Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

The mere fact the Browns are still alive with regard to the National Football League playoffs is so far beyond miracle status at this stage of the season, it’s almost otherworldly.

Over the last 20 seasons, conversation at this time of the season always, with one exception, centers around on how high the Browns will select and who they should take in the annual college draft. All but two of those years, the Browns were the franchise that couldn’t.

Fans are not used to talking about the playoffs in late December. Or late November, for that matter.

And yet, here we are as the NFL universe almost stunningly finds itself dealing with the possibility of the Browns, those lovable losers of the professional football world, are actually in the post-season conversation.

Never mind that all kinds of improbabilities have to take place in the next two weekends in order for the franchise to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and the only time since the resurrection in 1999.

That was the year the Browns were a dropped pass by Dennis Northcutt away from knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card game and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

Since then, it has been nothing more than abject misery after season after season after numbing season of the most embarrassingly ugly football Browns Nation had ever witnessed.

That is why veteran NFL observers, who normally dismissed the team even before a game was played, started paying attention when the club’s 2018 season turned around in midseason and set a course for the postseason. The Browns?! Really?!

The Browns actually have a chance. They really do, albeit so slim, so infinitesimal, that even divine intervention probably won’t help as they attempt to set the pro football world on its ear.

Words like unlikely, won’t happen, are you kidding me? and last ditch accompany the club’s chances of playing really meaningful football in January. The only scenario that gets them there is mind-boggling.

Way too many things, including one improbability, have to happen. It’s this simple.

The Browns must win out Sunday in the home finale against Cincinnati and the following Sunday in Baltimore. Lose either one and next season comes quickly into focus.

Then the Miami Dolphins have to lose at least one of their final two games; the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts must lose Sunday; and the Titans and Colts must play to a tie in the season finale.

That’s the only way the Browns can squeeze into the last wild-card slot. So they clearly do not control their destiny. Slim and none have a better chance than the Browns.

No matter what happens from here on out, this season has to be considered a success considering the dysfunction that accompanied the first half. No one can honestly say they saw the successful second half of the season on the horizon.

It definitely will serve as a terrific launching pad for the 2019 season, undoubtedly the most anticipated since 2003.
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Austin Corbett, the offensive lineman without a specific position who has been sidelined with a foot injury the last few weeks, has resumed practice in what has to be considered a disappointing season for the rookie.

The Browns made Corbett, an offensive tackle in college, the 33rd overall pick in this year’s college draft and he has contributed next to nothing after spending just about all of the exhibition season playing guard.

When the season opened, rookie Desmond Harrison was surprisingly inserted at left tackle and Corbett became the forgotten man along the offensive line.

Extremely high second-round selections are not expected to watch 99.9% of the games from a sideline perch. They are expected to contribute right away in some way, shape of form. Corbett has not come even close.

Or course, it’s way too early to consider him a bust. General Manager John Dorsey, who made the surprising pick of the relatively unknown offensive lineman, agrees and has offered a lame reason for the pick.

“With regards to Austin, he has three very talented players in front of him at the respective left guard, center and right guard positions,” he said, referring to Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler.

Can’t argue with that, What I can argue is that Dorsey knew all along he had that trio in his bag and yet drafted Corbett when he had needs elsewhere.

What the GM doesn’t say is Corbett probably was targeted to replace the retired Joe Thomas at left tackle and has disappointed. From that standpoint, yes, he is a bust at least for this season.

Unless Dorsey plans to move any of the aforementioned trio during the offseason and plug in Corbett after their departure, the kid will continue to watch 99.9% of the games from the sideline. Unless, of course, the Browns plans to try him at left tackle next season.

Otherwise, the hope is Corbett will be the Swiss Army Knife along the offensive line. “Eventually, his strength is now that he will be able to play everything,” Dorsey said. “When his time comes to get into the lineup, whenever it is, he has to grasp it and take it. Knowing his person, he will grasp it and he will take it.”

At the risk of sounding repetitious, more should be expected from such a high draft selection than utility work on the unit that protects the team’s most precious commodity, the quarterback.

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