Saturday, August 24, 2019


Monday leftovers (Saturday edition)

Freddie Kitchens learned a very valuable lesson Friday night down in Tampa. The Browns’ rookie head coach was humbled by the offensive performance of his football team.

The 13-12 exhibition loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was notable in one vital area. The offense was ill prepared to play a football game. They were flat all evening.

That falls on the head coach, who pretty much is in charge of that side of the football even though Todd Monken is technically the coordinator. Everything stops at Kitchens’ desk when it comes to offense.

Just about every aspect of the offense was off and not just by a little bit, especially the starting quarterback and offensive line. They had about as much rhythm as a sloth.

The only positive that came out of the ragged play on offense? It was only an exhibition and will mean nothing in just a few days. But it’s still fresh in Kitchens’ mind.

He must have been embarrassed after the game when speaking of his offense. “Those guys are coached to execute,” he told he assembled media. “Those guys are coached to do their job and we didn’t do a very good job of preparing those guys to do their job and they didn’t do a good job of doing their job.”

Got it? Didn’t think so.

Then honesty and reality took over. “The execution wasn’t there,” he said, “and it had been before. . . . It was just a frustrating night all the way around. Offensively we didn’t execute. Not even close to where we want to go. . . . I did a poor job of preparing them for this . . . game.”

Kitchens had a different perspective Saturday. “Last night is going to be a tremendous learning opportunity for our offense,” he said, praising the play of the defense and special teams. “Now it is time for the offense to pick it up and match the other two segments and their production.”

He is still baffled by the offense’s ineffectiveness against Tampa Bay, squandering numerous opportunities with sloppy play. “I don’t know what the disconnect was,” he told reporters.

“It was very clear we have to figure out what we were doing as a staff and see if we were asking them to do too much or what. I don’t know what it is, but some of the stuff we were not right on (is what) we have been doing for several months now. . . . We weren’t doing anything that we haven’t been doing since July.”

The question now is whether there is enough time to haul the offense back up to speed before the Tennessee Titans invade for the home/season opener Sept. 8.

The return of wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., tight end David Njoku and running back Nick Chubb sure would help. Why they were held out of the first three exhibitions had to raise a few eyebrows.

If they were hurt, and we don’t know whether they were, that’s one thing. All except Beckham were not known to be injured and/or not available. Mayfield’s performance against the Bucs suffered as a result.

Because of that, the Cleveland offense is going to have to get its stuff together on the practice field. That’s because all the starters will watch the exhibition finale from the sidelines Friday night at home against the Detroit Lions.

The fact there was absolutely no rhythm on offense, save the first possession against Washington Redskins in the exhibition opener, has to be extremely troubling. Without it, an offense has no chance of being successful.

Mayfield and his top skill position mates should have played a lot more than they have. Because they didn’t, the quarterback’s rustiness and severe lack of rhythm with lesser lights was evident throughout the first half of the Tampa Bay loss.

Lesson learned? We’ll find out soon enough.
*       *       *
The offensive line, to be perfectly honest, was a disaster. Maybe that’s why it played well into the third quarter before getting the rest of the evening off. Sort of a punishment.

The run game, when Kitchens chose to use it, which was not nearly often enough, was awful. Very few holes opened up for runners and then closed just as quickly as they had opened.

The pass protection was spotty at best. Slow-footed offensive tackles Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard were abused frequently, getting beat off the snap way too often. If Mayfield wasn’t getting rid of the ball quickly, he was moving to avoid getting drilled.

Was it a portent of things to come? Are these guys really as good as the coaching staff believes? They had better be or all the skill players playing behind them will not thrive.
*       *       *
The right guard situation on that line remains unsettled. Eric Kush, who was abused by Bucs defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a good portion of the game, is getting the most snaps with the starters, but the fact Kitchens maintains there is still a battle going on there is concerning.

Combine the uncertainty at right guard and the problematic play of the two tackles, it adds up to indecisiveness about an area of the offense that is essential to its success. And ready-set-go time is just around the corner.

This is a problem that should have been settled by now. That it is not is not the way it should be at this point.
*       *       *
There might be a dilemma with regard to trimming the roster at the punting and placekicking positions with a pair of rookies in the spotlight.

Austin Seibert’s four field goals in the Tampa Bay loss – all were booted squarely between the uprights – have to weigh heavily with the coaching staff. It might have been just enough to punch Greg Joseph’s ticket out of town.

Jamie Gillan, on the other hand, impressed the staff with his punting against the Bucs, averaging nearly 48 yards on his six punts, landing half of them inside the 20. But it was his 44-yard net average that caught their attention even more.

If the Scottish Hammer convinces the staff he is a quick study when it comes to holding for placements, there is an outside chance incumbent Britton Colquitt will join Joseph out the door. That will be a close call.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence notched a pair of sacks in the second half, relentlessly penetrating the Bucs’ backfield. Count me stunned if he doesn’t make the final cuts. . . . Denzel Ward looks fit and ready to go at one corner and Terrance Mitchell plays as though he will not easily surrender the starting spot at the other corner to rookie Greedy Williams. . . . Did you notice who played fullback on a few running plays? It seems as though tight end Seth DeValve has replaced the departed Orson Charles in the backfield at least for the time being. . . . Interesting that more coaches are using the pass interference challenge in the exhibition season even though it costs them a timeout if they are wrong. Good for them. Maybe the NFL will see how stupid that rule is and get rid of it. . . . Look for Garrett Gilbert and David Blough to split the quarterbacking duties against the Lions. . . . One last (rhetorical) question: Is Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi still on the roster? Of course, but he is barely being used.

