Friday, August 29, 2014
Is it finally here? Are we going to have some real football soon, games that really count? After what seems like the longest off-season ever, only over shadowed by the years we did without, the next Browns game will be for real. Thank God it finally got here.
But if the preseason was going to finally end, at least it ended on a mostly upbeat moment as the Browns handled the Bears 33-13 at First Energy Stadium Thursday night. It was a beautiful night, no one of note got hurt, and some fresh faces made a statement or two that they belong on the team. And some questions we were hoping to be answered weren’t quite resolved. In no particular order…
Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel both did some decent things that lead to getting into the end zone. For the fourth game in a row, neither one showed they could throw deep. The two best passes of the day were from Rex Grossman to undrafted Willie Snead, the only two passes completed that you could consider downfield. Any attempt by Hoyer or Manziel to throw downfield either missed completely or never got there. Yes, we should be concerned.
Barkevious Mingo continued to impress on defense. The Browns moved him around, and his quickness off the ball was a real asset. He might be coming into his own, and I really like what the coaches are doing to take advantage of his skills. He could be on the way to a big season.
Justin Gilbert and Leon McFadden were tested all night at the corners, and although both got beat more than once both are showing promise. Gilbert is a lock to make the team and play a lot because he was a first round pick, but McFadden has really improved and I think found a spot on the final roster.
When the final roster is posted this weekend, the amount of rookies, especially undrafted ones, making the roster could be significant. Defensive back Robert Nelson has shown some good stuff. So have wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and Willie Snead. There are still a slew of rookies working in on both the defensive and offensive lines. And maybe with the exception of defensive back Pierre Desir who has been hurt, all of the drafted rookies have earned spots. And how can you keep undrafted running back Isaiah Crowell off the roster?
I hope the Browns don’t cut Conner Shaw, but I’m not sure what they can do with him. They are committed to Hoyer and Manziel, and probably also to Grossman. They are not going to keep four quarterbacks. But I also think they won’t be able to sneak him onto the practice squad. The kid is too good, someone will claim him. Too bad, I really think he has a future in the NFL. I still can’t believe he didn’t get drafted; I have been high on him since I show him play in person last year. To me, he’s a cross between Drew Breas and Brian Sipe.
Good luck to the Browns, and good luck to everyone in their fantasy leagues. The real football season is finally here, and it isn’t a moment too soon. If your Browns Backer Club wants to host “View From the Dawg Pound” for any of the Browns away games contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text by Greg Cielec
Photos by dave Hostetler
Monday, August 25, 2014
We got to the game early Saturday night to check out the activity outside the stadium and the improvements inside. A lot of other fans also got there early and were enjoying the activities that included live music, zip lines, and all sorts of football related games and booths. The only negative was the presence of only one food truck, a bunch of them would’ve really made things better.
Inside of the stadium you could not help but notice the new video screens in both end zones. Wow! And not only are they clear and colorful, once the game started they replayed ever play, good or bad, including questionable calls by the referees.
We took several laps around the concourse and noticed very little new or out of the ordinary. We wanted to check out the food courts that now feature locals restaurants like the B Spot, but they are located on the club seat level and you needed a special ticket to get near them. Too bad, everyone should be able to sample the upscale cuisine.
And that leads us up to the game. Let’s just say the Browns looked like a team that has had three coaching staffs over the last three years, four in the last five years if you are counting. Indecisiveness on both offense and defense was the rule for the evening from beginning to end.
The offensive stats were ugly, and in reality things were probably worse. Only 32 yards rushing, 146 passing. Four sacks, only 8 first and third quarter plays. The offense was never really in the game.
Unfortunately, the defense was not much better, with the Rams going up 20-0 in the second quarter and never looking back.
But there were positives. Johnny Football aside, it looks like the Browns had a very good draft. Cornerback Justin Gilbert, offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, and linebacker Christian Kirksey are all players and will be long time starters, and running back Terrance West will be a solid contributor.
Boh Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel did nothing for me. Too much running around, too many short passes, very little continuity highlighted the quarterback play.
Last year after the Trent Richardson trade the Browns offense was screwed. With not legitamate running game it was easy for defensive coaches to game plan against the them. It will almost be the same this year if the Browns don’t show a downfield passing game. If their opponents don’t have to worry about the Browns stretching the field, its going to be another long frustrating season for the offense, no matter who is the quarterback.
But being a Browns fan I’m ever the optimist…its only preseason, there is still another practice game before they go at it for good, and this is the most talented Browns team since their return. It may not seem like it in September, but by midseason this could be a pretty decent team.
