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Epic rant from Jim Nantz about the Browns and Mike Lombardi

Jim Nantz called in to the Bull and Fox show on 92.3 The Fan and delivered an epic rant about the new Browns organization. You can listen to it here.

His basic message was simple – Jimmy Haslam has assembled an impressive group of people to turn the Browns around, and that Browns fans will soon realize it as they get to work and start winning. He strongly defended his friend Mike Lombardi and took some tough shots at Tony Grossi without mentioning him by name regarding his harsh criticism of Lombardi.

Let’s consider some of the things Nantz said.

First, I agree with him that the overall team assembled by Haslam is impressive, and I’m optimistic about the future direction. This is coming from someone who thought Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert did a ton of the dirty work in turning around the franchise and were heading in the right direction despite some mistakes. Rob Chudzinski is an excellent coordinator, and he seems to have the charisma and leadership qualities necessary to make him a good head coach. I like Haslam’s general style and think he’s looking for the right qualities when considering head coached. Chud has also assembled a very impressive staff, with Norv Turner and Ray Horton leading the pack.

As for Mike Lombardi, I understand both the concerns expressed by people like Grossi along with the praise coming from people like Nantz. Still, Grossi’s comment on the radio the other day that Lombardi was not qualified for the job is ridiculous. People can question past draft picks but he’s certainly developed a resume that prepares him for this job. I also like the fact that Lombardi has been with the NFL Network for 5 years. Anyone with a brain would gain some excellent perspective from that job and would leave there knowing practically every coach and personnel guy in the league.

Also, it’s not like Haslam has handed Lombardi the keys to the organization. The biggest problem with Randy Lerner wasn’t necessarily the people he hired, but the total lack of oversight and accountability that existed after the introductory press conference. Guys like Butch Davis and Eric Mangini desperately needed a strong owner and GM to push back when their desire to control everything led to silly decisions. With Joe Banner and his “team” approach to decision making, no one person can make rash decisions without intense oversight, and you can bet Haslam will be in the room to make sure everyone knows they’ll have to answer for mistakes.

So I know Lombardi isn’t perfect, but I have no problem with a guy like him in the brain trust. Of course Jim Nantz is totally biased in arguing that Lombardi is a football genius. Nantz worships at the Bill Belichick alter, so he’s seems to see everything through that filter. Still, I’m more than comfortable giving Lombardi and the rest of the team a chance.

On the other hand, I think Nantz took some cheap shots at Tom Heckert. Of course Bull and Fox just gushed and didn’t push back on that, which is disappointing given that Heckert rebuilt an old, pathetic roster.

Now, there are legitimate debates on some of Heckert’s picks, and Nantz did raise good points as well. Taking Trent Richardson with the third pick after trading up is certainly debatable, as many believe drafting a running back that high is a mistake. Nance points out late round picks that did well, but pointing out a running back that scores touchdowns in the potent New England offense like Shane Vereen is ridiculous. The question is how would a guy like Vereen have fared with the Browns, who were desperate for some weapons on an offense that didn’t have a great quarterback. I think his point was more persuasive when he brought up Doug Martin who went to Tampa Bay. The Browns could have gotten him at the 22nd pick, and you could argue that young QB Ryan Tannehill at #4 and Martin at #22 would have been better than Richardson and a much older Brandon Weeden.

The real cheap shot was bringing up Russell Wilson, who was passed over by everyone and frankly dropped into the perfect situation. Wilson had a great first year, but he really didn’t flourish until Pete Carroll started running him, and that style of play doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term success.

These are all debatable points, and Nantz brings up a good point that Heckert’s record isn’t pristine. Still, he fairly noted that Richardson could be incredible under Norv Turner, and many think Weeden could flourish there as well. So it will take time to flush out Heckert’s record.

At least the Browns recognize that a foundation has been built, and hopefully the new brain trust can build on it. Overall, I’m glad to hear that Lombardi has guys like Nantz will to speak up on his behalf.

As for Tony Grossi, I understand his reservations, and it will be interesting to see how the soap opera plays out now with Lombardi, Grossi and Nantz. To his credit Grossi has said he’s giving Lombardi a clean slate. Let’s see if he lives up to it.

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Which pass rusher can the Browns get in the draft?

Prepare to hear the names Bjoern Werner, Jarvis Jones and Damontre Moore quite a bit inn connection to the Browns leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft. All are excellent pass rushers, and regardless of the type of defense the Browns end up running, they’ll probably be targeting this position as one of their priorities heading into the draft and free agency.

In early mock draft, we saw Moore’s name in connection with Cleveland at #6, but now he seems to be rising as Mel Kiper has him going #2 to the Jaguars. Meanwhile, Kiper now has Werner going to the Browns:

I’ve heard Werner compared to J.J. Watt, and while he’s not nearly at Watt’s somewhat extraordinary level, and doesn’t yet have the size to work primarily inside at this point, in terms of his great awareness as a pass-rusher, there might be something to it. Not only does Werner provide immediate impact as a pass-rusher, like Watt, he defends the pass with his eyes and gets his hands up, disrupts passing lanes and swats away throws. A late arrival to football, he has a high ceiling. He’s an ideal fit in Cleveland, a team that saw the defense regress in 2012.