Friday, August 23, 2019


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It was only an exhibition, right?

If the Browns’ performance in the dress rehearsal game for the 2019 National Football League season Friday night is any indication, it’s going to be a very long season.

The 13-12 exhibition loss to the Buccaneers in Tampa on a last-minute field goal, if nothing else, proved Baker Mayfield is nowhere ready to face the real bullets come Sept. 8 at home against the Tennessee Titans.

Looking nothing like the quarterback who put up numbers last season as no rookie had in a very long time, he had problems the entire time with his timing.  On at least half his throws, he badly missed his target.

This was not the cocksure, swaggering quarterback of the surprising 2018 season. The confidence was just not there. Fans used to seeing clutch throw after clutch throw had to be stunned as just how bad he looked.

Thanks to a sizzling defense that recorded five sacks – it finished with seven overall and a dozen quarterback hits – and rookie kicker Austin Seibert, who booted three field goals (he added a fourth later), the Browns took a 9-0 lead at the half.

The twos and threes took over on defense in the second half, but the starting offensive line played well into the third quarter after Drew Stanton replaced Mayfield at the start of the third quarter.

The offense overall was truly offensive. Mayfield looked as though he spent the first 30 minutes just knocking off the rust he had accumulated after playing just one series – the first in the opener – in the first two exhibitions.

Sharpening his timing in training camp is one thing against teammates. It’s quite another, in fact it’s not even close, to doing the same against live action. And the Bucs exposed him in front of a national television (NFL Network) audience..

Cause for concern? Considering how erratically Mayfield threw the football while playing the entire first half, sure. Why? Because he will not play in the most meaningless game of the season next week at home against Detroit. That’s why.

The least dangerous quarterback on the field Friday night will enter the home opener with 15 completions in 32 attempts for 149 yards, a touchdown and an interception after a 10-for-26 stinker against the Bucs for 72 yards and the pick.

The Cleveland offense just about everyone around the NFL can’t wait to see this season ran 31 pays in the first 30 minutes and put up 75 total yards. Sure it was vanilla stuff compared to what it will look like later. But the simplest offense was not executed properly.

Perhaps it was because Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr and David Njoku, four big bullets in Mayfield’s gun belt, were mere spectators. Yeah, that must be it. They’ll sit out the exhibition finale, too.

Why coach Freddie Kitchens chose to keep those bullets on the sidelines is puzzling. His quarterback needs them every bit as much as they need him. It might have been an unfair fight had they played.

Which means the vaunted Cleveland offense will enter the 2019 season lid lifter with its most important contributors on offense seeing scant time – none for a few of them – and the coaching staff expecting them to hum like a well-oiled machine.

Chubb has logged just one carry for 13 yards and caught a lone pass for 14 more. Landry, Beckham and Njoku have suited up, but have yet to play. And they won’t against Detroit. That’s the game that will help shape the bottom of the roster.

Mayfield’s usual laser-like throws missed the mark at times by wide margins. Working mainly with wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Derrick Willies, who were targeted on half of his throws, he was often forced to seek second and third choices, several times checking down to running back D’Ernest Johnson.

The run game, for whatever reason, was totally disdained. Only five carries for Kareem Hunt in the first 30 minutes. It seemed as though the offense against the Bucs was designed to get Mayfield as much work as possible. No other reason for the huge pass-run disparity.

The only positive aspects of this dress rehearsal fans can hang on to are the starting defense, which manhandled a decent Buccaneers offense. And Siebert, who all but nailed the kicking job with his perfect night, which included a 54-yarder.

Each boot sailed squarely between the uprights, which is what Kitchens said pleases him the most. It was the only part of the offense that (maybe) delighted him.

On the other hand, the Cleveland head coach, who calls all the plays, faces a mountain of work to get his offense ready for the Titans.

Mayfield likes challenges. Inspires him to play better. And his awful performance Friday night definitely gave him ample reason to treat his next appearance in the opener as a challenge.

Was this latest loss, a game that was eagerly looked forward to, an aberration? Sort of a don’t worry, this is not who we are? We’ll get this fixed. Chill.

Maybe.

It also very well could serve as a warning shot that preparing for the regular season might have to be dealt with a little differently next season.

Some guys need to sniff the aroma of a real game, not games you play against your teammates in practice, to better prepare themselves for when the games become much more meaningful. Based on what we saw Friday night, Mayfield might be one of those.

Bottom line: The defense is ready. Perhaps even more than ready. The offense . . . well that appears to be in the work-in-progress stage.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Odds and ends

The Browns Wednesday signed former Ohio State quarterback turned National Football League wide receiver Braxton Miller.

Why?

Are they not satisfied with the wide receivers room?

Or the quarterbacks room?

How in the world can Miller help the Browns this season? Or is he just training camp fodder for the next couple of weeks? Leaning heavily toward the latter.

He has already failed with two NFL teams following a solid, not spectacular, career with the Buckeyes, switching to wide receiver in his senior season to make way for J. T. Barrett.

He lasted two seasons in Houston after being selected by the Texans in the third round of the 2016 college draft, then was cut just prior to the start of the 2018 season.

He spent all of that season on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad. The Eagles waived him a few days ago. He is now on the verge of becoming an NFL nomad.

Can’t imagine there’s a spot on this well-stacked Cleveland roster for Miller, whose greatest asset is his versatility. There seems to be nowhere he can be considered a fit.

There is no way he can beat out any of the wide receivers at the bottom of the depth chart currently battling for a spot on the final 53. There’s too much quality there.

