. “Does he have accuracy; does he have a strong arm, red zone; at the end of a game, does he win,” he replied. “That’s what I look for.”

Accuracy is something Allen does not possess. He was a career 56% passer at Wyoming, 56% for two straight seasons. Darnold completed 65% of his passes at USC in two seasons (63% last season). 

Allen, of course, has the stronger arm, although there’s nothing wrong with Darnold’s arm. He can’t throw a football 80 yards, though. As if that really makes a difference.

As for winning, Dorsey was unequivocal in his response. “The only thing I really care about is does he win,” he said. All right, let’s examine the facts.

Allen, plagued by shoulder problems last season, started 25 games in his Wyoming career and won 16. Darnold, who took over as the starting USC quarterback four games into the 2016 season, started 24 games and lost four.

So why, as we have been (smoke screen alert) led to believe, is Allen the frontrunner? Simple math gives that one to Darnold, at least in Dorsey’s world.

Allen threw 44 touchdown passes and was intercepted 21 times in 643 attempts. Darnold completed 57 touchdown passes and was picked off 22 times on 846 throws. These statistics do not lie.

The great separator between the two is Darnold is a much more accurate passer because he delivers the ball on time, whereas Allen holds on to the ball too long and then relies on his arm to get the ball where it needs to be and is often late. It’s a timing thing with Darnold far out in front as far as anticipation is concerned.

As for Darnold’s biggest red flag, ball security, Dorsey deemed that correctible with coaching. 

Unless he pulls off the biggest con since Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker nailed Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting, it looks as though Dorsey has decided Josh Allen is the Browns’ quarterback of the future.

There’s a very good chance he will be this year’s JaMarcus Russell, the top pick in the 2007 lottery by the Oakland Raiders who lasted just three seasons in the NFL. He could throw the football only 75 yards.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Plodding toward the draft

Two weeks to go before the 2018 National Football League draft. Why does it feel more like two months?

Two more agonizingly long weeks before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell officially kicks off one of the most eagerly awaited annual events in the entire sports world.

In all the years I have been writing about the Browns whether it’s this blog, the OBR or the Plain Dealer, I can’t remember a more anticipated draft than this one for this franchise.

Perhaps that is why it seems as though the last three months feels more like three years, it has seemingly passed so sloth-like. This lottery can’t arrive soon enough, if only because it will finally put a stop to all the ridiculous stories involving what will happen at the top.

In runaway train-like fashion, what the Browns do with the first overall selection has been reduced to soap opera level with all the drama that surrounds it.

The nonsensical notions put forth by the various pundits around the Internet are messing with the minds of a football constituency that right now is fragile to the point it will glom onto just about anything.

Many Browns fans don’t really know what to think. They believe they do, but shreds of doubt have to linger somewhere in their thought processes until the first overall pick is actually announced.

Which quarterback will they take? Who will be the lucky guy? Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield. Depending on whom you have read and choose to believe over the last month or so, it could be any of this quartet.

Or will the Browns even take a quarterback at No. 1? Most draft experts don’t rank any of these quarterbacks among their top prospects. That honor goes to either Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb.

Most of the pundits who know for certain which name that will be have settled on either Darnold or Allen. Their guesses – and that is all they are – are based on nothing more than casual rumors from so-called insiders.

It is assumed Cleveland General Manager John Dorsey will have total control of the War Room. But will it require a majority or unanimous vote from his All-Star group of aides to nail down the final decisions?

And what about Jimmy Haslam III and Hue Jackson? The owner and his should-have-been fired coach will not exactly be shrinking violets in that room. What will their roles be? And does Dorsey attempt to nullify their presence?

I suspect the GM, at this time, has no idea whose name to place on that first card for Goodell to read. In fact, I would be surprised if that isn't the case. Time and circumstances have a way of altering well-planned moves. Sometimes at the last minute.

In the meantime, inquiring minds, i.e. Browns Nation, want to know. They will go unrewarded for another, sigh, two weeks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Offensive line dreaming

With most of the talk swirling about which quarterback the Browns should select with the top pick in the National Football League college draft later this month, relatively little thought is given whom to take with the fourth overall selection.

