Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Q&A Part 3 (continued)

It has been nearly seven months since Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III shocked just about everyone in the National Football League universe by assuring everyone that Hue Jackson, his head coach, would be back for the 2018 season.

The shock of sticking with a coach who racked up an astounding one victory in 32 cracks at winning a football game has not worn off completely. It probably won’t until Jackson’s eventual departure.

The shock undoubtedly stunned Jackson, who probably wondered, “what do I have to do to get fired?” The scars of that one will linger for a long time.

The mind-numbing, illogical thinking behind the billionaire owner’s decision, made in spite of what had to be (guessing here) strong, private attempts by General Manager John Dorsey to change his mind, will hover over training camp later this month.

Unlike Jackson’s first two seasons, when he doubled as the team’s (very) offensive coordinator, he will ostensibly concentrate on the team and coaching staff as a whole rather than minding the store on offense.

To that end, the Browns convinced Todd Haley that Cleveland should be his next coaching stop almost immediately after being dismissed as offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Haley has one of the sharpest minds in the game on that side of the football and his split with the Steelers was almost as surprising as Jackson’s return.

In a perfect world, Haley will have autonomous control of the vastly improved Cleveland offense. That essentially means Jackson, who has offensive coordinator blood coursing through his veins, must resist and keep his hands off the offense.

With a quarterback who throws interceptions roughly once every four or five games, an offensive line missing only one member from last season (OK, it’s Joe Thomas), a vastly improved receivers corps and a trio of running backs who might be the best group in the AFC North, Haley’s creative juices should be up to the challenge.

We have been led to believe Jackson and Haley have shared thoughts and ideas on what the offense should look like this offseason. But these two men come from different philosophical schools and I do not for a moment buy the notion these strong-willed men are on the same page.

The defensive side of the ball, which displayed more progress than the offense in last season’s winless journey through the schedule, is even better this season under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

With Dorsey drafting, trading and taking advantage of free agency to strengthen a very weak secondary, Williams now has more bullets in his arsenal to play the aggressive kind of football he was unable to last season.

Sacks in 2017 were up nearly 33% from the previous season and that was with his two best pass rushers, Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, missing about a dozen games with injuries.

Williams yearned last season for a press-coverage cornerback and Dorsey accommodated him by making Ohio State corner Denzel Ward the fourth overall pick of the last college draft. His abundant talent was rewarded almost immediately with his elevation to the starting team.

His biggest challenge will be to neutralize, if not shut down, peerless wide receivers Antonio Brown of the Steelers, Cincinnati’s A. J. Green and whoever is No. 1 for Baltimore (probably Michael Crabtree), whom he will face six times this season.

The key to a good pass rush lies in the secondary’s ability to cover receivers tightly enough and long enough to force opposing quarterbacks into mistakes, elements that were sadly missing last season when the Browns picked off a measly seven passes.

So the big question(s) entering this season revolve around Jackson. Questions such as . . .

How difficult will it be for Jackson to be strictly the head coach?

Not as simple as it sounds. His main job will be to coach his coaches during the week as they prepare for the 16-game grind. He didn’t do that the last two seasons because he was too busy being his own offensive coordinator.

This season, he will be responsible for such duties as thinking at least two or three plays ahead at all times; stand ready to make command decisions at a moment’s notice; make certain every member of the coaching staff is on the same page; make intelligent decisions on penalties; be keenly aware of the clock; and be judicious with replay.

In other words, be a head coach.

How much rope does he have with Haslam?

Less than he had at the beginning of last season and possibly more than many fans hope. One thing is certain, though. Haslam will not tolerate the losing like he did last season because he knows this is a much more talented team.

And that places Jackson firmly on the hot seat, right?

Someone wise man once said assistant football coaches who become head coaches are either generals or lieutenants. The generals last a whole lot longer and are more successful than the lieutenants, who usually return to being assistants.

So what is Jackson?

There is no question in my mind he is a lieutenant and will return to being an offensive coordinator somewhere else next season.

How long does he last?

My over/under is six games. I’ll take the under.

Next: Where are the Browns headed?

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