(This just in: Wide receiver D. J. Montgomery, who has flourished in the first two exhibition games, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a hamstring problem.)

Even so, there is still too much quality depth (plus the return of suspended wideout Antonio Callaway in week five) at the position, minimizing Miller’s chances of latching on. Also time is not on his side with the season opener just 18 days away..

And there is absolutely no way, if the Browns were even considering it, that Miller has the chops to return to quarterbacking.

Unless he is the next coming of Terrelle Pryor, another ex-Buckeye quarterback who made the switch to wide receiver and whose rise and fall with the Browns covered only one decent season in 2016, Miller’s signing is merely good PR.
*       *       *
Hard to believe coach Freddie Kitchens did not know his rookie punter Jamie Gillan also kicked field goals.

When it was brought to his attention by the media that Gillan was hitting on 60-yard field goals, he professed ignorance. “I can’t confirm either way,” said the man whose job is to know everything about his team. “I can’t . . . Hopefully they have it on video.”

Considering the Browns are in the midst of a placekicker dilemma, that seems rather odd. Greg Joseph and rookie Austin Seibert are having a race to the bottom it seems in an effort to see who emerges -- just barely -- as the club’s kicker this season.

Both have been inconsistent throughout training camp and the first two exhibition games. Neither has stepped up and said, “I’m your man. You have nothing to be worried about. Trust me.”

Gillan, who owns the strongest leg among the trio, kicked and punted in college. The only problem there is his field-goal accuracy at that level hovered around 60%.
*       *       *
As for the Baker Mayfield-Odell Beckham Jr. problems stemming from controversial remarks each made recently in separate national magazine articles, all the fuss being made will soon die down and be forgotten.

No sense commenting on them. It’ll do no good because both high-profile young men will probably continue to express their opinions regardless of what anyone else thinks. That could change as they get older and mature.

Right now, those comments are relatively harmless and should have no bearing on how each plays this season.
*       *       *
The Browns, who have become the media's darling, are on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s NFL Preview issue. “The Browns Are Back,” screams the headline with art of Beckham and Jarvis Landry. And a “Bold Prediction! Cleveland’s first division title in 30 years.”

Cue the SI cover jinx, an old trope that no longer applies, right? But this is Cleveland, where the SI cover jinx lives.

In 1987, an “Indians Uprising” turned into a 101-loss season; in 2009, the “Big Two” of LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal lost in the second round of he playoffs; and in 2014, injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving left the Cavaliers practically helpless as they bowed to the Golden State Warriors in six games in the championship round.

One of these years, if you still believe in this curse, it will be beaten. This will be its sternest test.

Sunday, August 18, 2019


Monday leftovers (Sunday edition) 

Freddie Kitchens was calm, but firm when answering the question following the Browns’ 21-18 exhibition victory Saturday night in Indianapolis against the Colts.

It might have been one the Browns’ coach was expecting after Garrett Gilbert played well enough in the first half to stoke the notion he might be good enough to supplant Drew Stanton as Baker Mayfield’s backup at quarterback this season.

“Drew’s our backup quarterback,” the head coach said, mutely adding “period.” He continued. “Drew brings a lot of value to the team” And that was it. On to the next question.

Kitchens is the boss, of course. He is also the guy whose main responsibility is to make certain he puts his team in the best position to win football games. That includes players on the second level whose main job is to be ready in the event of an injury.

Kitchens pronounced himself pleased with Gilbert’s performance against the Colts. Despite working mainly with twos, the newcomer nevertheless made plays that lit a fire of support among some fans.

That had to impress Kitchens, but you’d never know it from his postgame remarks. Perhaps it was out of loyalty to Stanton, whose sage advice last season helped Mayfield become one of the season’s sensations in the National Football League.

No one saw it coming. How quickly Gilbert would even be mentioned in the same breath with regard to Mayfield’s backup this season. His 14-of-22 for 135 yards in the opening victory against Washington was barely noticed.

Not so with his 13-of-19 for 151 yards and two-touchdown effort against the Colts. That was a sit-up-and-take-notice jolt that elicited the possibility of him moving up the depth chart.

Gilbert, who just wants to make the final 53, shrugged it off. “My job, my goal . . . every day is simply to just go out and improve to be the best quarterback I can be for the team,” he said.

“Where I fall on the depth chart, any of that stuff, that doesn’t matter to me. It’s all about improving every day and from there the chips will fall where they fall.”

There is also the possibility Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken will take a look at the tape of the game and see how he performed differently. He made passes reminiscent of those Mayfield made in the second half of last season.

Seeing it on the sideline is one thing. The perspective at that level is quite different than what the camera sees from on high. Watching it on tape presents a much different perspective.

It’s also the small things that matter to the former Alabama quarterback turned NFL head coach. He had to see how smoothly and efficiently his offense operated with Gilbert at the helm.

It is also entirely possible Kitchens’ eyes are seeing something his brain refuses to believe. The words of praise are there, but his casual response makes it seem it as though he gives them relatively little importance. Perhaps I expected more gushing.

Yes, it’s only one game, but geez, what will it take for him to realize he just might have something there in the 28-year-old Gilbert, who also has NFL bloodlines. His father, Gale, was a career backup for eight seasons with Seattle, Buffalo and San Diego.

In the end, though, it likely will help Kitchens decide whether to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, no matter where they fall on the depth chart.
*       *       *
Under normal conditions, a problem with the placekicking on a football team is just that. A problem. Such is the case with the Browns, who have two kickers whose performances thus have not engendered confidence.