Should they go running back if Saquon Barkley somehow is still on the board? Or maybe give Myles Garrett a bookend partner for the pass rush and take Bradley Chubb, the best edge rusher in the lottery if he falls.

Either would fit very nicely into John Dorsey’s plans to rebuild the team. But there is another area of concern the general manager certainly has to be aware of if he is a true believer that football games are won and lost in the trenches.

The Browns have a massive hole at offensive left tackle with the retirement of the peerless Joe Thomas. Right now, the plan is to shift Shon Coleman from right tackle over to the left side, a position he played in college.

Let’s be perfectly honest here. Nothing short of another perennial Pro Bowler is going to account for Thomas’ absence. Coleman is no Joe Thomas, admittedly an unfair comparison at this point of his young career.

He is far from the solution, given his uneven performance last season. But there is a solution and it involves the draft, specifically the fourth pick. It’s radical and flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

In a weird way, though, it makes sense.

The heart and soul of any offense is the line. The plug uglies up front can mean the difference between an average offense and something that resonates somewhere between good and great.

Todd Haley, the Browns’ new offensive coordinator, had the luxury the past six seasons of working with one of the best offenses in the NFL. He had Pro Bowlers at quarterback, wide receiver and running back. It all worked because he had a terrific offensive line.

And that’s where this year’s draft comes into focus. It is relatively weak for offensive linemen, especially at tackle. But there is one offensive lineman who clearly stands out above the rest.

Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is a 6-5, 330-pound ball of nastiness who has 10-year Pro Bowler written all over him. Only one problem. He’s a guard and the Browns already have two pretty good ones in Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler.

Then you realize – assuming here the coaching staff does, too – that Bitonio was a left tackle in college and played the position well. The Browns switched him inside to guard because Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz were the tackles. Enough said.

So why not draft Nelson, plug him at left guard for the next decade and shift Bitonio to Thomas’ old spot? Bitonio is an upgrade over Coleman. The idea is to strengthen the offensive line, not weaken it.

The Browns last had a decent offensive line back in 2014-15 with Thomas and Schwartz at the tackles, Bitonio and John Greco manning the guards and Alex Mack at center.

It definitely would be a radical move and yet understandable to select Nelson. The likelihood of it eventuating, though, resides somewhere between are you kidding me and never.

In any other year, taking Nelson at four would be a no brainer. That’s how good he is. But this, of course is not just any other year.

Too bad. He would have looked good in the Seal Brown and Orange.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Full secondary

There is no question whatsoever the Browns will select a quarterback with the top selection in the National Football League’s college draft later this month.

It’s the fourth pick of the lottery, the one the Browns received from the Houston Texans last season, that brings into question whose name will land on the card delivered to Commissioner Roger Goodell.

There are a significant number of possibilities to render that choice, at least right now, difficult to predict. But one thing is virtually certain. It will not be a defensive back.

What? When guys like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Denzel Ward of Ohio State most certainly will be on the board? Not even then?

Nope. Can’t see it.

Have you looked at the Browns roster lately? It lists 17 secondary candidates to fill maybe eight or nine spots on the final roster.

Breaking it down, it shows 11cornerbacks and six safeties, several talented and versatile enough to play most of the four positions in the defensive backfield. 

So why in the world would General Manager John Dorsey and his guys even think about adding to the secondary roster? Aren’t 17 candidates enough to make a determination as to who opens the season back there?

Why muddy the situation by bringing in more players unless it’s a case of throwing as many darts against a board in hopes some of them will stick. Strength in numbers? Again, can’t see it.

Dorsey needs ro turn his attention to an area of the defense that significantly impacts the secondary – the pass rush.

How many times last season did we see defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, noted for his aggressive style, resort semi frequently to soft zone coverage because of a so-so pass rush?

If you can’t get to the quarterback, man coverage is mostly ineffective. If the quarterback has a lot of time to throw, even the best corners in the NFL have a tough time in coverage.

They rely on the guys up front to make opposing quarterbacks deliver the ball before they want. Disrupt the timing. When that happens, secondaries are much more effective.