Sounds like a good fit!

Browns hire Norve Turner as offensive coordinator

The Browns have made it official. Norv Turner will be the new offensive coordinator. He hasn’t been a very good head coach, but he’s an excellent coordinator who was in high demand, and he should make Rob Chudzinski’s job a lot easier as a first-time head coach.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Turner calls the plays as well, and I’m very curious to see Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in this offense.

Report: Browns targeting John Pagano for defensive coordinator

Adam Schefter is reporting on Twitter that Rob Chudzinski is targeting San Diego defensive coordinator Rob Pagano for the same position for the Browns.

I wasn’t thrilled to hear that Chud might want to move away from the 4-3 defense, just because Tom Heckert was drafting for the 4-3 for the past three years, and Jabaal Sheard in particular wouldn’t be a great fir for the 3-4. But Chud clarified his approach in his press conference, emphasizing that he wants an attacking defense and that he believes in scheming around his personnel. He also stressed that the defensive coordinator would make the call and that he could see the Browns running both schemes along with a hybrid scheme that incorporates principles from both.

Pagano ran a 3-4 in San Diego, but here’s a good article where Pagano discusses both schemes along with the hybrid model.

“It’s funny because I got the same types of questions when I took the [job] in San Diego,” John Pagano said. “They said I was a 3-4 guy, but I’ve coached in a 4-3 and a 3-4. We do multiple fronts and we have multiple looks. Baltimore was a 4-3 and a 3-4. They play those different types of hybrid defenses that really are game-changing types of defenses. Whatever your personnel suits you, you’re going to be in certain types of fronts and certain types of coverages whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3.

“The biggest difference between a 4-3 and a 3-4 is that you have a lot more linebackers in a 3-4 and you have a little bit bigger linebackers who can standup and come off the edge, which are just like 4-3 defensive ends. When you go to a sub package or a nickel package look, our outside linebackers here in San Diego are defensive ends. They are used to standing up and playing with their hands down. I would suggest multiple looks and multiple fronts.

This quote illustrates the biggest change we’ll see in Cleveland whether Pagano gets the job or not. Chud seems much more open to scheming the defense each week depending on the opponent. Hopefully we won’t see the radical risk-taking of the Rob Ryan years, but we’ll probably see something very different from the vanilla defense run by Dick Jauron which emphasized execution and discipline.

Apart from Sheard, the Browns have very flexible defensive linemen, with Ahtyba Rubin and Fred Taylor being prime candidates for the nose tackle position. Taylor could easily be a dominant defensive end as well in the 3-4, while John Hughes could be another nose tackle candidate. Billy Winn could be a defensive end.

Joe Banner clearly likes the idea of a hybrid defense.

“This is what Chud said to us and frankly this was consistent with all the interviews we did,” Banner said. “Every offensive coach we interviewed we ask them, ‘What is the most difficult thing to play against?’ And the answer in all of those cases was these hybrid 4-3, 3-4, which made it more difficult to know what you were going to be against on any given play.

“So I think it’s clear to say that’s the way the league is headed. We happen to be lucky to think we have a significant number of players that can fit into either a 4-3 or 3-4 and then leave the coordinator the option of being one of these hybrids or committing to either direction.”

This makes some sense, but the more you scheme, the more you increase the chance that your defense will make mistakes. We saw a ton of that with the Rob Ryan/Eric Mangini defenses. They could find ways to stop Tom Brady one weak, and then give up huge plays to mediocre teams as well.

Chud knows the NFL, however, and I’m comfortable with him making these decisions with the front office. This also highlights why I didn’t want Chip Kelly. The NFL has become so complex, and we’re getting an expert in what schemes are out there vs a guy who would have a huge learning curve.

Browns hire Rob Chudzinski as head coach

The Browns will announce Rob Chudzinski as their head coach today at an 11 am press conference. Here are some initial thoughts.

- After the Chip Kelly fiasco, I’m thrilled with this pick, but frankly would have been happy with any of the candidates the Browns were considering after they moved on from Kelly. The idea of watching a read option offense terrified me, and the RG3 injury last week sealed that thought, so I’m glad we’ll be running a pro-style offense.

- Chud is a very good offensive coach. He turned Derek Anderson into a Pro Bowler here in 2007, and he seems to favor a vertical passing attack that would be ideal for Brandon Weeden. There are reports that Norv Turner would join the staff as offensive coordinator, and that’s a huge plus as well.

- I could care less that this isn’t a “wow” or “sexy” hire. The teams that win Super Bowls rarely make a splash with their head coaching hire. Look it up. It stuns me how few people understand that.

- Mary Kay Cabot has reported that the Browns are likely to switch to a 3-4. I’m not thrilled about this at all, but it isn’t confirmed so I’m not going to get all riled up about it until we hear it from Chud or the Browns. It seems foolish to take a step back on defense and retool at this point. That said, our defensive linemen other than Jabaal Sheard could easily transition to a new system, but Sheard and the linebackers would present the biggest risk/challenge.

I’m curious to see how Chud comes across in the press conference. The most important quality of a head coach is the ability to lead men. We know Chud is an excellent coordinator, and now we have to rely on the ability of Joe Banner and more importantly Jimmy Haslam of identifying that quality in Chud.

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