Greg Joseph and rookie Austin Seibert missed field goals from more than 50 yards against the Colts. And that was inside a dome, where the conditions are considered ideal. Both had the distance. Both missed badly. Kitchens was miffed. “I want them through the uprights,” he said. “I don’t care how they get there.”

It’s one thing to have an average kicker on a bad team. Or even a mediocre one. But when your team is in a position to contend, which the Browns are this season, it is essential to have a placekicker you can trust.

A reliable kicker is much more important and valuable to a contending team. Especially one that plays close games and needs a difference maker in the kicking game. And this is clearly a contending team that can ill afford to lose close games because they don’t have a reliable kicker.

The importance of a solid ice-in-the-veins kicker with a good team cannot be minimized. Just ask ex-Browns kicker Cody Parkey and the 2018 Chicago Bears, who were on the verge of knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in a wild-card game.

With 10 seconds left in the game and the Bears trailing, 16-15, Parkey was called on to make a 43-yard field goal to win the game. The kick was partially blocked and hit one upright, then the crossbar and dropped harmlessly in the end zone.

The Bears ultimately released Parkey, who was in the first year of a four-year contract, in March of this year. He is a currently a free agent. And the Bears are still on the prowl for a kicker.

That is why it is incumbent on General Manager John Dorsey, who selected Seibert in the fifth round of the last college draft, to make certain his coach doesn’t need to hold his breath, as he does now, whenever he calls on Joseph or Seibert to put points on the board.
*       *       *
With Nick Chubb (rest) and Dontrell Hilliard (hamstring) on the sideline and Kareem Hunt limited to just a couple of series Saturday night, the bulk of the running game was placed in the hands of D’Ernest Johnson, who did not disappoint.

He ran 10 times for 53 yards and caught three passes for 26 more, including a four-yarder from Gilbert for the club’s second score against the Colts. It got the attention of Kitchens, who praised the tough yards Johnson compiled.

It’s possible Johnson might have played his way onto the final 53 with the effort for at least the eight weeks Hunt must spend on the suspended list. Hilliard and Johnson provide solid depth behind Chubb.
*       *       *
Competition for the lower half of the wide receivers depth chart has taken an interesting turn.

D. J. Montgomery, a rookie free agent from Austin Peay, has been targeted six times in two games and responded with five catches for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jaelen Strong has caught all five passes thrown his way for 41 yards and a TD.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who have yet to play in a game, and Rashard Higgins top the depth chart. Derrick Willies, thought to be a lock at No. 4 after the four-game suspension of Antonio Callaway, played sparingly against the Colts.

If the Browns elect to keep six wides, Montgomery, Strong and Willies have made strong enough cases to join them, at least until Callaway returns.
*       *       *
The theme of the Colts game, it seemed, was penalties. Referee Scott Novak’s crew called 29, with at least another half dozen declined, for 283 yards. A majority were called in the second half when many rookies and young free agents were being evaluated.

The Browns were called three times for infractions involving the helmet, either lowering the helmet to initiate contact or unnecessary use of the helmet in making tackles. It rankled Kitchens, who has been known to say, “We don’t practice penalties.”

“You’re not going to win very many games with the amount of penalties (13 for 119 yards), we made,” he said. “I think we need to play smarter. We weren’t smart tonight.”
*       *       *
The mystery at right guard has turned into a daily soap opera. One thing is certain, though. Austin Corbett is not among those vying for the job. Right now, Eric Kush is in the lead with rookie Drew Forbes closing fast.

Corbett, it would appear, is being groomed as a backup to center JC Tretter, who becomes a free agent next year. He hasn’t played the pivot since high school. It showed against the Colts with a few errant snaps and a holding penalty.
*       *       *
Finally .  .  . The offense ran only 49 plays (not counting a spike and a kneeldown) all evening, It dried up after David Blough threw a scoring pass to Montgomery early in the third quarter. . . . It is entirely possible Mayfield will have only two quarters and just one series in another game under his belt entering the regular season. . . . The ragged game against the Colts remarkably produced no turnovers. . . . All three Cleveland scores were made the only times they reached the red zone. . . . Expect the ground game to pick up steam with Chubb and the starters playing a half in Tampa Friday night. . . . Kitchens bemoaned the poor tackling against Indy. “We had three missed tackles on the first (Colts) drive alone,” he said. “Our expectations . . . are a lot higher than what we demonstrated.” . . . Defensive end Myles Garrett sat out the game after getting dinged in the final scrimmage between the teams late last week. . . .  Rookie punter Jamie Gillan – he’s also a placekicker with a strong leg (hint, hint) – uncorked a 74-yard punt in the game.

Saturday, August 17, 2019


Gilbert is the man

The final score in Saturday’s exhibition game between the Browns and Colts in Indianapolis was irrelevant. (For the record, the Browns squeaked by, 21-18.)

No, the relevant part of the game for the Browns wore uniform No. 3. His name is Garrett Gilbert, a refugee quarterback from a football league that folded late into its first season earlier this year.

The way he played the first half of this victory proved without any question and beyond any doubt that he, not Drew Stanton, should be the No. 2 quarterback behind Baker Mayfield this season. He looked downright impressive and played like he belonged.

If anything happens to Mayfield, the quality of the Cleveland offense will not lose its sharpness with this young man in charge of the huddle. Certainly not the way he handled the Colts defense.

Gilbert obviously knew before the game that Mayfield, who played only one series in the exhibition opener against Washington, was going to watch this one from the sideline. It was his game to command. And command he did.