Monday, August 4, 2014
A Coach’s Point of View: Strong Depth Charts
As always the NFL is doing its best this off-season keeping the league in the news. The media circus around the league never ends, as we go from Super Bowl to combine to free agency to draft day to OTAs. And now as you are reading this we are at training camp. The sun never sets on the hype machine known as the NFL.
There are several websites on the Internet that pop up when you Google Browns depth chart. And when they come up its nice and neat, showing each position and who is the starter, the backup, and the third stringer. But in truth, things are never that simple. On most football teams the depth chart runs horizontal as much as vertical, especially in the NFL.o
NFL teams are quite different than college teams, or even teams from big high schools. The NFL has a 53-man roster; colleges often have over a 100 players on their roster. A large high school might have 200 boys involved in football. The Browns roster size is comparable to that of a medium to small size high school. So it is important that all 53 players are quality players and contribute to the team’s success.
At several times during my high school coaching days I coached teams from small schools, sometimes only 24-30 boys on the team. Talk about depth chart problems. The backup quarterback was also the starting wide receiver, and running backs often played defensive line. I also coached at a college that at times had two hundred players on the team. One year I was the running backs coach and I had close to thirty players at the position. Try to keep that many players on the depth chart happy.
On the NFL level you want a depth chart that moves horizontally as well as vertically. What I mean is the best teams have a strong group of guys who can interchange at most positions, where there is not a big drop off from the guys who start the game to those who come off the bench. Teams need guards that also can back up the center; tight ends that can also be fullbacks; linebackers that can get down in a three point stance and play defensive ends; and cornerbacks that can also play safety and vica versa.
Coaches are always thinking about their depth charts. It is never as clean and simple as a list of names that you see on the Internet. For example, if a center goes down often the backup is a guard.
Lets look at the current Browns depth chart going into summer practices. If you listen to the media you would think the only position to talk about is quarterback. However, let’s see how the rest of the team looks first. I feel a lot better about the talent and depth of the team than I did six months ago. Much has been done to improve the roster since the last regular season game.
The strength of the Browns is their defensive line, where they have a strong group of players who rotate in and out throughout games. Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, John Hughes, and Billy Wynn are all interchangeable parts. Desmond Bryant was a nice pickup from Oakland where he was a solid player.
The Browns defensive line is a good example of depth that can go both vertically or horizontal on the depth chart. Rubin, Taylor, Hughes, and Wynn can all play both nose and end in a 3-4 look, and when the Browns give a four-man front look they can all handle those positions too.
The rest of the defense is not as deep or talented, but has upgraded since last season. Inside linebacker is lead by the recently signed Karlos Dansby and much maligned last year Craig Robertson, backed up by second round draft pick Chris Kirksey from Iowa. Hopefully one more quality player will arise in training camp. Outside linebacker has a bit more quality to it, lead by Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo. It will be interesting to see what type of shape Mingo comes to camp in, has he gained any upper body strength to go with his tremendous quickness? I was surprised the team let Quentin Groves go. With the Browns planning to have an attacking defense the guys at linebacker are going to be expected to play inside and out, and on both sides of the defense. There might be some surprises at linebacker when the final roster is posted in September.
The depth chart at defensive back is filled with players who have played a lot over the last several years, but with only two really proven top-level players. Cornerback Joe Haden and recently acquired Donte Whitner are both as good as it gets, but they are surrounded by a group of guys who need to improve for the team to finally reach the playoffs. We know the names, including Tashaun Gipson, Leon McFadden, Buster Skrine, we need these guys to get better. Skrine especially has been praised this off season, and we will have to wait and see how long it will take first round draft pick Justin Gilbert to get up to speed on the pro game. The defensive backfield could really be something if Gilbert is ready and Skrine has gone to the next level, we will have to wait and see.
I use to think about the offensive line much like I look at the defensive line, but things have changed and there is some uncertainty. Joe Thomas is solid at left tackle, and the team resolved the Alex Mack situation and made sure he is staying with the team. Guard started last year as solid position with three starters returning, but since then Shawn Lauvao has left via free agency and Jason Pinkston keeps having health problems. Only John Greco can be counted on at this time. At right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is coming off a disappointing sophomore season and who knows who will be playing that position on Opening Day. I can’t wait to see second round draft pick Joel Bitonio play live. I have heard nothing but great things about him on the coaching grapevine. He could turn into the best pick of what looks like a very good draft.
Many fans were disappointed when the Browns did not pick a wide receiver in the draft. However, they have spent some of their cap money wisely picking up some solid veterans including Andrew Hawkins and miles Austin. The Josh Gordon soap opera keeps rolling along, but he is as good as it gets when he is eligible. Travis Benjamin will hopefully bounce back from his knee injury. Greg Little is gone, and maybe he needs a fresh start some place else.