A good pass rush is the secondary’s best friend. It shortens their coverage time and gives them a better chance of making a play. That’s the area that requires a much closer look.

Of the 17 candidates, 11 are returnees, including cornerback Howard Wilson, a fourth-round draft pick last season who fractured his kneecap last May and spent the season on injured reserve.

Among the six newcomers, corners E. J. Gaines and T. J. Carrie are certain to make the final roster, if not nail a starting job. And Damarious Randall, who came over in the DeShone Kizer trade, is already penciled in as the starting free safety.

So why, then, would Dorsey even think about grabbing someone like Ward or Fitzpatrick with the fourth pick if the secondary is virtually set? That’s why he probably won’t, at least in the first two rounds, if at all.
*       *       *
Had a good laugh today. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has asked the Browns to trade him.

What made me chuckle is the Browns gave Hogan and his reps permission to see what’s out there and see if anyone bites. Of course they did, knowing they will release him if that effort comes up empty

Question: What took Hogan so long to make the request? Surely he had to see his time in Cleveland was over.

Another question: What team would be willing to deal for the marginal NFL quarterback when they know the Browns are going to release him anyway?

The Jacksonville Jaguars recently – and surprisingly – surrendered a future conditional seventh–round pick for Cody Kessler, whose credentials shine just a wee bit brighter than Hogan’s.

There was no way Hogan would be back for the 2018 season in Cleveland as Dorsey emptied the quarterbacks room from last season’s history-making club.

Good laugh, though.

Monday, April 2, 2018

What to do, what to do

Here we are 23 days from the National Football League’s college draft and the Browns still don’t know what they are going to do with the first overall selection.

Or do they?

Well, if they are, they aren’t saying.

But the guess here is no, they do not know yet what name they will put on that initial card Commissioner Roger Goodell will read as a nation anxiously holds its breath.

The poobahs who will run this draft for the Browns say it’s too early to make that determination. And they are correct.

There is still a lot of work to be done before the critical decision is made as to which of the top four quarterbacks will be the Browns’ franchise quarterback of the near future and the face of the team.

General Manager John Dorsey and his cadre of lieutenants know who those quarterbacks are and enough about them to know how they can have an impact on the club.

Until Dorsey & Co. put together their final boards in the final week or so leading up to the lottery, everything fans see and hear should be taken with sizable grains of salt because they are nothing more than pre-draft pabulum.

The run-up to this draft has taken on such a significant importance to the starved fans of this franchise, it can’t arrive soon enough. They are weighed down by the nonsense spilling out from all corners of the media.

This guy who knows Dorsey tells a writer exactly what the Cleveland GM is going to do with his first choice and it becomes public. Dorsey, someone reported, is reportedly fascinated by quarterbacks who have extraordinary arm and most likely will draft Josh Allen.

You’ve got to be pretty gullible – or naïve – to swallow all that. Why? Because the draft is still 23 days away. That’s why. Too many factors between now and April 26 can ultimately determine those final decisions.

It’s nothing more than a guessing game at this point, anyway. And anyone who says he knows definitely what will take place in Arlington, Texas on the final Thursday of the month is blowing smoke.

What we do know almost for certain is Dorsey will take a quarterback with the initial pick. Almost certain because there are one or two possibilities remaining that could affect that decision. Like, for example, possibly trading out of the slot.

That’s almost certainly unlikely unless Dorsey has big enough shoulders to feel the wrath of Browns Nation if he has a massive brain cramp and chooses to move in that direction. The likelihood is minimal.

First things first, though. Dorsey and his men (including the owner) are meeting with the four quarterbacks this week and next in Berea to further evaluate them and hopefully narrow the reasons they should or should not take one of them.

They probably will go in with an open mind in hopes the candidates will do or say something along the way that will either eliminate them or enhance their chances.

In the meantime, find something else to do for the next three weeks or so and trust that the best front office this franchise has had since the resurrection nearly 20 years ago knows what it is doing.

There is reason to believe this is the case and we will all watch it unveil deep in the heart of Texas in just 23 days.