The offensive coaching staff was watching someone audition for the main backup role to Mayfield and looking awfully good in the process. It certainly has to give coach Freddie Kitchens and his staff something to seriously ponder between now and the season opener.

Working with the starters for just the first two of his six first-half possessions, Gilbert was masterful as he picked apart the Indianapolis secondary, completing 13 of his 18 attempts (not counting a spike) for 151 yards, 13 first downs and a pair of touchdown passes (Jaelen Strong and D’Ernest Johnson).

Playing the first half with starters Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr, and David Njoku joining Mayfield on the sidelines and with a relatively vanilla offense, he displayed a calmness one usually doesn’t see from someone trying to make a National Football League roster.

The aforementioned, by the way, along with Mayfield, are almost guaranteed to play at least a half in the next exhibition Friday in Tampa against the Buccaneers.

Gilbert’s best pass was a 32-yard rainbow that landed in the waiting arms of wide receiver D. J. Montgomery (his favorite target) down the right sideline en route to the second touchdown of the game, which broke a 7-7 tie. It was like dropping a football into a bucket.

He found Johnson, who pretty much carried the running load for the Browns, for a six-yard scoring strike on the next play and then turned the game over to rookie David Blough, who connected with Derrick Willies for a four-yard TD, completing an eight-play, 78-yard drive in the third quarter.

The Browns signed the 6-4 Gilbert, who led for the Orlando Apollos in the ill-fated Alliance of American Football to a 7-1 record, leading the league in just about every passing category en route to a 13-touchdown, three-interception season.

He is 28 years old, was born in Buffalo, moved to Texas and graduated from the same high school as Mayfield, Lake Travis High School in Austin.

The Browns were looking for a third quarterback as training camp fodder, given that Mayfield and Stanton were pretty much chiseled as one and two on the depth chart.

Gilbert was truly a football vagabond before the Browns latched on to him. After being drafted by the St Louis Rams in 2014, he bounced around the NFL with New England, Detroit, Oakland and Carolina before landing in Orlando.

The last Brown to wear a No. 3 jersey for the Browns was Brandon Weeden, whom the Browns unwisely, as it turned out, selected in the first round of the 2012 college draft. Coincidentally, he was 28 when drafted. He put in two very forgettable seasons with Cleveland before moving on.

The current wearer of that number is off to a much better start than his predecessor, even though he’ll watch most of the games from the sideline this season and not worry should Mayfield sustain an injury or surprisingly falter in his second season.

If that is the case, I’d feel much more comfortable watching Gilbert trot onto the field than Stanton, who at the age of 35 is much more valuable in his role of wizened adviser, someone to lean on to help Mayfield’s transition to the NFL.

Gilbert’s performance against the Colts also has to build up his confidence that he finally has found a place where he can be of value, a place where he can settle down and finally end his journey through the NFL.

The game nearly got out of hand in the second half when the Colts’ threes and fours outplayed the Browns’ threes and fours, most of whom will not make the final roster.

They crept to within three points and marched to the Cleveland 10 in the waning moments before turning over the ball on downs when blitzing Browns linebacker Willie Harvey deflected a pass intended for running back Aca’Cedric Ware in the right flat on a fourth-and-1.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


OBJ injury prone?

When the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr., he arrived in Cleveland with a fanfare reserved for only the greats.

He is considered by many pundits and observers of the National Football League landscape to be one of the most lethal and dangerous weapons in the game. A great addition to quarterback Baker Mayfield’s arsenal.

But Beckham also arrived with a red flag, one that warned to be very careful of this young man’s health. After five seasons of the NFL wars with the New York Giants, the wide receiver has missed 21 games due to injuries, 16 in the last two seasons.

A high ankle sprain, suffered in the 2017 exhibition opener against the Browns and a subsequent ankle fracture when he tried to come back too soon, limited him to only four games that season.

Last season, a bruised quadriceps after a Philadelphia defender leg-whipped him cut his season short at 12 games as he was on his way to putting up career-high numbers.

He missed the first four games of his rookie season (2014) with hamstring issues, but returned to play in every game (except one while serving a suspension) for the next three seasons, during which he put up phenomenal statistics.

When he is on the field, great things eventuate. But how often can Browns fans expect to see his greatness on display? He has missed the equivalent of one full season the last two years.

Now comes word that Beckham has a bruised hip, which has been reported on the Internet as a hip pointer, which the club has denied. According to UPMC.com, a hip pointer is a deep bruise to the bone on the upper outside of the hip called the iliac crest. It is accompanied by bruising and swelling.

Coach Freddie Kitchens has downplayed the news. ”He’s got a little bit of something going on, but we expect him back pretty soon,” he said following the club’s joint practice Wednesday with the Indianapolis Colts in Indiana. Pretty soon is a vague way of saying, “I really don’t know.”

Which might mean Beckham, who sat out the exhibition opener against the Washington Redskins, won’t see action at least until the Aug. 23 exhibition in Tampa against the Buccaneers. Whether he’ll be able to practice between now and then is not known.

It all depends on the severity of the affected area. If it is, indeed, a hip pointer, it is not to be taken lightly and generally is not the kind of on injury that heals in days. When the point of the hip is bruised and becomes painful, rest and anti-inflammatory medication are recommended to alleviate the discomfort.

Recovery time, again depending on the severity of the injury, is usually anywhere from one to three weeks, longer if the pain is severe enough and lingers.

All of which means Beckham, at best, will play only two quarters (if that) against the Bucs. That’s all he will have in the bank (he will not play in the meaningless fourth exhibition) as he prepares for the beginning of the regular season.