Running back definitely has to be upgraded. Signing free agent Ben Tate was definitely a good start, and I love the drafting of Terrance West. Don’t buy the fact he went to a small school. He played for a Towson that is at the top end of the FCS division, a team that has sent several guys to the NFL, and from a league whose alumni include Joe Flacco. Its not the Big Ten but they play pretty good football in the Colonial league.
A position that has to be upgraded is tight end. Jordan Cameron is turning into a top-level player, but in today’s NFL offenses you need two or three quality players at the position. Between now and the end of training camp I think they will bring in a bunch of guys to get a group of three or four to complement Cameron. This is a position where the depth chart definitely has to go both ways. Cameron is athletic enough to also play outside, but the team also needs tight ends that can also play a little fullback and also block like a tackle on the goal line.
Punter Spencer Lanning, place kicker Billy Cundiff, and long snapper Christian Yount all seem to be returning, which is good. Why mess with something that isn’t broke? Hopefully Benjamin will be back to 100% and be the top kick returner again.
O.K., let’s talk about quarterback. If you follow both the national and local media you would think it is the only position on the Browns. Were you like me and turning off the local talk radio shows because you just couldn’t listen to any more about Johnny Menziel? I’m going to keep this short, I’m worried about Brian Hoyer’s knee and his ability to throw the long ball. I hope Menziel has watched films of what has happened to RGIII the last two seasons. And I think the one guy who hasn’t been mentioned at all who I think is going to be a pretty good pro is Connor Shaw, the free agent from South Carolina. I like his arm and his leadership qualities, and he played in a pro offense under Steve Spurrier for the Gamecocks. I’m not sure if it is going to be for the Browns, but one day he’s going to get a legitimate shot in the NFL and he is going to be fine.
NFL teams need depth charts that not only go vertical but sideways also, where quality players play alongside or back up other quality players. Because of their salary cap position and abundance of draft picks, the Browns have had a chance to really upgrade their depth charts on both sides of the ball this past off-season. Let’s hope they did the right things.
I have been pleasantly surprised recently by the amount of people who have asked me if I am doing any writing. And it has been a while since I sent out any sort of email about my writing and publishing projects, so I thought it was about time that I did again.
Since 2006 I have written a column for scout.com’s Browns magazine the Orange and Brown Report. Recently scout.com got bought and sold twice and I was unsure of its future. However, we have recently been bought by a magazine group that has the best owner we have ever had, and they are in it for the long run. They have upgraded both the magazines they own and their internet websites. They have especially done a great job with the magazine I write for. To check out all scout.com has to offer to all football fans, not just Browns fans, go to scout.com or cle.scout.com.
Once again this fall I’ll be writing a game day blog for scout.com call “View from the Dawg Pond.” If you want to read last year’s entries go to my blog at my website www.gregcielec.com.
Our latest publishing effort is a 2014/2015 calendar for Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood. The Feast of the Assumption on Mayfield Road in Little Italy is one of Cleveland’s oldest and most popular annual events. This year’s “Feast” is almost here. It will be followed soon afterward with the “Taste of Little Italy” on September 21. The calendar is titled “Seasons of Little Italy” and features over 60 colorful photographs taken in and around the Murray Hill/Mayfield Road neighborhood. My good friend Dave Hostetler did the design and took many of the photographs and did a great job. The calendars can be purchased at many Little Italy businesses including Presti's; the Murray Hill Market; Washington Place; The Smoke Shop; the Cleveland Montessori School; Topsi Turvi; Guarino's; La Bella Vita; Pennello Gallery; Vitanonio-Previte Funeral Home; the Little Italy Wine Shop; Angelo's Nido Italia; and La Dolce Vita. The calendars can also be purchased online at www.LittleItalyClevelandCalendar.com.
Our other current publishing project The Brown Jug Cookbook is almost sold out. We have less than 125 copies left and we expect them to be gone by Christmas. We have had so much fun with this project, including several events down in Delaware, Ohio, where the Jug was located. Special thanks to Roop Brothers Bar! We do plan on having a Cleveland event around the cookbook in December. Keep checking my website for details. For more info on the cookbook or to order a copy go to www.brownjugcookbook.com.
We are always looking for projects for our publishing company Pink Flamingo Press and Creative Endeavors. Let me know if you got a great idea, we will give almost anything a try if we think it’s a worthwhile project.
I have also been surprised about how many people have asked me recently if I have been writing any fiction and I have. I finished another novel titled A Poem on a Bar Room Wall, and I think it is very good. However, none of the big publishers gave me the $100,000 advance I so richly deserve so we are going to put it out ourselves. Look for it at either Christmas or early next year. There are some sample chapters posted on my website.
Enjoy what is left of the summer.