That, of course, assumes the hip injury will not prevent him from starting. Even so, with just those two quarters of game action, it’s hard to believe he and Mayfield will have their timing down.

The Browns, already down Antonio Callaway for four games, cannot afford to have their star receiver miss the beginning of the season. If that were the case, the club’s top two receivers beginning the season would be Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins.

It does, however, conjure up the notion that Beckham just might be injury prone, given his lengthy absences the last two seasons.

One more thing . . .

The latest depth chart lists Austin Corbett as the backup at center. His name no longer appears at either guard position. Yes, the chart is unofficial and could change between now and the season opener.

But the fact Corbett’s name has disappeared at guard this late into training camp and so close to the beginning of the season indicates he might not be the player the Browns thought they drafted at the top of round two in the 2017 NFL lottery.

Bringing in renowned offensive line coach James Campen does not seem to have helped. The only thing that can help is if the Browns either release or trade incumbent center JC Tretter so Corbett can start, but that’s not going to happen because it would weaken a line that is average at best right now.

Eric Kush seems to have a stranglehold on right guard. Any slippage there, however, impacts the offensive line as a whole. After Kush, the quality drops to the talents of Kyle Kalis, Drew Forbes, Willie Wright and Bryan Witzmann, and the latter two are on the roster bubble.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Making little sense

Well, it appears as though Orson Charles was not fired by the Browns after all. Not if you buy General Manager John Dorsey’s reasoning behind waiving the tight end/fullback. He explained to ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi the other day.

“I thought this was one of the times, being realistic, you ask, ‘Is Orson going to make the team?’ “ he said. “As things were unfolding, maybe he wasn’t. Then you acquire a player like Rico Gathers. Why not take a shot at him and see what he has because he’s a young man that’s skilled with developmental upside.”

The way Dorsey rationalized it, he cut Charles because he wasn’t going to make the team, anyway. So why waste time keeping him around, right? Following that line of thinking, why stop at Charles?

There are plenty of others on the current rooster who have no chance of making the final 53, so why keep them around? Of the 90 men still around, 37 will receive a visit from The Turk, the employee tasked with informing them the coach wants to see them . . . and bring your playbook.

Let’s see if I get this right. Charles, a four-year veteran journeyman who was not exactly chopped liver as he filled the fullback role last season and played well on special teams, was swapped out for a raw tight end who is a project at best.

So why Gathers? At 6-6 and 280 pounds, he is three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Charles. The Dallas Cowboys tried to turn the former college basketball player (Baylor) into a football payer, a la Antonio Gates (a future Hall of Famer) and Jimmy Graham.

Gathers, at 25 three years younger than Charles, is so “skilled” that three years after drafting him, the Cowboys finally gave up and cut him loose a week ago when he was unable to fend off several other candidates to back up the unretiring Jason Witten.

He finally suited up last season and caught three passes for 45 yards. He has no chance of making the final roster. Repeating: He is a project. This is nothing more than a swap of bodies with some weird reasoning used to explain it. He is the seventh tight end in camp with a team that most likely will keep only three.

Bottom line: Charles, assuming no one else picks him up, was waived for a player who will join him on the unemployment line in about a month. Unless, that is, Dorsey signs him to the practice squad.

Monday, August 12, 2019


Waffling on Charles cut

It seemed at first as though it was just another series of moves by the Browns designed to strengthen the roster. Just another agate line or two in the list of National Football League transactions.

Seemed innocuous. During training camp, you see it all the time as teams constantly juggle rosters getting ready for the regular season. Normal activity.

Or was it?

The Browns over the weekend surprisingly cut hybrid tight end/fullback Orson Charles and signed tight end Rico Gathers and fullback Joe Kerridge.

Right now, the newest Browns are probably just a couple of names on the roster, both of whom most likely will find themselves unemployed when the club trims that roster at cutdown time. But the moves sparked a curious thought or two.

Charles was listed as a tight end, but lined up primarily as a fullback last season playing 11 games, starting two. He was a factor in the short run game. An ankle injury cut his season short after 13 games.

When inserted into the game, he generally lined up behind the quarterback as a blocker for whoever was at running back. The opposition knew it was invariably going to be a run.

The coaching staff, whether it was the Hue Jackson/Todd Haley tandem during the first half of the season or interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, pretty much tipped its hand when Charles was in the game. He compiled 173 snaps on offense in those 13 games. He was also valuable on special teams, logging 265 plays.

So why after bringing him back this season did the Browns say adios to Charles with three weeks left in training camp?

And then it hit me. The words uttered last week by Kitchens in response to the inside information former offensive line coach Bob Wylie divulged on a national radio network.

The new head coach went off on what he determined were leaks. “The days of inside information and the days of unnamed sources and stuff like that have ended,” he declared. “So you’re not going to get any information like that ever (from) anybody.

“And if I see it, they’re fired. Immediately. That’s the way we’re running this organization.”

That’s it. Charles must have been fired for leaking at worst, or consorting with the enemy at best. Why else is he no longer a member of the team? Now it makes sense. Or does it? My conspiracy theory gene had kicked in.

But then I also thought this was nothing more than a routine massaging of the roster and probably blowing Kitchens’ words out of proportion. And yet, they do make one (yours truly) wonder.

That stern warning by Kitchens most likely had nothing to do with Charles’ release. He probably meant those words for just about everybody in the organization except the players.

But why not the players? They talk. They leak. Many members of the media often cozy up to players and develop a trusting relationship in an effort to glean information that might otherwise be considered confidential.

Those with suspicious minds can’t help but conflate the two incidents: Kitchens’ warning shot and the release of a player who some believed was going to play an important role in this season’s offense.

Sort of makes one (again, yours truly) wonder and go hmmmmm.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


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Monday leftovers (Saturday edition)

It’s tempting to say no big loss after the news that Antonio Callaway will spend the first four games of the 2019 season as a spectator, guilty of violating the National Football League’s substance abuse policy.

It is also justified because the Browns have a strong and deep wide receivers room and the loss of the speedy Callaway does not put a crimp in the club’s style on offense.

Not with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and a wealth of young receivers who have shown they belong and thus far appear ready to step up and contribute.

Derrick Willies, Ish Hyman, Jaelen Strong, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi and D. J. Montgomery have played well enough to make the final roster decisions that much more difficult on the coaching staff.

Willies is a virtual lock to make the final 53 and at least one, possibly two, of the others will be gainfully employed with Strong and Sheehy-Guiseppi piling up significant early points.

Strong has caught just about everything thrown his way, while Sheehy-Guiseppi became an instant cult hero with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the exhibition victory over Washington Thursday night.

The depth and quality of that depth will be a huge factor as coach Freddie Kitchens and his staff trim the roster. It’s the one position on the roster that can sustain losing someone like Callaway, who will not be missed.
*       *       *
The right guard situation remains stagnant through the first exhibition. Why is it taking so long to determine who plays between center JC Tretter and right tackle Chris Hubbard?

Why can’t these guys make up their minds? This is not rocket science. What it appears to show is that no one has really stepped up, either in daily grind of training camp or the exhibition and the winner will be the lesser of two evils.

Eric Kush is a seven-year veteran of the NFL wars. Austin Corbett is trying to prove to Dorsey his selection at the top of the second round of the 2018 draft was not a mistake.

Right now, Kush appears to own the lead. What we don’t know is what kind of a lead that is. Is it tenuous and could evaporate with one bad game? Or is it getting stronger by the day? Kitchens said Kush had some good moments and some bad moments in the Washington game.

Corbett, meanwhile, played center for a majority of the game after Tretter and his first-team buddies exited following the opening series. Unless the Browns trade Tretter (that’s not going to happen), that’s the only time fans will see Corbett in the pivot.

What we also don’t know is who will start at right guard in Saturday’s exhibition in Indianapolis, which begs further questions. Like if it’s Corbett, does that reduce Kush’s chances? And if it is, what will he have to do pile up points?

Experimenting along the offensive line with three exhibitions left is a dangerous exercise. The line requires exquisite timing and rhythm to be effective. And you don’t get that by auditioning at one position.

If the starter at that position is still unsettled by the time of the home exhibition against Tampa Bay on Aug. 23, the so-called rehearsal game for the regular season when the starters play at least one half, that bodes ill for the immediate future.
*       *       *
The kicking competition also remains unsolved with incumbent Greg Joseph and fifth-round draft choice Austin Seibert in a virtual tie for the job. No one has jumped out and declared he’s the man.

They’re still missing field goals in camp, although the number of misses is shrinking. Joseph did not do himself any favors by missing an extra point after Sheehy-Guiseppi’s punt return score.

All the Browns want is consistency. That appears to be too much to ask and it wouldn’t surprise to see Dorsey and his staff keeping a sharp out on kicking competitions elsewhere around the league.
*       *       *
Now that the terms of the Duke Johnson Jr. trade to the Houston Texans have been revealed, kudos to General Manager John Dorsey for pulling off an absolute steal, a fleecing in broad daylight.

If Johnson is active for 10 of the Texans’ games this season, the fourth-round pick in next year’s college draft originally agreed to becomes a third-rounder.

There is no question Johnson will prosper in a Texans offense that needs his type of talent. But to get a third rounder for someone who would have been tethered to the Cleveland bench most of the time is at best a win-win for both teams.
*       *       *
Kitchens promised the Browns would run the ball more this season. It didn’t look like it in the Redskins game with 45 dropbacks to pass as opposed to 23 called runs. It’s still too early to see if that’s a trend, but something to keep an eye on.

When you have someone as lethal as quarterback Baker Mayfield, it’s understandable to favor the passing game. Just seems a little odd the coach would publicly place more emphasis on the ground game.
*       *       *
Finally . . . One aspect of the offense that displeased Kitchens was protecting the football. Fumbles by Dontrell Hilliard and Hyman stuck out. Both occurred deep in the red zone, Hilliard’s at the Washington one-yard line. Balancing that were the four takeaways by the defense. . . . Among the standouts on defense off the bench were tackle Devaroe Lawrence, cornerback Juston Burris, linebackers Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson and safeties Sheldrick Redwine and Jermaine Whitehead; on offense, wideouts Hyman and Montgomery and quarterback Garrett Gilbert stood out. . . . It looks as though Britton Colquitt has a decided edge over rookie Jamie Gillan in their punting duel. It will be interesting if the Browns think enough of the Scottish Hammer to place him on the practice squad.

Friday, August 9, 2019


The defense steps up

(Full disclosure: This game was viewed Friday afternoon.)

All offseason, Browns Nation heard all about the “scary” offense General Manager John Dorsey has cobbled together for the 2019 National Football League season.

There is no question whatsoever the Browns will field one of the most explosive offenses in the league with the likes of quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. and tight end David Njoku.

The latter three were spectators for the opening exhibition Thursday night, a 3010 victory over the Washington Redskins.

This offense is so good, it will never be too far behind in a game to catch up. It truly could be, as one NFC head coach said during the offseason after Dorsey completed his handiwork, “a scary team for a lot of years.”

But offense is not the only side of the football that will have the NFL universe talking the Browns this season this season. Oh no. Don’t go to sleep on the defensive side of the ball.

After years of outright frustration when the opposition owned the football because the defense ranked anywhere from bad to awful to downright disgraceful, that worm appears to have turned.

If Thursday night’s victory over the Redskins in the front of the home folks in the is any indication, defense will not take a back seat to the offense.

This season’s edition definitely is quicker and faster to the football and the tackling is noticeably improved. Of course the naysayers will counter that it can’t be any worse than last season. A valid argument.

Despite playing with starters Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Denzel Ward and Joe Schobert enjoying the evening off, the defense was a blown coverage away from limiting the Washington offense to just three points.

Robert Davis sneaked into a large gap in the Cleveland secondary and took Case Keenum’s pass 46 yards for the score midway through the first quarter, victimizing rookie cornerback Greedy Williams.

Williams made up for his blunder – he played cover 2 instead of cover 4 and allowed the easy touchdown pass – but recovered nicely with one of club's three three interceptions and proof he can tackle, supporting the run defense with solid hits.

The big knock on Williams coming out of college was he was a great cover man, the kind of shutdown corner who could be paired with Ward, but had an aversion to tackling. Definitely not the case if Thursday night’s performance is any indication..

The other picks belonged to Mack Wilson, who made a powerful statement with regard to the possibility of garnering more playing time. The rookie linebacker from Alabama swiped a pair of Dwayne Haskins Jr. passes, returning the first 40 yards for a touchdown.

He showed great athleticism for a 6-1, 240-pounder, flashing speed, finishing the scoring jaunt after faceplanting Haskins inside the Redskins 10. He also logged three solo tackles and was generally disruptive.

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ men were the story of the game, holding the Redskins to just a dozen first downs, 271 yards of total offense and creating four turnovers in addition to registering three sacks and numerous hurries.

They were relentless in pursuit of the ball and much more sure, with few exceptions, in their tackling, no matter which unit was in the game.

Mayfield easily – almost too easily – led the offense 89 yards in seven plays for a touchdown on the opening drive, Rashard Higgins hauling in a 24-yard throw right down the seam that zipped just over the hands of diving Skins safety Troy Apke.

Coach Freddie Kitchens surprised the Skins first by electing to receive after winning the coin toss, challenging his offense to run a two-minute drill, going no huddle. They missed by 13 seconds. Mayfield finished five-of-six for 77 yards and the TD.

He and most of that offense played just the initial series with backups Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert and David Blough mopping up the rest of the way. It looked smoother and was much more productive with Gilbert and Blough in charge of the huddle.

Gilbert in particular showed good arm strength and accuracy on difficult deep out routes. He connected on 14 of his 22 passes for 135 yards, but was unable to find the end zone.

The final score was a bit deceiving. The Browns, although clearly outplaying the visitors, led by just a touchdown at 17-10 with 4:25 left in regulation. Then Blough hooked up with D.J. Montgomery from 12 yards, climaxing an 11-play, 80-yard drive.

After the defense turned in its sixth three-and-out of the game, rookie wide receiver Damon Sheehy-Giuiseppi punctuated the evening with a scintillating 86-yard punt return for a touchdown, virtually untouched after slightly bobbling the ball.

The popular wideout was immediately buried by what seemed like at least half the bench in the end zone, putting an exclamation point on an enjoyable evening, one Browns Nation hopes is a portent of exciting things to come.

Thursday, August 8, 2019


Duke Johnson Jr. and fleece

With all the talk in Berea swirling around whether Duke Johnson Jr. would be a part of this season’s Browns even though he did not want to be, one thought came to mind.

If the Browns decided to deal the recalcitrant running back, who all but begged to be traded because he didn’t think he fit in, the best they could get out of it was maybe a fifth-round draft pick.

Johnson was not an every-down running back with the Browns. There are those who believe he was a much better receiver and thus was misused in the club’s offensive scheme.

The third-round pick in the 2015 National Football League college draft became a marginal player who could not fetch much in return if a swap involving draft selections was to be made.

And then along came the perfect team and the perfect scenario the morning of the club’s exhibition opener Thursday night in Cleveland.

It resulted in Cleveland General Manager John Dorsey shipping Johnson to the Houston Texans for a fourth-round pick next year that could improve to a third if Johnson hits certain statistical goals agreed to by both clubs.

In short, Dorsey basically fleeced the Texans, whose weakness at running back undoubtedly sparked the conversation that resulted in the deal. They had no one of value or experience outside of veteran Lamar Miller at the position.

Johnson’s unique qualities would be a perfect complement to a strong pass attack, featuring wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller IV and Keke Coutee, and give the Texans a dimension in that aspect of the offense they lacked last season.

Dorsey also took advantage of the fact the Texans do not have a general manager, having fired Brian Gaine. Dorsey negotiated with Texans head coach Bill O’Brien instead, convincing him Johnson was the missing piece in his offensive puzzle.

If O’Brien uses Johnson properly, the ex-Brown should have no trouble attaining the statistical goals barring injury or persistent misuse of his talents, paving the way to the third-round selection next year.

It is obvious Dorsey was also motivated to make the deal by the continued strong showing in training camp of second-year running back Dontrell Hilliard, who will fill in until Kareem Hunt is eligible to come off the suspended list and play the second half of the season.